While police departments struggle to recruit new officers, hundreds of potential law enforcement careers in Massachusetts are being sidelined by fitness failures.
The NBC10 Boston Investigators looked at the data and found an uptick in the number of policing candidates failing the fitness test to get into the police academy. Some student officers accepted into the academy are also dropping out because of fitness requirements.
Those numbers have taken a toll on police departments and communities.
The Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee oversees police training in Massachusetts.
“In order to get into the police academy, you need to pass a certain entry level fitness standard, and we’ve struggled with getting people through the fitness standard,” said MPTC Executive Director Robert Ferullo.
The biggest struggles are with the sit-ups and the timed run, Ferullo said.
Data obtained by the NBC10 Boston Investigators shows that since 2019, 34% of female recruits and 29% of male recruits failed the pre-academy fitness test — ending policing careers before they even stepped through the academy doors.
“What we’ve been seeing, especially over the last several years, is that the fitness level of our candidates who come in is much lower than it has been in the past,” said Natick Police Chief James Hicks, who also serves as MPTC’s chairman of Northeast Chief of Police. “I personally have lost some good candidates, and we’re talking about females, trilingual, and there are others out there that I know of who have lost good candidates, also.”
The Natick Police Department is down four officers, with about 10 more retiring in the next year. Hicks told us losing just one recruit can have a devastating impact.
“Now there’s more forced shifts, inability to take time off,” he said. “But you talk about a department smaller than mine, where if they lose one or two, it’s almost impossible to operate.”
The high failure rates prompted a review by the MPTC and sparked change in the state’s fitness testing requirements. Sit-ups were replaced with planks in the pre-academy testing, and now student officers have two extra weeks of training before being tested for fitness while in the academy.
“Our intent is not to remove people from the academy because of fitness standards,” Ferullo said. “Our intent is to get them to where they need to be so they will serve their communities.”
Police in Natick are trying to make fitness part of the policing lifestyle to keep anyone who wears the badge and the community safe. They’ve even hired fitness coaches to work with potential candidates to help them succeed.
“When we talk about recruitment, you have to find someone who can communicate, someone who understands the value of equity and diversity, and has character,” Hicks said. “At the same time, they have to get through the academy.”
Almost 600 recruits have failed the fitness test since 2019. The MPTC has started a trial program at its Lynnfield Academy to help potential candidates prepare for the fitness test in the hope of improving those numbers.