Belfast Telegraph

Top academic offers PSNI help to work out why women are failing police fitness test

By Deborah McAleese

A leading academic has said he wants to help the PSNI identify why so few female recruits pass the force's gruelling physical assessment.

Recent research by Professor Craig Jackson found that police fitness tests discriminated against women and could unfairly preference overweight male officers over healthy female colleagues.

His offer to assist the PSNI was made 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.

However, research in 2013 by Professor Jackson, who is head of psychology at Birmingham University, found that a test by a UK police force, which is similar to the PSNI fitness test, was discriminatory against women.

The PSNI's fitness test is believed to be much more challenging than other police forces across the UK.

Prof Jackson's research found that 49% of those who passed a police obstacle course used by a UK force were overweight or obese.

He said that assessments of physical strength needed to be "less onerous".

He told PoliceOracle.com that exercises should be tweaked to mimic exertions an average police officer might subject his or her body to in the course of a shift.

"Get a police officer wearing a utility belt and stab vest to sit in a police car and then get out of it and stand up and then get back in again - and have them do it 20 times," Prof Jackson said.

"If you are looking for a test that evaluates what police officers do, never mind body drags and jumping and running up some stairs. That's great as a test of general fitness - but it does not reflect what officers do on a daily basis."

He also said he and a colleague would be happy to carry out a study for the PSNI to find out why so few women were passing.

The physical competency assessment comprises of an obstacle course 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.

The Belfast Telegraph has challenged the PSNI's Chief Constable to take the physical. He is yet to respond to our challenge.

Background

Just two out of every 10 would-be female recruits are passing the PSNI's physical entrance test, compared with 90% of men. Outgoing Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay sparked a backlash when he claimed women who want to be police officers are just not fit enough. Currently, only potential new recruits and some specialist units within the PSNI have to undergo physical testing. However, all serving police officers could soon have to take the test on an annual basis.

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