Texas DPS to start tracking troopers' waistlines
How many Texas state troopers are obese? The Department of Public Safety is about to find out
By James Barragán
The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — How many Texas state troopers are obese? The Department of Public Safety is about to find out.
Beginning this month, the department will begin recording the height, weight and "waist [belly] measurement" of its 4,297 commissioned officers during their routine physical readiness tests, according to an email sent last week. All officers are required to pass two physical fitness assessments each fiscal year.
"Obesity is a significant health issue in the United States and in the law enforcement profession. In addition to the personal health risks, obesity significantly detracts from an officer's command presence and negatively impacts their overall effectiveness," Skylor Hearn, deputy director of administration and services wrote in an email to officers. "As such, the department will take proactive steps to address this health and officer safety risk."
But there is some concern that the obesity data collection is another attempt to push out older troopers by adding more fitness requirements. In December, DPS Director Steve McCraw proposed a plan to lay off 117 older troopers who had retired and been rehired as a way to address budget costs to the department in last year's legislative session. The decision was reversed last month after backlash from state lawmakers and officers.
"I guess maybe they're trying to make it tougher, to force these guys to leave," said Jack Crier, executive director of the Texas State Troopers Association. "That's just an opinion."
Tom Vinger, a department spokesman, said that is "absolutely false" and noted that the new obesity data collection program does not change the department's fitness requirements, which are tiered based on gender and age.
Officials from the Texas State Troopers Association and the Department of Public Safety Officers Association, which represent officers, said that they weren't consulted about the new data collection program but that they haven't heard complaints from officers.
"They just want to know what the policy is and they'll follow it," Crier said. "Those guys are in pretty good shape."
The Texas Legislature requires law enforcement officers to pass a physical test, but individual agencies set their own standards.
Since 2010, DPS has slowly increased its fitness standards with the goal of "ensuring a physically fit and well-trained force that is ready to safely respond to any situation," according to the department's health and physical fitness policy.
To pass the requirements, officers can choose between a combat fitness evaluation consisting of various timed exercises, a variety of rowing tests or a standard test that includes a timed mile-and-a-half run, push-ups and sit-ups. Officers have three chances to pass the test during each testing cycle.
More than one-third of Americans are obese, according to the Center for Disease Control, and between 30 and 35 percent of Texans fall under the category.
The department has also noted the increased susceptibility of law enforcement officers to cardiovascular diseases.
"The significant health risk associated with obesity and its impact on the protective services industry [police officers, firefighters, and correctional officers] was already documented in our policy manual," Vinger said. "We are simply moving from talking about the health risk to identifying it — and providing support to those impacted by it."
The department's height and weight measurements will be used to generate a body mass index score, categorized into underweight, normal, overweight and obese based on a formula from the Centers for Disease Control. A body mass index over 25 indicates a person is overweight and over 30 indicates obesity.
But some argue that BMI wrongly identifies people with heavy muscle mass as being obese, while missing unfit people with lanky body types. To address that, DPS will also implement a waist measurement, in which men with waists over 40 inches in circumference and women with 35 inches in circumference will be considered obese.
The two measures combined, "will collectively serve as an indicator for some that further evaluation is required," Hearn wrote.
"Officers ultimately categorized as being obese will be required to participate in nutrition and fitness education programs," Hearn wrote.
The department is not alone in its struggle with obesity rates. In 2016, the U.S. military had an obesity rate of 7.8 percent, about one in every 13 troops, according to Defense Department data.
"We genuinely care about the welfare of our employees and desire to see them live healthy lives throughout their career and beyond," Vinger said. "While they are employed by our department, we owe it to them and we owe it to the public we serve."
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