By John Burton
RED BANK – “Our job goes from zero to 60 all the time,” said Red Bank Police Patrolman Jorge Torres about his work and the need for a police officer to stay in shape.
Police Chief Darren McConnell has long agreed. Now he’s instituted a program to help make it a little easier for his officers to get a little gym time.
The idea that first came to him back when the borough enacted its Mayor’s Wellness Campaign a few years ago to encourage municipal employees to pursue healthy lifestyles, involving regular exercise and good diets, and offering modest incentives as encouragements. Healthier employees take less sick time, are more productive and can help keep publicly paid health insurance costs in check, officials believe. And of course, there is the improvement in their quality of life.
Running with that idea and with information he’s gotten from a certified public managers’ class, McConnell initiated his own take on encouraging officers to exercise more.
The program started in November and so far 26 of the department’s 40 officers are participating. “It’s gotten a pretty good reception,” he said.
The initiative allows department members to take as many as six hours a month – an hour either at the start of their tour or at the end – and they can spend that hour at a local gym, such as the Community YMCA or Work Out World, in the borough, and where it can be verified that the officer had gone and used the time; or they can use the running track at Count Basie Fields, and clock in some laps. “And they’re encouraged, obviously, to go while they’re off duty,” too, McConnell added. “The idea being to promote cardiac health and physical fitness among the officers.”
To that end, officers must have a medical physical exam to make sure they are in good enough condition to begin with and plans call for a twice- a-year physical fitness test, involving sprints, a 1 1⁄2-mile run and push-ups and sit-ups, to monitor progress. The first test will be held in April.
“It also has the effect of building camaraderie,” McConnell said. “It should be a fun thing, hopefully.”
Garry Falco is a five-year veteran patrolman who works out as often as he can in what time he can spare. With a young family and work responsibilities, there is not a lot of time. “So getting to the gym on days off can be difficult,” he said.
“Now that we have the opportunity to do it while at work it’s a benefit to everybody,” he said.
“Considering the dynamics of the job and the potential situations you could be in, you could be in a foot pursuit or a fight at a bar closing,” said Falco.
“The lifestyle doesn’t necessarily always lead itself to the healthiest places,” McConnell said, explaining officers can go for extended sedentary work periods, in a patrol vehicle or at a desk, with too often meal breaks of pizza or fast food and then “bursts of activity with no warning.”
Police officers nationally have a very high rate of cardiovascular disease. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which published a study in 2013, heart attacks are in the top two of the three leading causes of death for in-the-line-of-duty deaths and an officer is 25 times more likely to suffer death or disability from heart disease than from the violent action of a suspect.
In years past the Red Bank department had seen two of its long-serving officers lose their lives from heart ailments.
“Our heart has to be in great shape,” said Torres, who regularly works out on his off-duty hours. “And that running on the treadmill for 45 minutes or a half-hour really that the job is allowing us to do would help our cardiovascular health – and that’s what we really need in this job.”
The Manalapan department has adopted a similar program and Howell is considering it, too, according to McConnell.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Falco said, hoping other departments follow suit.
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