“When you choose law enforcement as a career, you give up the right to be unfit.” These words are boldly displayed in the gym of the Illinois State Police Academy. I thought of this quote at precisely the same moment the employee at McDonald’s asked me if I wanted fries with my grilled chicken sandwich (hold the mayo thank you very much). Of-course I politely declined and wondered why this familiar quote would find its way into my conscious thought.
An Aurora Fire Department paramedic recently took a poll of police officers for a college paper that asked us to provide our weight when we were hired and our current weight. For the rookies, the numbers were still in tact and most were still practicing their fitness regimen from the academy. For the rest of us who have a few scuffs on our belt from years of wear, the numbers were greatly increased. The survey generated quite a bit of conversation among the officers and many wondered how they had unconsciously expanded their belt-loop over the years. Some officers were forced to take an honest look at their current state of health a few joked that the main food group in their diet was grease.
Police officers are frequently running calls with little time for a dinner break (especially on the afternoon shift). As a result, we have to resort to those foods that are delivered quickly and can be eaten while simultaneously completing a report in the squad car. Unfortunately, most of the food that fits this criterion is prepared in a deep fryer. The poor diet coupled with the sedentary act of sitting in a squad car is what causes the expansion of many belt loops. It may sound as though I’m making excuses for the police and in a way I am. It takes monumental effort and extreme dedication to fight the donut phenomenon and there are many officers who do so successfully. I see the same handful of officers in the gym on a daily basis and know of those who religiously stop for a protein shake rather than a gut bomb and a cup of coffee. Others painstakingly prepare their meals before leaving home and keep a cooler of healthy foods in their squad car so they don’t succumb to the temptation of fast food.
Unlike other professions, our physical prowess is a direct correlation to our job competency. If my dentist has a few extra pounds it would hardly be a concern to me unless it somehow affected the way he cleaned my teeth. However, if I called the police to report a hoodlum breaking into my car, I would expect that the police officer responding would be able to engage in a foot pursuit if the situation called for such action. Our valor in combat is a necessity and it should be expected of us. We do give up the right to be unfit in this profession.
The term “unfit” has a deeper meaning as well. To be unfit means to be incapable or unsuitable. It applies to state of mind along with the physical state. A police officer gives up the right to be immoral and unjust and the responsibility that befalls an officer wearing that badge is one that requires mental aptitude and superior skill in problem solving. Being “fit” means acting within the scope of our authority and with fundamental fairness in mind. It means putting our personal views aside and acting within the parameters of the law without prejudice and bias.
There are few occupations that bring with it the power to take freedoms away from another human being. With that, there is a great responsibility to do so within the parameters of the law and with justice being the ultimate goal. When we enter the profession of law enforcement, we give up the right to be unfit in both body and mind.