Webinar presenter Ivonne Roman answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Women in Law Enforcement: Physical Fitness Standards and Testing. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: For both applicant and incumbent testing, do you believe that it would be beneficial for police agencies to be able to utilize age and gender norm fitness standards to help realize a more fit workforce?
Ivonne Roman: My research is in gender norming and so the police academy like I’ve mentioned is their hiring standard vary from state to state. So, I know that certain states don’t have an age requirement and states where there are age requirement then yes, you should use age and gender norm but if you are not one of those states, the law doesn’t require you to gender norm. You just have to ensure that you don’t produce disparate outcomes on your tests and you are actually testing for fitness that is work-related. I don’t have a preference for one over the other as long as the task had been validated as being work-related and doesn’t produce different outcomes.
Audience Question: Whether or not you use data or standards from the Cooper Institute and she indicates that they’re one of the most validated databases with respect to fitness norms?
Ivonne Roman: When you look at individually, what the courts will look at is whether it has been validated as being work-related and that does not produce disparity. I know that in New Jersey we’ve recently changed our standards in 2017 and an outside consultant was hired and actually we found that the standards that they suggested were the same ones that have been ruled to produce disparate outcomes inside Pennsylvania State Police. Just because it’s a consultant doesn’t mean that it applies by the requirements of Title VII and the EEOC. I suggest that whatever program is implemented that you evaluate it first before rolling it out to ensure that it doesn’t produce disparity because then you do open yourself up, your agency to legal liabilities.
Audience Question: When agencies are recruiting, are they finding that women are interested and open to a career in law enforcement? Has there been any researcher studies to determine what aspects of the profession are either attractive or not attractive for women
Ivonne Roman: There was a survey conducted in New York City and a lot of their female recruits stated that they were attracted to policing because they want to make a difference especially during a legitimacy crisis and then the next factor was the stability and policing meaning that it’s a job that provides a pension, provides health benefits. What is a factor that is difficult for women to come into policing is the shift-work. That is a factor that exists across policing and that a woman individually has to take into consideration when deciding that policing is best for her. In the sense of women, I, as a precinct commander, men have also approached me and experienced the same hardships actually at the same rate where the shift-work was difficult for men in making arrangements especially now as more men are taking a stronger position in being the head of the household and providing and nurturing for their children. There are many single fathers now. So the same challenges that women were facing earlier, men are increasingly encountering. The Family Medical Leave Act applies to both men and women. Agencies in New Zealand, they are creating policies that support families not just mothers but to fathers also. So agencies may want to look to support the needs of the families, not thinking of it as a gender issue.
Audience Question: Have you examined common fitness standards for SWAT and whether or not they are fair?
Ivonne Roman: That will require a legal challenge in court to say whether they’re fair or not. SWAT teams perform very specialized duties and as you just saw the video from the US Military, they are considering specialized functions and what are the duty requirements and they are creating specialized fitness tests for those specialized units. In order for any fitness tests to be validated for SWAT, it would require an assessment on what duties are required in those assignments and how to best pass for those duties. So let’s say for an example, push-ups have never been validated as being law-related. I’m yet to encounter a police officer who’s told me that they’ve had to do a push-up before putting handcuffs on someone. I personally work on gangs and are potted for over 10 years and I’ve never had to do one push up. When you create a standard especially if it has disparate outcomes, you have to be prepared to show how this has been validated as being work-related. So when it comes to SWAT, the same kind of testing would have to be done, it’s to be legally defensible and there are different skill sets that are required for SWAT. So, until that’s tested, it is difficult to say whether their testing does measure what’s required or not. But in order to get ahead of that, I suggest that law enforcement agencies that are seeing disparate outcomes in people applying to the SWAT teams and the outcomes be prepared to state how that physical fitness test has been validated because that is the legal standard required in the United States Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and by the EEOC.
Audience Question: Do you believe women in law enforcement should receive intense physical self-defense training more often compared to men?
Ivonne Roman: I think that all officers should receive training that shows them how to be able to take control of an individual without having to result in excessive force. There are techniques and maneuvers in which you can seem to get control of an individual using less force. There’s a lot of training out there that can teach men and women how to use an individual’s force against them so that there’s less of a chance of injury for officers and the citizens that they are engaging in. I’m always for training that can reduce injuries to officers and citizens and reduce the necessity to have to use any type of force. Yes, there’s training available and we should always ensure that our officers are trained to be able to control situations with the least amount of force necessary.
Audience Question: Have you identified best practices for developing both pre and post-academy physical fitness testing for law enforcement agencies and if so, what does that look like?
Ivonne Roman: It varies so much across the United States because there are eighteen thousand different police agencies. What I would love is that there is one standard that has been validated and that can be pushed out to the national organizations like IACP or PERF as a best practice so that we can see some uniformity across state lines. Because that’s not required, it’s up to the agencies and the only legal requirement right now is that it be work-related and that it doesn’t produce disparate outcomes. I’m all for someone developing a program that can be used across state lines. This would also make recruiting individuals less expensive and you can have a large pool of applicants from which agencies can apply for. Different applicants will know what to train for, and they don’t have to go hunting down what the requirements are from agency to agency. So, I would personally love to see some kind of validation where one specific test is used across state lines but right now that’s not required because fifty states have home rule and they can create their own standard and sometimes it goes down to the agency level where there’s variability in the testing.
Audience Question: Do you know if there are any major city police agencies that have actually eliminated pre-employment physical fitness requirements from their hiring practices?
Ivonne Roman: I don’t know individual agencies whether they have eliminated it or not. Someone reached out to me recently asking if there is a database and what kind of testing is done and there is no national database on what kind of training is performed for physical fitness whether it’s pre-employment or post-employment. For instance, New Jersey does not do a pre-employment fitness test. They’ll make sure that you’re physically fit to engage in physical fitness so they’ll send you to a doctor to get cleared but testing doesn’t occur before but occurs after you’ve been hired and given an offer of employment. I don’t have any answer to that because it varies again from state to state. It would be great to have a database. The closest that we can get to a database on knowing what kind of training is given is that the Bureau of Justice assistance and they do what’s called CLETA, it’s the Census of Law Enforcement Training Academy and that’s conducted periodically. The last ones were in 2002, 2006 and 2013 – 2013 was published in 2018. There’s a very lengthy process to collect them and the data out and it’s a long survey that collects data but it doesn’t specifically ask if it’s pre-employment or in-academy training on physical fitness. That’s not one of the required questions.
Audience Question: Natalie asks a follow up to that earlier question regarding SWAT fitness programs. Are you aware of any specific challenges across the states to those fitness programs or standards?
Ivonne Roman: I have not seen legal challenges to the SWAT programs. I’ve been following court decisions that would impact police academies across the United States. I personally haven’t become aware of one but if anyone knows of any court cases that I should be aware of these, take my e-mail down and send it to me because I’m collecting data.
Audience Question: Saint Paul Police Department does not have a pre-hiring physical fitness test. They are the only in the state of Minnesota that does not.
Ivonne Roman: I talked about physical fitness exams and not having disparate outcomes. I do believe there should be some level of fitness but it needs to be validated. It’s hard having to defend having these programs that eliminate large swaths of the community especially women when once you become a police officer there’s no testing ever done again in most police agencies so you’re saying that it’s a work necessity but it’s never tested again. We do firearms training every year at most agencies. If it’s so critical that a person’s career depends on it when they enter the academy shouldn’t we continue on testing for it throughout their careers?
Audience Question: Are fitness tests have the same standards for age and gender? A company validated the test is job-related, however, women fail at a higher rate than men. If it is more than 80 percent difference, would the test be considered disparate impact even though the company has indicated that there has been validated as job-related?
Ivonne Roman: If they are sued based on the case law that I reviewed, they will lose in court because a test that has been validated as being work-related but produces different outcomes. If it’s validated by the consultant and that the consultant’s opinion and the consultant will have to show to the court how these statistics show of discriminatory outcomes were bona fide occupational qualifications. So as is the case in New Jersey, a consultant company did suggest this program that eventually produced disparities as high as 50-80 percent. It hasn’t been challenged in court but we now know that the standard is that you would have to show how it’s a bona fide occupational qualification and there’s a lot of tests that produce disparity but it requires a legal challenge to those tests in order to change that.
Audience Question: What can we do to try to address the issue or make this more of a national discussion?
Maureen McGough: From our perspective, the report coming from the summit that we had in September should be released in early summer so keep an eye on NIJ.gov. And that report lays out a framework of we are missing in order to make a sustainable impact across the country. We would encourage you to definitely keep an eye out on the report and help us disseminate it through your networks. That’ll be greatly appreciated
Ivonne Roman: I would refer everyone back to that video. That’s why you create a validated program that relies on bona fide occupational qualifications and you can defend that it’s work-related. So, if you’re going to create a program, you should have a planning phase towards this change that considered what’s the legal requirements are. That you can evaluate the outcomes or you can say it’s was work-related, that you can refer to the science you were using and that you take feedback. That’s how you prepare a physical fitness program that meets the legal requirements and meets your agency’s needs.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Women in Law Enforcement: Physical Fitness Standards and Testing.