Weight limits

Some departments offer incentives to keep officers in shape


vindicator staff writer

Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers in contract negotiations with the state are fighting a rule that allows the dismissal of those who consistently exceed weight limits — a policy not in place at most local police departments.

Department of Public Safety records show that no Ohio troopers or sergeants have been fired over weight in recent years, but six were removed from duty in 2003.

At least 11 have received verbal or written reprimands since January.

Sgt. Rick Brown of the patrol’s Canfield post said being terminated for fitness is not an immediate process. He said the patrol allows a period of time for the trooper in question to achieve fitness goals or at least show some improvement.

Brown said the standards are beneficial to the troopers on the road and allow citizens to see the superior shape troopers maintain.

“I think it’s great. People see this uniform, and they don’t see the person — they see the division. I enjoy the standards because when the public sees us, they see us fit and trim and in good condition,” he said. “Being physically fit should be a high priority on any trooper’s list.”

Brown also said troopers ride alone and may be forced into situations where physical confrontation is necessary — something he said a trooper must be in shape to handle.

Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes said his department does not have an official policy requiring officers to maintain a certain weight, but there are incentives in place to encourage officers to work out and maintain a high level of physical fitness.

Hughes said officers are required to meet the physical standards set by the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy and some additional physical tests before they are hired. The department pays a portion of the cost of a gym membership at the YMCA for officers.

“A lot of officers do work out, and a lot do train. We leave a lot up to officers to remain fit. It has its ups and downs with some officers in better shape than others,” said Hughes.

Hughes said he would like to see some level of annual testing, but that would have to be settled in contract negotiations with officers.

Canfield Police Chief Chuck Colucci said his department has similar requirements. Upon hiring, each officer must pass a physical fitness test in which he or she participates in sit-ups, push-ups and a 11‚Ñ2-mile run.

“Once they’re hired and working at the police department, we have an optional physical-fitness test given in spring and fall,” he said. “It’s the same type of deal as the entry test, and if they successfully complete it, they get two days’ pay.”

Colucci said this type of incentive keeps his officers in shape and promotes good morale for the department.

“I believe we have about 80 percent of our officers take and successfully complete the fitness assessment,” he said. “[The test] keeps them healthy and helps them deal with stress.”

Other departments in the area supply workout facilities as a means of encouragement for officers to stay in good physical condition. Still, no annual testing is required.

Hubbard police Sgt. David Oaks said officers there must pass the civil service test, be at the top, and then pass a physical-agility test. There are, however, no guidelines after that. The department does have a workout room that can be used by the police department.

Capt. Toby Meloro of Liberty police said officers must pass a physical-agility test when hired.

“We are encouraged to maintain ourselves to conduct our jobs,” he said, but he noted that the department has nothing in its contract about height/weight proportions.

“We have a well-equipped gym at the department, and the majority of officers use it,” Meloro said.

Neither Boardman nor Poland township has weight restrictions for its police department, but officers must meet physical-fitness requirements to be hired.

Jim Scharville, Poland’s administrator, said the police department has a wellness center with gym equipment in the government center, and officers use it regularly. They keep physically fit, he said.

Scharville said the issue of physically fit police officers has not been a problem in the township in the past.

Jason Loree, Boardman administrator, said one of the reasons the township doesn’t have weight restrictions is because of the legal problems such policies have caused for other public entities.

“Also — I’m not saying any of our police officers are overweight — but you can be overweight and still be physically fit,” he said.

The township does have a performance requirement for its firefighters. If a firefighter passes the annual performance test requiring him to complete a series of physical tasks he may have to do on the job, he earns a $400 performance bonus.

If he fails, though, he faces possible time off until he can pass it, Loree said. That hasn’t happened, he noted.

Departments in Lowellville, Campbell, Girard and Struthers all reported they have no weight restrictions.

As for the state troopers, Ohio is among just a handful of states with patrols that allow punitive measures for failure to meet weight requirements.

National Troopers Coalition Chairman Mike Eades says most law enforcement agencies that address fitness have health and wellness programs and incentives.

In Ohio, the troopers’ contract includes extra monthly pay for those who meet standards.

XAlso contributing to this report were Denise Dick, Jeanne Starmack, Elise Franco and Linda Linonis.