Fit for purpose? Cops call for overhaul of 'broken' physical competency test

Author
Anna Leask, NZ Herald,
Section
Crime,
Publish Date
Sunday, 7 July 2019, 9:37AM
Cops demand top brass modernise "broken" biennial competency check. (Photo / File)
Cops demand top brass modernise "broken" biennial competency check. (Photo / File)

Cops are calling for a rehaul of the police fitness test - saying the current model is "broken", biased, outdated and in some cases, harmful both physically and mentally.

They say some staff are simply set up to fail with the current test including "tasks fit people can fail and unfit people can pass" and are demanding top brass modernise the 
exercise to make it more realistic and holistic.

But police say they will not budge on the test, which they describe as "world leading" and "gold class".

Currently all sworn officers must pass the biennial Physical Competency Test comprising of a set of tasks spanning a 400m course.

Tasks include pushing a car trailer 10m, carrying a car wheel assembly 10m, running 200m, walking a 5m right-angle beam, long jumping 1.8m, running around cones and over hurdles for 30m, climbing through a window 1m off the ground, over a solid 1.8m-high wall and a 2.2m high-wire fence and dragging a body 7.5m.

The test was introduced in 1986 and has been tweaked slightly over the years but remains effectively as it was more than three decades ago.

In March 2013 police introduced a rule that officers without a current PCT were withdrawn from the frontline, could not interact with the public or be deployed until they had passed.

The Police Association is now calling on management to revamp the process after a number of its members criticised it and spoke out about why it just does not work for a modern police force.

President Chris Cahill told the Herald on Sunday that policing had changed immensely since the PCT was introduced - including a more diverse staff, the removal of the retirement age, and advances in technology such as the introduction of body armour.

It was time for the PCT to change too, he said.

"Is this test designed to represent that diversity or does it actually hinder it to some degree?" he said.

"Simply because some officers can't complete the PCT, they are not fit for purpose and that's a very blunt way to assess it."

Cahill said he had never personally had a problem with passing the PCT.

"I've always found it relatively easy, but that's my build and fitness," he said.

"Other people who might actually be fitter than me but because of their build - they might be shorter - they can struggle ... and mothers returning to work after having children, it can be a real stress for them.

"It is a significant issue ... It's a really good time to reassess the PCT."

Cahill did not want to see the PCT scrapped as a whole.

"We want some level of fitness testing, health testing - but a much more holistic approach in this day and age," he explained.

NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"What we don't want to see is a bunch of unfit officers who are not safe to deploy."

In this month's association magazine Police News, a senior office described the PCT as "broken".

"Fit people can fail it and unfit people can pass - it's not a measure of fitness," he said.

"Additionally, some physically competent people are being injured doing the test."

He said there was a view among cops that the risks "both physically and mentally" of completing the PCT under time pressure, outweighed its value to the organisation.

Police people and capability deputy chief executive Kaye Ryan said a review of the PCT was completed in 2011 and determined it fit for purpose.

"The PCT is a world-leading test, and a gold standard example for many law enforcement organisations," she said.

"It is a functional assessment, with the purpose of establishing our people's ability in a controlled environment.

"To pass they have to demonstrate their ability to perform the physical tasks they will face in a potentially challenging policing environment.

"This way we can be sure the staff member is safe to deploy and capable of protecting our communities."

Ryan said the test was not about fitness.

"To complete the test you need to be fitter than average, but high fitness ability doesn't necessarily translate into functional competency," she said.

"You may be very fit, but unable to perform the necessary tasks. This would make a person unfit to deploy."

In this month's association magazine Police News, a senior office described the PCT as "broken".

He said it was "out of date and not designed to progress our business or look after staff".

"At the heart of the problem is that the biennial burst of energy is an anaerobic rather than aerobic test that doesn't align to higher overall fitness or modern police values," he told Police News.

"Fit people can fail it and unfit people can pass - it's not a measure of fitness.

"Additionally, some physically competent people are being injured doing the test."

He said there was a view among cops that the risks "both physically and mentally" of completing the PCT under time pressure, outweighed its value to the organisation.

According to the Police Association, the "rigid approach to suitability to do the job" has caught out many officers.

Offenders beware: officers are put to the test yesterday in their biennial physical competency test. Photo / File

While more than capable of doing their jobs they, for a variety of reasons, could not pass the test.

The advocacy group said the PCT is a "blunt tool" that has become the "only assessment" of a police officer's worth.

"The Police Association has represented members who have found their careers and livelihoods on the line for the sake of a few seconds or an age-related drop in flexibility or upper body strength," Police News said.

"It also believes that decisions about operational capability should be made on an individual basis because the PCT may not be the whole picture of an employee's physical competency to do their duties.

"The Commissioner appears to be relying on the PCT as the sole judge of a constable, sergeant or senior sergeant's suitability, rather than assessing each individual's competency."

Four officers spoke to Police News anonymously about their struggle to pass the PCT and the impact it had on them.

"A common theme is that the PCT has had a disproportionate impact on their lives. Names and some details have been changed to protect their privacy," the magazine reported.

"As one noted, not having the PCT can make staff feel like second-class members of police until they pass it again – or they buckle under the pressure and leave the job."

 

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