By Andrew Ford. Published Dec. 10, 2019.
TRENTON – Women and men who want to be cops will get help to become strong enough to pass the state’s physical fitness test for police officers, a top police official told lawmakers Monday.
The reform was suggested in an investigation by the Asbury Park Press and USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey, which revealed police academies failed women on the physical test up to 13 times as often as men after a rule change.
Police recruits will also have to pass a physical test before they enter police academy, John F. Cunningham, administrator of the New Jersey Police Training Commission, said at a hearing held by the New Jersey Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Cunningham’s commission makes training rules for cops and oversees police academies. He spoke on the importance of the existing physical testing standard, noting academies have limited time to train cops and the training is physically demanding. He acknowledged the Network’s reporting, which a reporter produced with data generated by police academies.
“I did read his article and I’m not going to sit here today and try to refute his numbers,” Cunningham told the committee.
He said the training commission directed police academies to open their doors for pre-employment preparation programs — including workouts for people who want to be cops.
“We are going to bring in recruits prior to the academy, we’ll bring in candidates, we’ll bring in anybody that’s interested in a law enforcement career, into our academies, and we will begin to prepare them for the academy, we’ll begin to prepare them physically,” Cunningham told the commission. “I think it’s a step in the right direction. I think it’s long overdue. And I think it’s going to help us to be more successful with people passing the academy because they’ll be physically prepared for the academy even before they get there.”
Cunningham said private companies in New Jersey charge recruits thousands of dollars to help them prepare for the academy, a big ask for someone looking for a job.
“So the commission and the academies that we supervise are going to do that for free,” he said.
It’s unclear when those free fitness sessions will start. The commission approved the idea at their most recent meeting last week.
The Network’s story also showed New Jersey ranks low in the nation for recruiting women in law enforcement — as of 2016, one-third of the departments in the state employed no female police officers. Two people who testified before the Senate committee Monday urged lawmakers to more closely study female participation in police work, including Jiles Ship of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Megan Flanagan of New Jersey Women in Law Enforcement.
Lawmakers heard testimony that more can be done to recruit women in law enforcement and recruits need to arrive at the academies physically prepared.
“We are not a gym,” said State Police Maj. Jeanne Hengemuhle, a former commandant of the New Jersey State Police Academy.
Newark Police Capt. Ivonne Roman questioned whether the fitness test that produced a disparity between men and women is truly necessary for police work.
Committee Chair Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, said the hearing was prompted by the Network’s reporting, lauding the Network’s “good, provocative articles.”