Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kerre Woodham: Cops need to do more than run fast

What do we want in this country? A police service that is representative of the community, comprising individuals with many and varied skills, or a force of buffed, young men and women who can run faster than speeding locomotives and leap tall buildings in a single bound - but who might not have the smarts or the empathy required to be a good officer.

A story out this week that hundreds of would-be police officers are being rejected because of their failure to pass the pre-entry fitness test is not new - there have been complaints about the toughness of the test for years. Men must run the 2.4km track in 10 minutes, 15 seconds; women 11 minutes, 15 seconds - with no allowances made for age.

Police recruiters reckon the high failure rate can be put down to the nation's growing problem with obesity and the fact that for many schools, physical education is not a priority.

Now the recruiters say they're going to have to relax the fitness test - bringing it into line with the test in Australia - and start recruiting younger people to meet the Government's target of 1000 extra police over the next three years.

National's police spokesman, Simon Power, says the fitness test should not be compromised as "only the best will do", but buffest doesn't always mean best. To be a good officer, you need intelligence, common sense, empathy, dedication, courage and good communication skills.

I would far rather be served by a flabby force of men and women with those attributes than a squad of super-fit 18-year-olds swaggering with testosterone and attitude. Besides, when was the last time a serving copper had to run 2.4km in 10 minutes? That's why Holdens were invented. So you don't have to run fast. And I've never seen a posse of Keystone Kops running down the streets in hot pursuit of the bad guy. Making use of modern technology, the police helicopter circles overhead until the vehicular reinforcements arrive.

Successful companies don't have a workforce of employees with exactly the same skills and abilities - they employ individuals who are able to complement one another, ensuring the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By all means have a fitness test. Make it a tough one, and give extra marks to those people who fail initially and then have the willpower to do the work required to pass.

But it would be foolish to automatically write-off individuals who can't run 2.4km in 10 minutes. There's more to policing than that and police are doing themselves and the country a disservice by sticking rigidly to such an arbitrary rule.

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