- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2000

You walk into Popeye's. You want a "two piece" with a biscuit. You're homesick and you think the down-South spices might do the trick even if the grease sends your cholesterol screaming and puts your arteries in one mean choke-hold. You don't eat the stuff often, so, it won't kill you at least not right away.

You're thinking to yourself how much the labor market has changed: Once, these fast-food restaurants were havens for hard-to-employ African-Americans; now almost everyone speaks Spanish, or hard-to-understand English. Asking a question whose answer hasn't already been scripted can be dangerous. For the audience, however, it's hilarious.

In mid-laugh, you notice one of D.C.'s finest guys in blue hunched over a "four piece," an order of red beans and rice, and two biscuits. You want to push him away from his plate; his stomach already presses the edge of the table, which doesn't seem to stop him from wolfing his food. Aren't there physical fitness requirements for these guys?

The question seems ludicrous when you consider how many things police officers in this town are supposed to do, but don't. How about the hundreds of cars that went without legally required inspection tickets? Or the officer who confiscated perfume and sold it, saying he thought it was a perishable item? Blame it on the food; the grease has gone to everyone's head. If it's not the Popeye's, then it's the double cheeseburgers, fries and large sodas, or the pizza with everything hold the anchovies.

There is no holding back their ever-expanding guts. Not even the police chief and his Chicago sidekicks are exempt. Food helps explain their invisibility on the streets. It keeps them locked in their cruisers and hiding from their bicycles. Who can walk or pedal carrying an extra 50 or 100 extra pounds?

So, someone tells you, you must be at least 10 or 15 pounds over the top yourself. You laugh, and say you are no police officer. Fat doesn't affect you're ability to perform your job; just ask Jack Germond. No one expects you to chase criminals. What would happen right now, you wonder, if someone came in to rob this chicken joint? Can the guy with the stuffed jaws react quickly? Can the District's "heavy-duty" police force, protect defenseless citizens? Or is the philosophy shoot first, waddle later?

Even officers who are actually managers and push more paper than criminals should be in top physical shape, you assert. Someone forgot to give the memo to the folks at the Metropolitan Police Department.

There are stringent physical fitness requirements before entering and while in the academy, says Officer David Becton. And, recruits before graduating must pass a test. For example, a recruit has to perform 35 push-ups in one minute, 45 sit-ups in one minute, and run one and a half miles in 13 minutes. What happens if the cadet can't get up and down fast enough? Mr. Becton says the person has two opportunities to pass. The officer might be given a third chance, but if he or she fails the last time, well, there is a "possibility of termination."

What about my friend with the "four piece" and side orders, who has been on the force for years? "There is no continuing fitness requirement," Mr. Becton says, speaking from his post at the academy.

Maybe while Chief Ramsey is trying to repair dysfunctional crime-investigations units (as well as trying to stop officers from acting as pimps for prostitutes, trying to stop some from getting involved with drug dealers and massage parlors, trying to stop others from stealing money from police station safes, trying to teach others the difference between perishable and nonperishable items) he might want to institute a physical fitness program. Put his officers on a diet no carbo; all carbo; it doesn't matter. The public has a right to expect police officers who can at least bend over and touch their toes.

But wait, your New Year's resolution was to try and offer constructive criticism where possible. So here's to reconstructing those stomachs and abs; a few tips picked up from the George Washington University (GWU) Weight Management Program: Exercise: Don't eat standing up (this shouldn't be hard since most officers are in cruisers). Don't worry about cleaning your plate mother isn't watching. Free food contains calories forget about the doughnuts and coffee with flavored cream. Bank calories miss a meal or two, especially when a trip to Popeye's is on the schedule. Get on the scale daily staying alert to the fat-creep, might be useful.

Most of these GWU tips were for holiday eaters. But, you think, what the heck, it can't hurt. Many of the city's police officers act as if they are on permanent holiday, anyway.

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