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On a tragic afternoon at a house in Shelbyville last month, two Shelbyville Police Officers grappled with a teenager who they say was hitting them with a variety of items.
Both officers were struck, one severely, before, police said, a female officer drew her gun and shot and killed 18-year-old Trey F. Williams.
Among the many questions that emerged from that confrontation, in which two officers apparently failed to subdue one younger and larger individual, is this: How physically fit are the men and women trained to protect and serve the citizens?
Though law enforcement officers endure rigorous physical conditioning and testing when they go through the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training Academy at Richmond, each individual law enforcement agency in the state is free to adopt its own standards regarding the physical fitness of its officers, The Sentinel-Newshas learned.
In Shelby County, neither the Shelbyville Police Department, with 23 officers, nor the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, with 25 deputies, has any set requirement for staying in shape after the academy.
They do, however, encourage their officers to stay in shape, SPD Maj. D. Goodwin said.
“All our officers have a free gym membership for the FAC [Family Activity Center], and we encourage them to take advantage of that, and in general, they do,” he said.
Sheriff’s Det. Jason Rice said the same is true for deputies.
“We don’t have any guidelines in place that require you to stay in shape, but we encourage good physical conditioning,” he said. “We have a pass to facilities within the parks system, which includes the weight room and track facilities.”
Rice said that many police agencies don’t have physical fitness requirements in place for officers.
“There are things you have to be able to do in the beginning to become a police officer to meet the POPS [police officers professional standards] standard at the academy, but after that, it’s up to the individual officer to maintain that,” he said.
That means that the officers involved in the confrontation with Williams – 18-year veteran Susanna Marcum and 6-year vet Frank Willoughby – had not had to endure any physical testing since they had been hired by SPD.
Because the incident continues to be under investigation by the Kentucky State Police, officials would not comment specifically on Marcum and Willoughby.
Use of force
However, both Shelbyville PD and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office do have standards that police officers must follow in areas of handling people they arrest, in terms of handcuffing, using a Taser and other similar activities, because they are accredited agencies that not only must follow guidelines in those areas, but stay up to date in new developments, Shelbyville Police Chief Bob Schutte said.
“For example, we must qualify on the range with live firing twice a year, and through the Kentucky League of Cities, we use their firearms training simulator once a year, when they make that available to us,” he said. “Also we do annual refreshers, dealing with arrest procedures, handcuff techniques, and annual Taser training as well.”
That would be similar to agencies surrounding Shelby County, but the fitness requirements vary.
At the Frankfort Police Department, Maj. Fred Deaton said the department’s 63 officers must either participate in a departmental wellness program or undergo a yearly fitness evaluation, a requirement that was put in place there in 1985.
“Our officers must work out two and a half hours per week,” he said. “They go into the gym and sign a log book and work out for that period of time, and they’re given duty time off from work to do that.
If they choose not to participate in the department’s wellness program, they must pass an annual PT [physical training] test, which involves a set number of push ups, sit ups, and other things.”
In contrast – and like in Shelby County – the La Grange Police Department’s 13 officers are not under a certain requirement to stay fit, Maj. Frank Conway said.
“Our policy just requires that they be fit for duty and be able to do everything the job requires,” he said. “We’ve looked into putting some guidelines in place, but haven’t done that yet. A lot of departments – an example is the Jeffersontown P.D. – give their officers time each day or each week to work out.
“Here, we have just furnished our office with a small workout facility; we have a treadmill, some free weights and a bag that we purchased with confiscated drug funds.”
KSP discontinued standards
At the state level, Kentucky State Police do not have any specific guidelines in place, either, and have not for two years, Trooper David Jude said.
“We don’t have anything mandatory in place right now; we discontinued our guidelines, because we wanted to re-evaluate our requirements,” he said. “We are in the process of doing that now.”
Generally, officials at the academy, which provides training for law enforcement at all levels throughout Kentucky, said they believe those who graduate the facility are among the finest conditioned anywhere.
“We were the first public safety training academy in the United States to be accredited by CALEA [Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies] when the new standards were created,” said Abbie Darst, communications director at the DOCJT.
Those national standards were established in 2002, and Kentucky’s police academy became the first one to receive accreditation in March 2003, Darst said. Only 20 have met standard and 14 others are trying.
Darst said every police officer in Kentucky has to meet those standards in order to graduate from the academy.
The physical requirement is on a point system in which a candidate must accumulate 50 points by reaching or exceeding minimum requirements – bench press (55.3 percent of body weight), sit-ups (13), the 300-meter run (68 seconds), push-ups (14) and the 1.5-mile run (17:56) – in a 3-hour window.
“Not many of our recruits fail,” she said. “That’s because we have a very strict screening process the first week of the academy, and that way we weed out those who wouldn’t be able to make it.”
Goodwin said Kentucky’s police academy is 18 weeks long, in contrast to most departments around the country, who only require a 12-week course.
“Kentucky has high standards,” he said.