Cops are calling for a rehaul of the police fitness test - saying the current model is "broken", biased, outdated and in some cases, harmful both physically and mentally.

They say some staff are simply set up to fail with the current test including "tasks fit people can fail and unfit people can pass" and are demanding top brass modernise the
exercise to make it more realistic and holistic.

But police say they will not budge on the test, which they describe as "world leading" and "gold class".

Currently all sworn officers must pass the biennial Physical Competency Test comprising of a set of tasks spanning a 400m course.

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Tasks include pushing a car trailer 10m, carrying a car wheel assembly 10m, running 200m, walking a 5m right-angle beam, long jumping 1.8m, running around cones and over hurdles for 30m, climbing through a window 1m off the ground, over a solid 1.8m-high wall and a 2.2m high-wire fence and dragging a body 7.5m.

The test was introduced in 1986 and has been tweaked slightly over the years but remains effectively as it was more than three decades ago.

In March 2013 police introduced a rule that officers without a current PCT were withdrawn from the frontline, could not interact with the public or be deployed until they had passed.

The Police Association is now calling on management to revamp the process after a number of its members criticised it and spoke out about why it just does not work for a modern police force.

President Chris Cahill told the Herald on Sunday that policing had changed immensely since the PCT was introduced - including a more diverse staff, the removal of the retirement age, and advances in technology such as the introduction of body armour.

It was time for the PCT to change too, he said.

"Is this test designed to represent that diversity or does it actually hinder it to some degree?" he said.

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"Simply because some officers can't complete the PCT, they are not fit for purpose and that's a very blunt way to assess it."

Cahill said he had never personally had a problem with passing the PCT.

"I've always found it relatively easy, but that's my build and fitness," he said.

"Other people who might actually be fitter than me but because of their build - they might be shorter - they can struggle ... and mothers returning to work after having children, it can be a real stress for them.

"It is a significant issue ... It's a really good time to reassess the PCT."

Cahill did not want to see the PCT scrapped as a whole.

"We want some level of fitness testing, health testing - but a much more holistic approach in this day and age," he explained.

NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill. Photo / Mark Mitchell
NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"What we don't want to see is a bunch of unfit officers who are not safe to deploy."

In this month's association magazine Police News, a senior office described the PCT as "broken".

"Fit people can fail it and unfit people can pass - it's not a measure of fitness," he said.

"Additionally, some physically competent people are being injured doing the test."

He said there was a view among cops that the risks "both physically and mentally" of completing the PCT under time pressure, outweighed its value to the organisation.

Police people and capability deputy chief executive Kaye Ryan said a review of the PCT was completed in 2011 and determined it fit for purpose.

"The PCT is a world-leading test, and a gold standard example for many law enforcement organisations," she said.

"It is a functional assessment, with the purpose of establishing our people's ability in a controlled environment.

"To pass they have to demonstrate their ability to perform the physical tasks they will face in a potentially challenging policing environment.

"This way we can be sure the staff member is safe to deploy and capable of protecting our communities."

Ryan said the test was not about fitness.

"To complete the test you need to be fitter than average, but high fitness ability doesn't necessarily translate into functional competency," she said.

"You may be very fit, but unable to perform the necessary tasks. This would make a person unfit to deploy."

The fit fail, the unfit pass - PCT 'broken' says cop

In this month's association magazine Police News, a senior office described the PCT as "broken".

He said it was "out of date and not designed to progress our business or look after staff".

"At the heart of the problem is that the biennial burst of energy is an anaerobic rather than aerobic test that doesn't align to higher overall fitness or modern police values," he told Police News.

"Fit people can fail it and unfit people can pass - it's not a measure of fitness.

"Additionally, some physically competent people are being injured doing the test."

He said there was a view among cops that the risks "both physically and mentally" of completing the PCT under time pressure, outweighed its value to the organisation.

According to the Police Association, the "rigid approach to suitability to do the job" has caught out many officers.

Offenders beware: officers are put to the test yesterday in their biennial physical competency test. Photo / File
Offenders beware: officers are put to the test yesterday in their biennial physical competency test. Photo / File

While more than capable of doing their jobs they, for a variety of reasons, could not pass the test.

The advocacy group said the PCT is a "blunt tool" that has become the "only assessment" of a police officer's worth.

"The Police Association has represented members who have found their careers and livelihoods on the line for the sake of a few seconds or an age-related drop in flexibility or upper body strength," Police News said.

"It also believes that decisions about operational capability should be made on an individual basis because the PCT may not be the whole picture of an employee's physical competency to do their duties.

"The Commissioner appears to be relying on the PCT as the sole judge of a constable, sergeant or senior sergeant's suitability, rather than assessing each individual's competency."

Four officers spoke to Police News anonymously about their struggle to pass the PCT and the impact it had on them.

"A common theme is that the PCT has had a disproportionate impact on their lives. Names and some details have been changed to protect their privacy," the magazine reported.

"As one noted, not having the PCT can make staff feel like second-class members of police until they pass it again – or they buckle under the pressure and leave the job."

Police fitness test: NZME journalist Kristin Edge, makes her way through the PCT. Photo / File
Police fitness test: NZME journalist Kristin Edge, makes her way through the PCT. Photo / File

The struggle is real: cops speak out about 'outdated' assessment

Denise, 40

Since having children, I have struggled with the wall.

I have passed, but I would call it borderline in terms of the time.

Now, my main problem with the PCT is psychological.

I get so wound up in the weeks before I have to sit it that I feel physically sick.

I'm getting nervous just talking about it.

Weeks before it, I can't sleep. I'd rather run a marathon than do the PCT and it's only going to get worse as I get older, but the (instructor's) attitude seems to be "just get on and do it".

I love my job and I am fit. I go to the gym, sometimes twice a day.

I can run. It's not my fitness that is the problem; it is upper body strength for the wall.

I really struggle mentally, and have lost confidence and keep expecting to fail.

It's just as bad for men.

I've heard about some staff taking Ventolin to open up their lungs.

I have never in my career had to climb over a wall. I've done plenty of running and tussling with people, but that's not in the PCT.

The wall is just so difficult that it might push me out of the job.

It will be the one thing that will make me go.

It makes me sad.

We do all the training, but the turmoil and anxiety associated with it are very bad.

There must be a better way.

David, 51

I'm generally fit and into walking and biking.

In two PCTs, I've pulled my hamstring doing the ditch jump.

I've always had issues with the wall because of my weight and the technique I have been using.

I'm over six foot and weigh about 115kg at the moment, but I passed it when I weighed 107kg.

I pretty much developed a phobia about the wall and approached it with absolute dread.

Fortunately, I only have to touch it now.

I don't think the PCT is really applicable to what we do.

We're never going to push a trailer or run along a beam.

You might have individual components of the test in the course of your work, but not all at once.

We have an ageing police force, with more staff aged 40-plus, but we have a young-person's fitness test.

From 40 onwards you start to get niggles and injuries. There should be another form of fitness testing.

I'm here for the long haul and hope to do another 15 years in police.

Also, getting you to sign a form straight after you finish saying you're okay is not a good idea because the injuries from doing the PCT often don't manifest themselves till some time later.

Roger, 53

I've suffered significant knee injuries while doing the PCT.

I am still quite capable of frontline work, but, given the proven undue risk to me of the PCT, why can't something more appropriate be found to assess my physical competency?

Many staff, including myself, regard their careers as being on a two-year tenure dependent on the ability to pass the PCT.

That's not good when forward planning or growing aspirations.

So much has changed since the test was introduced. It is far from a realistic compilation of elements encountered on the frontline in 2019.

It is very much a rarity these days that, with all our appointments, anyone goes over a fence in a foot pursuit.

Yet, we are required to do a test that purports to replicate frontline work, but without our vests and appointments that we are required to wear whenever we step out of the office.

I note that Police has dispensed with the swimming criteria for entry into police to cater for different cultural backgrounds.

I assume that being able to swim is not an expectation any more.

To that end, why would we all be expected to jump a fence now?

I understand the rationale behind the PCT and I support the concept of a fit-for-purpose police force.

But this test is outdated and has been counterproductive to a fit and deployable force given the amount of injuries and stand-downs of members.

I am no stranger to exercise. I played rugby until I was 50 and have competed in endurance events.

What I am concerned about is the risk to my joints and future mobility for three or so minutes every two years until my planned retirement at 65.

Patsy, 38

I was kicked off the roster, not because I couldn't do my job, but because I couldn't jump a ditch or go over a wall.

I suffered an illness requiring surgery and then had knee issues that also required surgery and I was in rehab for nearly a year.

Eventually, I passed the PCT and was operational again, but the next time, I failed it because of my knee, although I have since learnt a technique for getting over the wall.

It took me nearly a year to pass again and I couldn't leave the office in all that time.

I spent hours training to do the long jump and studying sports performance instead of putting time and effort into skills that would have been relevant to my job.

The (instructors) should look at a collaborative approach and at peer review around achieving deployability.

If you show improvement, they should keep giving you opportunities.

I now have the PCT, but the fear of it has become more stressful than my actual job.

It's also not aligned with equity or diversity.

The subtext is that police want to get rid of people like me.

And, I have to say, I am getting rusty at my job because of the long periods when I wasn't doing it, when I was not able to leave the office.