Belfast Telegraph

Police officer fitness not routinely checked - despite 2014 PSNI pledge for regular assessments

By Jonny Bell

The majority of police officers still routinely do not have their fitness tested - that's despite a 2014 pledge from the PSNI to introduce regular assessments.

Following an Freedom of Information request, the Stephen Nolan show revealed on Tuesday that once police officers pass their initial recruitment fitness test, they may not be tested again throughout their career.

Part of the intensive assessment process for wannabe cops involves a physical competency assessment.

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

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

Once they enter the ranks, some specialist units within the PSNI have to undergo physical testing, while most officers do not.

It comes after it was revealed earlier this year that over 2,000 pairs of trousers over a 40 inch waist were handed out to police officers.

By contrast Firefighters are routinely assessed on their fitness for the job throughout their career. Ambulance crews, however, do not have any physical test prior to joining or after.

Police head of human resources Jude Helliker, said: "Police officers within the Police Service of Northern Ireland undergo physical assessments prior to appointment, on completion of the Student Officer Training Programme and within Post Foundation Training.

"Annual in-service physical assessments are conducted within all PSNI Specialist Units. At present, annual in-service physical assessments are not mandatory for all PSNI officers.

"PSNI is currently considering the implementation of annual in-service physical assessments for all police officers in line with our commitment to their health, safety and wellbeing.

"We wish to ensure that we have a sufficiently resilient workforce that is able to meet the challenges of policing and to keep the public safe."

More: Police officers set to undergo 'rigorous' new fitness programme

In an interview for the Belfast Telegraph in May 2014, Acting Deputy Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said the force would introduce regular physical testing for all police - which could have included the chief constable and senior management team.

"Very reasonable questions have been asked about why we test fitness at the beginning and then forget about it," he said.

"We have people who operate in a lot of specialist roles undergo fitness assessments, but this type of fitness test will incrementally be included for all officers over the next few years."

The Belfast Telegraph asked the PSNI when the tests would be introduced. It has yet to respond.

The Police Federation - the union representing rank and file officers - said the perception that the workforce of the PSNI was unfit was wrong.

Chairman Mark Lindsay said: "It has to be stressed this is not an unfit workforce.

"There is an onus on officers to maintain a level of fitness and there are certain units which are tested. The numbers [unfit] would be minimal.

"But just because others are not routinely tested do not mean they are not fit. Officers are involved in sport and we have police on bikes so it does help with their fitness.

"With budget cuts it is costly to extract offices from duty, with stations closing it means there is no safe gym facility for officers say to go to on their lunch.

"To facilitate exercise for all officers would prove costly.

"People talk about seeing officers outside a chip shop eating, in reality they are stopping for something quick to eat and not taking a proper break because of the pressure on them.

"They are working through their breaks, they are having rest days cancelled, they are working flat out."

Tactical Support Group officers completed their Physical Competence Assessment (TSG PCA) recently. TSG Officers and...

Posted by Police Service of Northern Ireland on Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Firefighters undergo a fitness test every six months of their career. Assessments include treadmill, step and shuttle run tests. Should a firefighter not pass the test they are referred to occupational health for investigation into the reasoning behind the fail.

An officer may be stood down to allow for them to retake the test. The Fire Service said it takes a "supportive position in relation to those who fail to reach the aerobic level required and individual support programs can be put in place".

On regular tests for police officers, Federation chairman Mr Lindsay added: "It is how the testing is managed.

"People should be physically fit and mentally able to do the job.

"Are older, more experienced officers who are maybe carrying the injuries from service going to have to pass rigorous tests and face punitive action if they fail?

"And if officers do fail will they have to be taken off duty or face expulsion? And then there are different types of fitness to be considered.

"What is needed is an improved approach to health and wellbeing across the police and in the public sector which would facilitate that.

"I would argue that no matter how fit you are, it is your ability to deal with people that counts.

"A lot of work is done with the brain rather than how fast you can climb a 6ft wall."

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