Not everyone can be a sworn Police Officer in a big city. Not everyone in law enforcement wants to, but if a guy/gal chooses to become an arresting officer on the beat, they will need to complete a challenging six months of physical and academic instruction as part of the hiring process.
Cop shows on TV often show patrol officers chasing down suspects or knocking down doors at drug busts, but we rarely get to look at what happens before they ever go on duty for the first time or are allowed to drive those patrol cars.
There are over 600 Police Academies in the U.S. and each state has its own regulations. In some areas, candidates apply directly to an Academy and if accepted, pay their own tuition, take the classes, then hope that they can get hired by a Police Department – that route is just like at any other higher education institution. In other cases, candidates apply directly to an agency or city, and then if accepted based on experience and education, attend the city’s or agency’s own Academy.
The training that the candidates receive is a lot like military basic training – a mix of physical and classroom activities preparing them to think on their feet, improve their reaction time, make responsible decisions when in the line of fire, all while protecting the people they serve.
So, what does a recruit need to do to be able to pass the physical? It varies from state to state, but here is a list of four timed physical qualification tests that New Jersey State Police use as part of their overall score for the applicants:
*75 Yard Pursuit Run Purpose? to see if the candidate can push to the limit for short bursts.
This is not a 75 yard dash down a track. The course has twists and turns and obstacles placed in the way. You get more points the faster the course is completed without touching any of the barriers. Good times are less than 12 seconds. You can pass with a time of 19.5 seconds, but you only get 1 point for that ‘slow’ time. Sound easy? The tests do vary from place to place. Some academies add in jumping through windows and over fences – a realistic scenario.
*Push Ups Purpose? to see how strong your upper body is and what kind of endurance you have.
You have two minutes to do as many (correctly executed) pushups as you can. A good score is around 40 pushups which earns 6 points. That’s 40 pushups in two minutes. They don’t count the ones where your knees hit the floor. You fail if you complete less than 18.
*Sit Ups Purpose? to see how strong your abs are.
You have two minutes to do as many situps as you can. A good attempt is about 45 situps, to earn 6 points. In two minutes. You fail with less than 20 completed.
*1.5 Mile Run Purpose? How good is your cardio?
How fast can you run the mile and a half? The best times are 11.5 minutes (or less) to earn 7 points. You fail this section if it takes you longer than 14.27 minutes to run the distance.
The applicants for this academy must earn at least 20 points in order to pass, and must get at least 1 point in any given area, no matter how well he/she does in the other three. So, if you’re great at situps, but can’t run the 1.5 mile to save your life? You fail the whole test. Some Police Departments allow you to take their version of this test again, but if you fail the second time, you have to go back for more training. As in, repeat the entire 6 month program.
Why is it necessary to do all this? Let’s say the suspect flees the scene, you are in hot pursuit on foot through crowds on the sidewalk, around corners, and through neighborhoods you may not know. After you catch the suspect, you have to hold him/her down while you cuff him, and keep him secured until backup arrives to take him to jail. And, if there are guns involved, you have to keep your cool, avoid getting shot, still do the chasing and still catch the suspect. You’d better be in great shape if you want to go home in one piece at the end of your shift.
By the way, the photo shows the class running in the rain. Yes, training is conducted in the rain. Crime and bad accidents don’t stop in bad weather, so cops don’t either.
For more information about recruiting requirements/instruction for the NJ State Troopers visit www.state.nj.us/lps/njsp/recruit/pqt.html
*Photo taken by Patti Phillips in Guilford County, NC.