Belfast Telegraph

After top cop says women aren't fit for police force, will Chief Constable George Hamilton put himself to test?

By Deborah McAleese

The Belfast Telegraph has publicly challenged Chief Constable George Hamilton to take the PSNI's gruelling fitness test.

As anger grows after a top police officer Women would-be recruits 'less fit'to pass the physical for potential recruits, this paper has thrown down the gauntlet to Northern Ireland's most senior officer to take the test.

Mr Hamilton has yet to respond to our challenge.

There has been a backlash after outgoing Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay claimed that young women who want to be police officers are just not physically fit enough.

Attempting to explain the disparity between the number of young men and women joining the force, Mr Finlay said that just two out of every 10 would-be female recruits are passing the force's physical entrance test, compared with 90% of men.

"There is an issue for wider society in terms of the overall fitness, particularly of young women - they are significantly less fit than young men," Mr Finlay told the Policing Board.

"The disparity in the data between males and females of a similar age range shows that the female applicant pool are hugely less physically fit than the male applicant pool," he added.

Yesterday morning the Belfast Telegraph contacted the Chief Constable's office to ask if George Hamilton was prepared to take on the fitness test and share the results with our readers. So far the PSNI has failed to respond to the offer.

The physical competency assessment comprises of an obstacle course - based on physical activities that officers are likely to come across on the job - which must be complete three times within 3.54 minutes.

Once the course is completed, candidates have to display their strength and resistance for 20 seconds on an isokinetic machine which simulates pushing and pulling in a struggle with someone.

If a candidate fails the assessment they are immediately disqualified from the recruitment process.

Sinn Fein Policing Board member Caitriona Ruane said Mr Finlay's comments were "insulting" and could deter women from joining.

"I don't accept women aren't fit. I accept that some women aren't fit, but there are plenty who are. I don't accept that women who are fit, are less fit than men who are fit. Our bodies are different," said Ms Ruane.

She added: "There are questions the PSNI have to answer in relation to the composition of the police service. We need more women in our police service. We need to identify how we do it and what the barriers are.

"Maybe we need a cultural change within the PSNI in relation to the skills set that is needed within the service."

One police source said Mr Finlay's comments were "extremely sexist" and that in his opinion the fitness test is discriminatory against women.

"Much of the test, particularly the push pull, is sexist and male-focused and was developed 20 years ago. Body armour, shields etc have changed and are lighter. Forces in England have stopped using it so why are we still using it? It is biased against women. It is a discriminatory practice," he said.

Personal trainer Sarah Jardine, from Fitness Matters in Hillsborough, said that as men were naturally physically stronger than women, many females would have to train harder, longer and more consistently than males to pass the test.

"If a woman really wanted to pass this test she could. But because of the physical differences between men and women -height, body mass etc - women have to work much harder," she added.

Currently, only potential new recruits, beat and patrol officers, and some specialist units within the PSNI have to undergo physical testing. However, last year Mr Finlay revealed that serving police officers may soon have to take the test on an annual basis.

Mr Finlay said very reasonable questions were being asked about why fitness is tested at the beginning and then forgotten about.

It is not known whether the Chief Constable and his top team will also have to take the annual test.

No sanctions would be imposed on officers who fail, but they would be expected to work with PSNI trainers to bring their fitness levels up to standard.

Read more:

Women would-be recruits 'less fit' 

'It's unfair because male recruits are naturally stronger' 

Case study: I was riding high, but got axed over a few lost seconds

'Hamilton would need a Taser to catch a con' 

PSNI recruitment crisis: 'Lives at risk' as force numbers fall, says Chief Constable

Police need resources to do job 

PSNI's inquest files system probed 

Chief Constable: PSNI will have 200 fewer officers than required by 2016 

 

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