The Ormond Beach Police Department is taking an unconventional approach to employee health.
BY WAYNE GRANT | STAFF WRITER
There aren’t many jobs where you may sit for eight hours and then have to take off running through yards and hopping over fences.
But that's all in a day’s work for a police officer.
“A big part of the job is sitting in a vehicle writing reports or on patrol,” said Sgt. Jamie Gogarty, a 30-year veteran of the Ormond Beach Police Department. “Then, the next minute, you’re in a full-blown pursuit, chasing somebody down the road.”
Officer Amberly Michaelis said she has been in several foot pursuits.
“You never know when you have to go on a dead run,” she said. “It’s important to be in shape. Fitness can save our lives and the lives of our partners.”
Unfortunately, though, the nature of police work can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. They work 12-hour shifts and meals are often eaten at restaurants.
“Eating habits are not the greatest,” said Gogarty, who now supervises the Criminal Investigative Division. “I always ate fast. I was afraid I’d get a call before I finished.”
That’s why these officers and others at the department are enthusiastic about a new volunteer fitness program which awards officers with time off if they pass certain tests.
“Being a police officer for 25 years, I know how important it is to stay fit,” said Lt. Jesse Godfrey, who worked on developing the program. “I know the stressors of the job and what it takes to stay in shape.”
He said officers come out of the police academy in great shape, but the job can take its toll after a few years.
To design the program, the department named Officer Michaelis its fitness coordinator and sent her to take a 40-hour class last July at St. Petersburg College, which offers public safety programs. She learned how to set up a fitness program based on law enforcement needs.
“I played college basketball, and I’ve always had an interest in fitness,” she said.
Godfrey and Michaelis also consulted the Cooper Institute, in Dallas, to determine fitness requirements.
Godfrey emphasizes that it’s an officer’s responsibility to be in shape and ready for police work. He said not all police departments have fitness programs.
“It ties in with the Mayor’s Fitness Challenge and the city wellness programs for employees,” Godfrey said. “There’s an overall interest in fitness.”
Michaelis said the tests are the same for male and females.
“We all do the same job so all need the same test,” she said.
She said 20 officers signed up for the program last October. In January, 18 took the tests, which consisted of seven events. An officer received 12 hours off for the year if he/she passed seven events, 10 hours off for passing six events and eight hours off for passing five events. (The run can be substituted for a walk or recumbent bike exercise).
The tests and requirements are listed as follows:
The Illinois Agility Run — 19.5 seconds
Vertical Jump — 16 inches
Sit Ups in One Minute — 27
Continuous Pushups — 23
300 Meter Run — 69 seconds
1.5 Mile Run — 17 minutes and 5 seconds
Bench Press — 160 pounds
Several officers showed improvement from October to January, Michaelis said. One officer increased their pushups from six to 23, and another lowered their time in the run from 23 minutes, 55 seconds to 18 minutes, 52 seconds.
The police department has a complete gym with weights, treadmill, etc. An officer who signs up for the program can workout two hours per week while on duty, with the permission of their supervisor.
Michaelis said the program has turned into a support system.
“We all tested together,” she said. “We were cheering each other on.”
Officers in the program can take the test next January to win time off for 2015.
Michaelis said she is happy with the participation, considering that the program is brand new. She said she hears officers sharing ideas for workouts, such as basketball, swimming, 5K races, etc.
“It’s made people more aware,” she said. “Just like any other job, there are stresses. My theory is you take out the stresses of the job by working out instead of smoking or eating. It’s a good release, and you see your friends.”