FORSYTH, Ga. - This month, the state of Georgia began requiring all recruits pass a basic physical fitness test before entering the police academy.
The idea makes sense to a lot of people. But to one politically powerful law enforcement group in Georgia, it’s too much, too soon.
When a police department or sheriff’s office hires someone, they first have to go through training at one of the police academies around the state of Georgia, operated by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center or GPSTC.
But two years ago a pair of recruits died during academy training itself, including a Forsyth County deputy who suffered a heart attack on the first day.
"At that particular time, it became apparent," explained executive director Mike Ayers of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council or POST. "We’ve got to do a little bit better, take a little more care screening who we’re allowing in."
Georgia instructors copied the physical agility course design with permission from their opposites in South Carolina. It involves a series of loops, jump, and hurdles plus the ability to drag a 175-pound dummy.
POST copied a physical training course design from South Carolina’s police academy.
The course involves a series of loops, jumps, and hurdles that must be completed within 2 minutes and 6 seconds. The standard is the same no matter the recruit’s age or sex.
"I don’t work out regularly, but I was in fact able to beat it," explained Ayers, 57. "I can tell you I didn’t want to jump back in line and run it right away again."
Before making it mandatory, last year GPSTC tested the new PT course on all cadets, with no punishment if they failed. The findings would wind up giving them new insight for future performance.
Of all the police recruits who would go on to fail other parts of the 11-week program — recruits who would muster out anyway — 74 percent had also failed the new PT entrance test. Turns out failing to finish in 2 minutes 6 seconds means you’re also not ready for the rest of course.
Last year all cadets attempted the new physical agility entrance exam, even though it wasn't yet mandatory. Of all the students who wound up failing other parts of the 11-week program, 73% had also failed the physical agility test.
The physical agility test became mandatory with their first class of 2021.
"No one quit the first week," said GPSTC executive director Chris Wigginton. "At the Academy, by this time we normally have several quit throughout the first day and week for a variety of reasons."
But just days after the new rule took effect, POST received a letter from the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, asking that the new Physical Agility Test "be rescinded."
"I’m hearing a lot of people throughout the state are not able to get into the Academy due to the requirements at this time," explained Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard, past president of the association.
"We agree with the intent of the rules," he said. "We’re just asking for POST to be mindful of the sheriffs not being able to get a candidate at this time due to the way the nation looks at law enforcement. We just don’t have a lot of candidates."
Jerrard says he’s not worried about his office, but the smaller ones around the state.
Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard is the past president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association.
He and other critics want POST to give recruits the entire 11 weeks to pass the PT test. A decision is expected at the next POST meeting in March.
But that idea seems to be getting a hard no.
"I think that would be fiscally irresponsible for me as a state agency when I told you that 74% of those individuals ended failing at a later point anyway," Wigginton said. "I think you’re just getting a better quality candidate with all these requirements."
The Sheriff’s Association also objects to a new requirement every cadet pass a psychological test before starting basic training. They say paying for a psychologist is too expensive for small departments. POST says there are online assessment tools that they will accept that are far cheaper than paying a medical professional to administer the test in person.
As for the PT test, if a recruit does fail, they can come back in 30 days before the next class to try again. Of all the recruits who ran the course for this year’s first class, 4% failed.
Assuming that 4% still want a career in law enforcement, the first step is clear: get in shape and beat 2:06.
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