ATLANTA — Are members of Georgia’s law enforcement agencies physically fit to serve?
Channel 2 Action News started digging into the issue and found that many law enforcement agencies in the state no longer hold annual physical agility tests.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi started asking why, and how that could impact your safety.
She caught up with Coweta County Sheriff’s deputy recruit Skyler Hildebrand as he practiced for the test required by the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council – or POST – which is the governing body for all Georgia law enforcement officers.
Hildebrand had two minutes and six seconds to make it through an obstacle course that is part of POST’s agility test, which is the first test for all recruits.
It’s so important, POST says if you don’t pass it, you don’t get into the academy.
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“They’re the tasks that are consistent with what an officer may have to perform,” Chris Harvey with POST said about the agility test.
But Channel 2 Action News has found that once a recruit becomes an officer many are never tested again.
We contacted more than a dozen metro area police departments and sheriff’s offices, including large jurisdictions like Atlanta, Gwinnett, and DeKalb.
None of the departments we contacted, except for Coweta County, said they hold mandatory, yearly agility tests.
The Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia, where recruits take the official test, estimates about two-thirds of the state’s law enforcement agencies no longer hold yearly exams.
“I think people’s lives change; habits change. And I think if you don’t do it annually, you just don’t have a measure of where that officer might be in a year, two years, three years,” said Ara Baronian with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.
That’s why the FBI makes adjustments for aging officers for its yearly tests.
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Coweta County Sheriff Lenn Wood said he thinks Georgia should follow the feds with POST standardizing a similar yearly test.
“It’s definitely a safety issue,” Wood said. “There have been times where they’re having to pull people out of cars from crashes that if the officers can’t get them out and not only puts that person, they’re trying to rescue in danger, but now they place their self in danger.”
Citizens who Choi spoke with agree.
“I would definitely say that there should be some type of physical requirements,” said Preston Graves. “Things that would ensure that they could be up to snuff.”
“It’s also a way to protect them so that there’s some type of underlying condition that they have and they’re able to see what was going on and fix that before they’re out trying to help someone to have a heart attack on site,” Gianna Brown said.
Rockdale County told Channel 2 Action News that the sheriff’s office tried to implement yearly testing but stopped “due to an increase in injuries.”
GPSTC said many agencies don’t test because it’s a barrier to recruiting and retaining officers.
“I mean, you have people that might have been working there for 10, 15 years that are excellent at their jobs. And now you’re imposing an actual test that they have to complete every year. That might be an extreme challenge maintaining officers’ retention, hiring,” Baronian said.
Wood said it hasn’t stopped him from hiring and retaining officers.
VIDEO: Recruit runs obstacle course for POST certification (Story continues below video)
“We should be at 100% fully manned by the end of this year,” he told Choi.
Hildebrand will soon be a part of that team. He passed his physical agility test and is now in academy training.
Wood believes any officer who can’t pass the test shouldn’t be on patrol. He said he passed despite his age, high blood pressure, and asthma.
“To be physically fit is needed for each and every situation, not just physical encounters with bad guys, but actually, for any time our job is to serve and protect. And we can’t serve without it,” Wood said.
Coweta County deputies get two chances to pass its yearly agility test. The sheriff said after two fails, you’re off the streets.
Channel 2 Action News also found it’s not just police officers who aren’t required to test yearly. We found a lot of local fire departments also don’t require the tests.
POST said it might consider standardizing it for police officers in the future.
As we mentioned, we contacted several metro police agencies for this story. Here are the responses that we got:
Atlanta Police Department: “The Atlanta Police Department has some of the most professional, best-trained officers in the country. Our officers have repeatedly proved themselves capable of fulfilling their commitment to our communities and we are proud of the positive impact they have throughout our city. We will continue to ensure our officers are well prepared for the challenges they will face each day and we will continue to review our policies and procedures and make adjustments where needed.”
Georgia State Patrol: “Regular (physical training) tests are completed at the troop level for Troopers.”
East Point Police Department: “No we do not”
DeKalb County Police Department: “DKPD does not currently require a physical exam or annual agility test and hasn’t during the last 25 years. We can’t confirm beyond that.”
MARTA: “MARTA Bus Operators in good health receive a DOT-required physical every two years. There are some operators who may receive a one-year, six-month, or three-month DOT medical card during their recertification exam depending on their medical status. A bus operator is not permitted to drive if they fail one of these periodic physicals.
“MARTA Police Officers are required to complete the physical agility test when they are hired. After that, if their ability to complete the physical requirements of the job is in question, their supervisor will arrange a physical exam with MARTA’s physician. Police officers are not required to undergo an annual physical due to P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer Standards and Training) ending its recertification exam requirement. If an officer is out of work for more than 90 consecutive days, they must undergo a return-to-work exam that includes an agility test.”
Woodstock Police Department: “Currently, we do not.”
Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office: “The Sheriff’s Office attempted to implement a yearly (voluntary) PAT, but it ended due to an increase in injuries. The liability of running a yearly PAT became apparent and therefore we had to end the practice.”
Gwinnett County Police Department: “As part of our hiring process, our applicants for the Police Officer position have to pass the Physical Agility Course as required by POST.”
Sandy Springs Police Department: “No, we do not require them yearly. They are required as part of the hiring process. It is strongly encouraged for officers to get yearly physicals from their doctor and we offer 1 hour of time (when call volume allows) for officers to work out on duty to promote physical fitness and general well-being.
Dunwoody Police Department: “The initial physical agility test for employment is pass/fail but the annual tests are not.”
Athens-Clarke County Police Department: “While there is no annual physical and/or agility test, to be eligible for certain sworn promotions there is a physical agility test.”
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