What kind of physical condition are Hannibal police officers in? A new round of testing has been implemented this year to find out, according to Lt. Michael McHargue of the HPD.
"The chief has decided that all officers, sergeants and down, must run the same physical ability test we require of the new hires. Whether you’re male or female, it doesn’t make any difference," he said.
Gone are the days when the ability to perform certain exercises in a set amount of time was the barometer used to determine fitness.
"We’re not asking people to do push ups or sit ups. I’ve been here 19 years and don’t remember having to do any sit ups on the job," said McHargue with a smile.
The new gauge of fitness incorporates the obstacles that an officer might encounter when chasing a suspect during a backyard pursuit.
"It is something officers will actually have to encounter in the job," said McHargue. "We give officers 55 seconds to run the pursuit. They’ll get a second chance if they can’t."
McHargue added that if in two attempts an officer does not pass he or she will be given remedial training and time to get in shape enough to run the test again. So far no officer has failed, although two have needed a second attempt, said the HPD lieutenant, who ran the course himself, despite not being required to, and passed.
Instead of a starting line, officers begin the course seated in a car. From there they must climb over fences, crawl through a barrel and drag a weighted dummy.
"Every officer here has to jump a fence when they’re chasing somebody, or drag somebody out of danger when they get to the end. Every officer here has to bail out of a car quickly, so the test is very job specific," said McHargue.
From 32 to 34 HPD officers will run the ability course this spring.
"Everybody, potential new hires and a 15-year sergeant, is going to have to run this test," said McHargue. "All officers, regardless of sex, race or age, must be able to do this within 55 seconds."
Officers willing to push themselves can earn a prize.
"The chief has given an incentive of four hours of comp time off if you can run it in 45 seconds," said McHargue, adding that to qualify for the comp time female officers must finish in 50 seconds. "It’s an incentive for officers to try their best instead of saying, ‘Oh, I can do this easily in 55 (seconds).’ We have officers actually putting forth a full-blown effort."
McHargue acknowledges that competitiveness has worked its way into the physical testing program.
"I think the women are just, ‘OK I passed,’ but almost all the guys do get very competitive," he said. "I do keep score and they’re quite aware of who’s leading the pack and the time to beat.
"That’s just a personal thing. The guy who does it in 35 seconds doesn’t get any more than the guy who does it in 45 seconds."
According to McHargue, the fastest time turned in thus far is 33.82 seconds.
"That is only for bragging rights and friendly competition," he said, noting the test is scored pass/fail.
The running of the ability course, which will be conducted annually, is not the only specialized training being conducted this week at HPD’s former shooting range.
"Twice a year we practice ground fighting and certain techniques to break holds and certain strikes where we don’t inflict severe damage to the person, but are still effective when we have to go hands on," said McHargue. "We’re also doing some mock traffic stops, a mock domestic, things like that. It’s a little practice to try and identify weaknesses in our training so we can improve on that and an officer who might make a wrong decision can learn during training instead of a real-life situation."
Reach reporter Danny Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org