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Physical Abilities Tests: Where the Police Applicants Hit the Road

Richard B. Weinblatt

Law enforcement agencies, and the basic law enforcement academies that train recruits, follow different sequences of applicant testing events. Most police and sheriff’s departments put the physical abilities test (PAT) or physical exams towards the beginning of the lengthy testing process since a good number of the applicants fail to make the cut.

These tests may be administered as part of the entrance into an independent community college or agency-affiliated academy or as part of the hiring criteria for a law enforcement entity. I will give you a look at what some of these PAT type entrance hurdle looks like and detail the hoops you should jump through to ensure your success.

50% Failure Rate

Some organizations actually anticipate that 50% of the people who turn out to either fail the course or events as outlined by the police recruitment and human resources staff. In order to cut down their applicant assessment costs, they move the disqualifying physical tests towards the beginning of the process. From their perspective, there is no point in expending resources of time and money on background investigations, for example, if the person can’t meet the physical requirements.

You should have already researched your targeted agency or academy as part of your effort to obtain the application and information packet. Part of the information you discovered should have been what type of physical testing process they utilize.

Physical testing takes a variety of forms and departments and academies sometimes combine different testing components into a series of physical challenges. Most times, these events are graded on a pass/fail basis, but some figure out a percentage score and rank the participants.

Many agencies, especially years ago, use standards based on or similar to those developed by the Cooper Institute in Dallas, TX. These are physical events that are rated on a sliding percentile basis based on a person’s gender and age. Some of those events are 1.5 mile run, sit and reach (for flexibility), bench press, leg press, sit-ups, and pull-ups. For example, a 35-year-old female will be given more time to do the 1.5 mile run than a 21-year-old male.

Quite a few agencies have gravitated towards a glorified obstacle course, sometimes referred to as a physical abilities test that is job task specific. These courses usually have been validated as employing physical movements inherent in the performance of the duties of a law enforcement officer.

The applicant is required to, within a qualifying score usually consisting of a maximum time, traverse through all stations of the course. Those stations could include firearms dry fire trigger pulls, low crawl, wall climb, weighted door obstacle, 150-pound dummy drag or carry, and sprint.

Examples of the equipment used to set the course up could range from stations constructed of cones for a slalom course or have an actual unloaded revolver for dry fire trigger pulls. The quality of the wall climb obstacle, for example, could range from a saw horse to simulate a wall obstacle to an actually constructed wooden or brick wall with a window atop it that the test taker has to climb up to and through.

Prepare in Advance

Preparation far in advance of the test date is key to passing physical exam testing. Agency testers often related how they can usually guess which of those that show up the morning of the tests will be unable to even complete all of them.

Using the information from the applicant packets you picked up previously, you should be training and preparing yourself over a span of time to comfortably mange whatever physical requirements will be expected of you. I have been told by many aspiring law enforcers that they thought that their training regime was adequate, only to find that it fell far short of the intensity and quality that they really needed.

If you are really out of shape, you may have to consult experts at your local gym and perhaps even hire a personal trainer. It is important to note that the physical aspect is but one component of the challenge. I have seen many people who might have had what it takes physically, but failed because they gave up mentally.

Failure is not an option in a physically and mentally challenging career of a law enforcement officer. Those with military experience have already come to terms with challenges of different forms and are thus generally the beneficiaries of a higher pass rate on these sorts of tests than the civilian-backgrounded population.

Here are ten items to keep in mind when making a run at a successful physical testing day:

1. Research the tests. Find that portion of the application and information packet and create, or even have professionally designed, a workout routine that builds you up slowly.

2. Go beyond the minimum. Make sure that your target physical performance goes beyond the minimums specified in the documents. You want to have a safety net established way in advance in the event that you do not feel 100% on the testing day and fall short.

3. Eat. As part of your new workout routine, you should have modified your eating habits. Be sure to eat lighter, smaller meals as you approach your testing time.

4. Rest. Be sure to get plenty of rest in the days leading up to your test. Staying out late with your buddies the night before is not a good strategy for success.

5. Hydrate. Drink plenty of water starting long before you have to perform physically. Drinking a large amount of water just prior, during, or after a grueling physical event may result in you throwing up or even in your death.

6. Dress Appropriately. Avoid dressing in the police shirts that usually derogatorily associated with “wannabes.” You especially want to avoid those police shirts with sexually suggestive or politically incorrect slogans on them. Dress in plain, properly fitting clothing with conservative colors

7. Arrive Early. Be sure that you arrive early to avoid traffic delays. Map your route out in advance, or better yet, take a dry run to be sure you know where the testing location is and what it looks like.

8. Be Respectful. As with all phases of the applicant process, be sure that you are respectful. In the para-military world of law enforcement, “yes, sir,” “no, sir,” “yes ma’am,” and “no, ma’am” go a long way. Do not refer to any of the testers by their first name or be overly familiar with them even if you knew them before.

9. Volunteer. Without appearing too pushy or eager, see if you can assist the testers with tearing down the test stations or course. They may need help stacking the cones or taking down the shade tents.

10. Be Professional. Whether you do well or not, do not get too emotional. I have seen both men and women fall down and cry, use profanity, and otherwise exhibit unprofessional behavior at physical tests. Even if they did pass, I guarantee you that the rating officers are watching and will pass their observations on to the background investigator, oral board members, and higher law enforcement executives.

Law enforcement needs physically fit men and women who are able to conduct themselves in a professional manner. All others can hit the road while you progress to the next step.

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