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Fit or fired? Police test called absurd

Group seeks options for those who can’t pass

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With a November deadline looming for officers to pass a fitness test or lose their jobs, Ogden police association leaders planned to meet today with Mayor Matthew Godfrey in an effort to work out a compromise.

Several police officers have voiced concerns over the fitness policy, which threatens termination if officers are not able to run 1 1/2 miles in 15:54, bench press at least 75 percent of their body weight one time, complete 25 push-ups, finish 35 sit-ups in one minute and make a vertical leap of at least 16 inches.

Twenty of the department's 132 officers still have not passed the test, police association president Sgt. Chad Ledford said.

Detectives Jim Gent and Derek Draper are typical of many such officers. Gent's doctor has warned him not to do the bench press because of an elbow injury he suffered as a rookie seven years ago while chasing a thief. Draper has had two shoulder surgeries from on-the-job injuries. Lt. Marcy Korgenski has run five marathons but had to hire a personal trainer just to pass the bench test.

"I personally find it absurd that somebody from the department can be fired because they can only jump 15 inches and not 16 inches," Ledford said.

Under the current policy, all officers have until November to pass or be fired.

Today's negotiations will likely center on alternatives to job termination if officers can't pass the test.

"We've tried to come up with some alternatives that we think will represent a good negotiation and something that both sides can feel good about in accomplishing our purposes," Godfrey said, declining to discuss details of the city's proposal. "I think they (police association representatives) will like the proposal and I think it's one we can buy off on as well."

The current policy has already impacted officer morale and caused some to second-guess how they do their job, say officers who spoke with the Deseret Morning News.

"The next officer that chases a guy and blows out a knee or trips and breaks his arm, he's out of a job," Gent said. "That's what people are talking about here. Why put yourself in danger? It's going to hurt this department, it's going to hurt this city and the people who live here. Before, all these guys would go out and do anything they can to catch the bad guy and that has changed now. It's self-preservation."

Godfrey defended the fitness requirement for his officers and insisted it's a "minimum standard" that has been successfully adopted in other agencies. An officer who fails any part of the test can re-take it. If the officer still has trouble passing a certain area, they are given the option of taking a job simulation task test.

The standards were chosen as part of an insurance policy 19 Utah law enforcement agencies have with Utah Risk Management Mutual Association. The association approved the new standards after a 1998 study to test for a baseline of fitness among officers. Company officials could not be reached for comment, but according to a statement on its Web site, the study provided the insurance provider with "scientifically validated and job related physical fitness minimum standards."

Ogden was the first of several police agencies around the state to adopt the new fitness standards. Each department was given a three-year window before officers would be fired for failing to comply. Ogden's deadline is in November.

E-mail: djensen@desnews.com