- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

HANOVER, Va. (AP) Starting in 2004, Hanover County deputy sheriffs will have to demonstrate their physical fitness by running, jumping and crawling through a 150-yard obstacle course in a prescribed period of time. Those who fail will lose their jobs.
Officers will "gripe and grumble, but the bottom line is, they appreciate it," Deputy Stewart Wickham said after running the course Wednesday. Deputy Wickham, 53, said the fitness program will ensure that deputies are better prepared for physical and stressful events.
Ron Bessent, who helps create training standards for the state's criminal justice academies, holds up Hanover's program as a model for other police agencies. He said he does not know of a similar local police program.
Hanover began the mandatory fitness testing last year, believing that just as veteran officers must qualify with their firearms, they should also be required to maintain a certain fitness level. Even Sheriff V. Stuart Cook takes the test.
The sheriff's office is still testing to determine the minimum acceptable time for completing the obstacle course. To date, the best time is 45 seconds; the worst is 1 minute, 45 seconds.
Margaret Nichols, who administers insurance programs for the Virginia Municipal League, said the average cost of the Hanover sheriff's office workers' compensation claims has dropped since the program began.
"It's a wonderful concept," Ms. Nichols said. She said some other law enforcement agencies have exercise programs, but she knows of none "that are doing anything close to what Hanover is doing."
As part of the program's health component, deputies can receive workout plans, nutritional consultation and other information from an officer who also serves as the department's physical fitness director.
Investigator Greg Crawford, who coordinates the program, helped create the obstacle course to mimic the kinds of physical tasks officers should be able to perform.
The exercise begins with a seated officer receiving a suspect's description, and it ends after the officer reaches the end of the course by overcoming various obstacles, including scaling a 5-foot-high wall and dragging a 150-pound dummy 5 yards.
The final task requires the officer to pull the trigger of an unloaded semiautomatic pistol with first one hand and then the other. The winded officer must accomplish this with the shooting arm fully extended and the gun's barrel surrounded by a steel band 6 inches in diameter. The goal is to shoot straight.
After completing the agility test, the officer is timed in a 1.5-mile run and asked to do push-ups, sit-ups, a bench press and other exercises. Deputies are not required to get a certain score on this part of the fitness testing.
Deputies who fail the obstacle course in 2004 can retake the test up to twice. If an officer fails both retests, he loses his job.

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