Law enforcement can be a physically demanding profession. During a shift, officers can be required to exert force during pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, or dragging tasks [1
]. Officers may also need to complete job-specific tasks, including driving vehicles [2
], defensive tactics [3
], civilian or partner rescue [4
], and pursuing and apprehending suspects [3
]. Due to these demands, physical training forms an important component of the academy training process. Academy training is where law enforcement training staff will develop recruits to meet the physical challenges of the job, while also teaching the necessary procedures, skills, and expected values and behavior expected of a law enforcement officer [5
The hiring process for a law enforcement agency (LEA) is multilayered, and can include (but is not limited to) fitness and medical examinations, background checks, and psychological evaluations [7
]. Many LEAs use physical fitness testing as part of the hiring process in an attempt to ensure recruits have the underlying capacities needed to complete academy training [9
] and future job-specific tasks [12
]. For example, recruits with a better grip strength [3
] and vertical jump (VJ) [13
] were less likely to experience injuries and illness. Dawes et al. [9
] found that the number of push-ups completed in 60 s and VJ height were the best predictors of recruit graduation from a state patrol academy. Shusko et al. [11
] detailed that push-ups completed in 60 s and aerobic fitness measured by the 2.4 km (1.5 mile run) were the best predictors of graduation for municipal police academy recruits. In their study, Lockie et al. [10
] documented that recruits who separated due to injury or physical training failures were slower in the 75 yard pursuit run (75PR) and completed fewer 20 m multistage fitness test (20MSFT) shuttles. Ensuring recruits have the fitness necessary to complete academy training is important. Losing recruits during academy can bring high financial costs to an agency [11
], and recruiting individuals with greater fitness could alleviate this risk.
A challenge for many LEAs is that they have a high number of positions that need to be filled. Finding enough suitable candidates is a problem faced by law enforcement organizations [14
]. There are a number of societal issues that are affecting the number of suitable applicants an agency will receive. For example, within the American general population, the number of males and females who are physically active has gone down [15
], which has coincided with an increase in obesity across almost all adult age groups [17
]. This means that there are likely to be less people in the general population who could meet the minimum fitness standards required for many agencies. In addition, there are also people who view law enforcement as a less attractive profession [19
], further diluting the available candidate pool.
Because of the need to fill positions, some agencies may adapt their hiring process to potentially allow more recruits to reach academy training [21
]. Agencies may also review hiring practices as required by local and federal laws, consent decrees, evolving job standards, and pertinent research. The LEA in this study modified their applicant test battery (ATB), which incorporated multiple levels of testing including fitness, background checks, and psychological evaluations, to increase the number of applicants eligible to attend the academy. This allowed for the training of 100–200 more recruits per year. Information about all changes to ATB procedures were not made available to the researchers. However, specific to fitness testing, the 2.4 km run was replaced by the 20MSFT and the arm ergometer was removed from hiring fitness tests. This was in part changed to allow for greater utility in testing, such that multiple sites could be used to widen the candidate pool. The purpose of this study was to determine any differences in the fitness of law enforcement recruits hired under the two different ATB protocols from one LEA. It was hypothesized that there would be minor, if any, differences in the fitness of recruits hired under the older and newer ATB.
This study investigated the characteristics and fitness test performance of law enforcement recruits hired under older and newer ATB. As stated, the LEA analyzed in this study in part changed their ATB procedures so they could more efficiently test more applicants in more locations to increase the pool eligible to attend the academy. The results from this study indicated that there were minimal differences between recruits hired under the older and newer ATB. However, the data did show that the females from the class hired under the newer ATB had lower aerobic capacity as measured by the 20MSFT. Given that many agencies want to hire and retain more women [56
], this finding has important implications for LEA staff.
The data indicated that the characteristics (age, height, and body mass) of the recruits were similar between the older and newer ATB groups, were typical of similar populations from the literature [4
]. When all recruits were combined, there was a non-significant, small effect in height for those hired under the older ATB compared to those hired under the newer ATB, which was likely due to the males. Indeed, the males in the older ATB group had a mean height taller than those in the newer ATB group. However, this difference, although it did have a small effect, was not significant. These results may have occurred due to the variation that occurs across recruits in different law enforcement academy classes [6
]. Lockie et al. [6
] found differences in the mean height of recruits across 11 classes from the one LEA. Nonetheless, it can be stated that the characteristics of the recruits hired under the newer ATB were not significantly different to those hired under the older ATB within the parameters of this study.
There were few differences in fitness test performance between the older and newer ATB groups. Each of the fitness tests included in this research has applicability to law enforcement recruits. Push-ups and sit-ups are staple tests of muscular endurance for law enforcement populations [4
]. Greater muscular endurance measured by push-up repetitions could influence academy graduation [9
], while better performance in both tests has been related to job tasks including running, jumping, and climbing [4
]. The VJ provides a measure of lower-body power [29
], and has been linked to academy graduation [9
]. The MBT provides a measure of upper-body power [29
], and this quality is needed in policing job tasks requiring upper-body pushing and striking [1
]. Even with the newer ATB implemented to increase the number of recruits trained per year, this initial analysis of a class hired under these new procedures suggested that they were similar to established standards from the older ATB group relative to upper-body and abdominal muscular endurance, and upper- and lower-body power.
However, there were some differences between the older and newer ATB groups worth discussing. The most notable result from this study was the performance of the newer and older ATB female recruit groups in the 20MSFT. Female recruits hired under the older ATB were superior in the 20MSFT compared to those hired under the newer ATB. The disparity in completed shuttles was not significant in the context of this study, but the effect size difference was moderate. This is important to note, as the magnitude of difference shown by the effect size data arguably provides more important information to the practitioner than just the p
value alone [51
]. These results could be an area of focus for the newer ATB females for several reasons. Female recruits tend to demonstrate lower aerobic capacity measured by tests such as the 20MSFT and 2.4 km run compared to males [6
]. Accordingly, many female recruits are starting academy at a physiological disadvantage compared to their male colleagues [6
]. This could mean that females within an academy class are working at a higher relative intensity than their male counterparts, which could increase their risk of injury [60
]. Further to this, better aerobic fitness has also been linked to greater potential for academy graduation [9
]. and can also assist with recovery from exercise [62
]. The ability to recover from physical training may indirectly help female recruits in other areas of academy (e.g., female recruits that can recover more effectively from an intense training session may be able to study the required academics more effectively). If female recruits being hired under a newer ATB consistently demonstrate lower aerobic fitness, this could lead to more females being separated from academy, due to factors such as physical training or academic failures or injury [10
]. This could have large scale implications for the LEA relative to the retention of female recruits [56
]. Several studies have noted the importance of targeted aerobic fitness training for female recruits [23
], and that is supported by the results from this study. It should be noted that the sample of females in the newer ATB group was small (n
= 13). Further analysis is required to determine whether females hired under the newer ATB consistently demonstrate lesser aerobic fitness. Additionally, the impact of any ATB changes on hiring numbers, whether this influences incoming female recruit fitness levels, and any potential impacts on recruit separation and/or injury rates should be a focus of future research.
The faster 75PR attained by females hired under the newer ATB compared to those from the older ATB had a moderate effect, although any differences were not significant in the context of this study. The 75PR was designed to simulate a foot pursuit and provides a measure of change-of-direction speed [12
]. Lockie et al. [10
] found that recruits who did not graduate from a law enforcement training academy tended to be slower in the 75PR. Accordingly, the 75PR provides a measure of physical characteristics important to law enforcement recruits. Post et al. [37
] showed that greater linear and change-of-direction speed, and lower-body multidirectional power and isometric strength, correlated with a faster 75PR in male and female civilians. It could be that the newer ATB female recruits were superior in these qualities relative to the older ATB female recruits. However, only one class hired under the newer ATB was analyzed, and these data could have occurred due to the variation occurring across academy classes [6
]. Further research is needed incorporating more classes hired under the newer ATB to determine whether these differences are consistent with future academy classes, and whether any differences arise in male recruits.
Several limitations to this study should be noted. There was a large discrepancy between the older and newer ATB groups (526 recruits vs. 58 recruits). Nevertheless, only data from one class hired under the newer ATB were available for the researchers. The researchers were not privy to all information regarding the newer ATB for a variety of reasons. As a result, this study did not consider other factors that could be influenced by newer ATB, including medical and psychological evaluations [7
]. Nonetheless, it is of value to determine whether changes to an ATB are reflected in fitness tests across academy classes. The nature of field testing introduces some level of error to testing [33
]. Nonetheless, the data collected and analyzed in this study were used for record at the LEA, and data collected via the procedures detailed have been published in numerous studies [4
]. Maximal strength was not measured within the fitness testing battery, despite its importance for law enforcement job tasks [8
]. This study also only included data from one LEA. As fitness test performance can vary across recruits from different agencies [65
], individual LEAs may need to conduct their own studies to detail the effects of any changes their staff may make to their own ATB.