By Rob Shaul
The quick answer is: legal liability.
Years of litigation over law enforcement agency hiring decisions have required agencies which do use fitness tests for academy slots and/or department-wide fitness assessments to gravitate toward the Cooper Test.
Today, at the agency level, any physical fitness test must be “valid” and “defensible” if challenged in court. Challenges come from alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991. These and other laws require that any fitness test must be (1) job related, and (2) scientifically valid – the test must measure what you say it is measuring.
The Cooper Institute in Texas has administered the test since 1971 to over 110,000 patients. Data from these test has resulted in the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study – the oldest and longest of its kind, and over 700 research papers have used Cooper data in the scientific literature.
Specifically to law enforcement, other organizations conducted validation studies of the Cooper Test on nearly 180 federal, state and municipal law enforcement agencies. As a result of these tests developed absolute recommended fitness standards for law enforcement agencies.
An important part of the Civil Rights Acts is that physical fitness tests and standards can discriminate job applicants if job-relatedness is established and documented.
What this means, is agencies can apply the Cooper test, use the absolute standards to make hiring decisions (i.e. not hire those who don’t make the standards) and have a good chance of defending the decision in court if they get sued.
When we attended the National Tactical Officers Association conference in 2015 in Mobile, Alabama, we asked every officer who stopped by if their agency used a fitness test, if so what it was, and if they liked it.
The majority of those who’s agencies did have a fitness test used the Cooper Test, and nobody seemed to like it. One of the issues is that many agencies pick and choose amongst the test’s events – usually choosing the 1.5 mile run, push ups and sit ups – usually because these are simply the easiest to administer. The problem is officers don’t think doing well on these tests necessarily transfers to on-job performance.
It should be noted that the full battery of Cooper Test events includes the 300m run and 1 rep max bench press – which measure sprinting ability, aerobic power, and upper body strength – great assets for the LE athlete – but often not chosen for the agency’s test.
The reality is, because of litigation – i.e. someone suing because they fail the fitness test and don’t get hired – the Cooper Test is here to stay in the law enforcement world.
The Cooper Institute has created a FAQ on its test and use for law enforcement here: https://www.cooperinstitute.org/vault/2440/web/files/684.pdf
We’ve developed our own LE Athlete Fitness Assessment – which I feel fully measures the strength, power and aerobic power needed by an Officer in a tactical situation. Unfortunately, my test doesn’t have the 40 years of data and 700 scholarly papers backing it up like Cooper’s assessment. Here are the test events, if you’re curious:
(A) Max Reps Front Squats in 60 Seconds (Men at bodyweight, Women at 75% bodyweight)
(B) Max Reps Bench Press in 60 Seconds (Men at bodyweight, Women at 75% bodyweight)
(C) Max Reps Bodyweight Strict Pull Ups (men), Chin ups (women)
(D) Box Jumps in 60 Seconds for Reps @ 20/24” box (20” for women)
(E) Max Reps Seated Russian Twist in 60 Seconds for Reps @ 35/45# Dumbbell
(F) 300m Shuttle wearing IBA, Weapon and Duty Belt, for Time
Back to the Cooper Test, we don’t have our head in the sand and understand it’s not going anywhere, and as a result, applied our programming knowledge to create a sport-specific, 6-week training program designed to improve performance on that test.
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