There are some jobs that require a certain level of physical fitness. Soldiers and construction workers are good examples. Police are another. But the size of a waistline is not the best indicator of strength or fitness. That’s the issue being contested in a lawsuit filed in Travis County last week against the Texas Department of Public Safety. The suit, filed on behalf of the DPS officers association, says a new DPS policy is discriminatory and demeaning because it requires troopers to meet waistline requirements: 40 inches for men, 35 for women.
Since 2010, DPS has slowly increased its fitness standards, requiring faster times in a 1.5-mile run and more sits-ups and push-ups in a two-minute test. The waistline requirement was adopted in February and took effect last month.
We’ll be clear: Troopers should be required to meet physical fitness standards, and DPS needs to improve in this regard. This spring 594 of the 1,153 commissioned officers who took the fitness test did not meet the waistline requirements. Even allowing for diverse body types, that’s a large percentage of the force.
DPS Deputy Director Skylor Hearn has asserted that the policy is more about promoting good health within the ranks than it is about thinning the ranks. This is about troopers’ ability to do their job, but it’s also about addressing health concerns like obesity and cardiovascular disease, which are prevalent among high-stress jobs like law enforcement.
We realize that police work isn’t all car chases and rooftop footraces like our favorite television shows would have us believe. And yet, there is a vital physical component to a trooper’s job. Officers must physically approach suspects, physically apprehend them, and sometimes physically restrain them. If a trooper isn’t able to do those things, then he or she isn’t well-suited for the job.
The waistline requirement should go, but DPS is right to promote health and fitness standards among the men and women who keep us safe.
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