The police department in Mexico City has had to ration the calories served to police officers in their cafeterias. Many officers are limited to consuming no more than 2,500 calories if they eat in the cafeterias – instead of the usual 4,000. Do you know how hard it is to eat 4,000 calories? If you don’t know, it’s an interesting exercise to count your average caloric consumption over the course of a week (go to fitday.com for a free nutrition account – it’s actually pretty good). Most of us (I hope) would find it a challenge to consume 4,000 calories.
Three-quarters of the Mexico City police force is overweight. This problem is reflected in police departments throughout Mexico and in the urban population in general.
I am interested in this for reasons other than anthropological and physiological curiosity. Mexico has the highest rates of obesity – second only to —wait for it— the United States. The problem of overweight police officers is shared by their brethren in the US. I have undertaken my own very informal study of the New York police department and found they are not exempt – despite having a disciplined and fit Commissioner. I am even able to play my own version of the Volkswagen “punch buggy” game with the number of VERY overweight officers I come across.
I have asked friends in the department about the reasons for this low fitness level – why don’t you guys work out? The standard response seems to be: “Because we don’t have to.” Police officers work under something called “presumed compliance.” The uniform and the authority it conveys are supposed to elicit a measure of respect and compliance from the average citizen. A problem arises when, as frequently happens, officers are called to engage someone who is not average and who despises authority.
What happens when a suspect is not prepared to comply? The answers range from “I’ll just kick his ass” to “that’s what guns are for.” I don’t know about you, but neither of these answers is satisfactory. Whatever happened to Coach Paul Bear Bryant’s philosophy, “The will to win is nothing compared to the will to prepare to win”? If it’s good enough for football, it should be good enough for law enforcement. After all, just like the military, coming in second in these worlds has a whole different meaning.
After the police academy, few police departments have ongoing fitness requirements. This is a result of the strength of their labor unions and our litigious society. Another argument is that it would be a logistical nightmare to check on compliance with any fitness program. Legal barriers notwithstanding, I find it hard to believe that checking on compliance doesn’t have a technological solution. A bigger issue is the matter of “will.”
Being physically fit enables an officer to perform the basic functions of their job, such as chasing criminals. Another benefit would be a reduction in the frequency of life threatening illnesses that come with being unfit and overweight in an extremely stressful job. An unhealthy level of stress is the most pernicious and deadly consequence of police work. A healthy lifestyle would go a long way to countering its effects. I also believe that taxpayers have a right to question the reasons behind increasing disability and pension costs for civil servants.
I would hope that financial incentives or legislation would not be required for our guardians to show self-discipline and pride. Not all of these officers are “big-boned.” There should be an annual fitness requirement much like the Marines have that matched the test to the job tasks – one that also took into account worst case scenarios. Police would be able to do their jobs more efficiently, police shootings would decrease; depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, and broken marriages would decrease; taxpayers wouldn’t be supporting bad lifestyle choices; and the people would take more pride in our guardians.
I know some incredible police officers. Some are incredible athletes and some of them are in less than peak condition. It’s about creating a culture of improvement and accountability. Hey, who knows? The police today, and the rest of society tomorrow?