Researchers at a police college in Norway have confirmed what intuitively seems obvious: an officer’s fitness level correlates significantly with his or her ability to control resistant subjects during arrest.
“[O]ne of the most critical and stressful physical tasks” of police work is “getting control of a struggling suspect,” writes Thomas Dillern of the Norwegian Police University College, who led the research team. Indeed, “the apprehension of a strongly intractable subject…is described as the most commonly occurring maximal physical exertion in the profession,” Dillern says, sometimes resulting in serious officer injury or death.
Yet “the relationship between general physical fitness and the ability to cope” with that challenge has been “scarcely examined,” Dillern states, until the study by his team.
Their conclusion: All things considered, the data “emphasize the need, and the justification, of implementing monitoring of physical fitness” throughout an officer’s career “to ensure the police are capable of performing their job” as they age.
NOTE: Don’t miss the sobering observations about the study from Force Science Executive Director Dr. Bill Lewinski near the end of this article.
Dillern and his researchers selected 19 male volunteers who had completed three years of education at the Police University College, including “mandatory courses related to physical training and arrest handling.” After such variables as age and body mass index (BMI) were recorded, the subjects first completed four physical tests and then, within two weeks later, executed takedowns and self-defense tactics against a struggling or aggressive opponent, simulating a resisted arrest.
The physical capability tests, graded on a scale of 0-60 by experienced observers, consisted of:
- a bench press, in which the officers lifted as much weight as they could for one rep, to assess maximum upper-body strength;
- controlled chin ups from a fully extended hanging position, as many times as they could until exhausted, to measure upper-body strength endurance;
- a standing long jump, to evaluate explosive power, and
- a 3,280-yard run without spiked shoes on a standard track-and-field course, testing aerobic capacity and reflecting the exertion that might occur during a foot pursuit.
Dillern explains that large-muscle strength in the upper body is important “especially [for] the pushes and pulls during the apprehension of an intractable subject,” making the “the performances in the bench press and the pull up tests…the most influential factors affecting the arrest handling performance.” However, to maintain a balanced stance while struggling with a resister, “a higher strength and power capacity in the lower extremities are beneficial” as well.
The arrest-handling tests again consisted of four elements: a one-on-one takedown; a two-officers/one suspect takedown; a struggle in which the officers might have to counterattack an attacking opponent with kicks and punches; and a self-defense exercise in which the volunteers had to free themselves from a variety of strangleholds.
Each of these tests had four levels of difficulty, ranging from little or no actual movement by the suspect role-player up to full-sparring, aggressive and threatening behavior. The officers had to successfully achieve and sustain control of their suspect with empty-hand techniques to the point of handcuffing at a given level before moving up to the next. They were scored according to how far they advanced.
“To the best of our knowledge,” Dillern writes, “this is the first study to examine [the fitness] relationship by the use of a real struggling subject to assess the arrest performance.”
“[W]e found a large correlation between police students’ general physical capacity and their ability to handle a simulated arrest test,” the researchers report. Namely: “[A] higher physical fitness affects the outcome of the arrest situation in a positive manner.”
The study also documented a negative correlation between age and both the physical tests and the arrest tests. Dillern terms “disturbing” this finding that as age increases, performance decreases.
An officer typically “spends much of the working day carrying out low-intensity activity, and the occupation is therefore mainly described as sedentary,” he writes. However, regularly emerging episodes…are often occurring and can be stressful, critical, and even life threatening for both the officer and the surrounding civilians.
“Even if the major part of the job can be executed independent of a police officer’s physical fitness, some tasks still demand a certain level of fitness to be handled, and if the officer is not capable of managing these tasks, it can be questioned if he or she is capable of doing the job at all.
“Consequently, to ensure that officers are capable of performing their job, some minimum requirements of general physical fitness ought to be upheld.”
The Force Science Institute was not involved in the Norwegian study, but based on related research FSI has conducted, plus his own professional experiences across a career in law enforcement training, Dr. Bill Lewinski offers some sobering observations on certain of the group’s findings.
“The results of the physical capability tests are remarkable,” he told Force Science News. “These were the averages among the study subjects: bench press–235 pounds; chin-ups–15; long jump–8 feet 4 inches; time for the roughly two-mile run–11 minutes 53 seconds. The average participating officer weighed 181 pounds and stood just under 6 feet.
“In all likelihood, fewer than 10 per cent of officers upon graduating from any academy in North America would be able to match these performance standards. And from a fitness standpoint, that is when officers tend to be at their absolute peak.
“In one survey of 226 US officers with time on the job, only a minority felt they could ‘very well’ perform such relatively simple tasks as completing 21 push-ups, negotiating an agility obstacle course, performing 36 sit-ups, sitting and reaching 16 ? inches, and bench pressing their own body weight. And these tests are far less demanding that what the researchers in Norway used.
“In the study of physical exhaustion conducted by the Force Science Institute a few years ago, we found that the average officer’s pulse rate hit 180 beats per minute within 20 seconds of all-out exertion, such as would be experienced in a struggle with a resistant suspect. That represents a dramatic stressing of an officer’s physical system and capabilities.” For more about this study, go to: https://www.forcescience.org/2011/04/final-findings-from-force-science-exhaustion-study/.
Lewinski suggests that officers reading about the Norwegian study measure their own ability against the physical capabilities tests those researchers used, as cited earlier in this article. “The message for many officers,” he says, “will be: ‘Get to a gym! Do it now! Don’t wait!’ ”
The Norwegian study, titled “Arresting a Struggling Subject; Does the Forthcoming Police Officer’s Physical Fitness Have an Impact on the Outcome?”, is reported in full in The Open Sports Sciences Journal. Click here to access it without charge.