At­tor­ney gen­eral to re­view train­ing prac­tices af­ter gen­der gap re­vealed

- An­drew Ford

“I worked in gangs, narcotics and street crimes for more than 10 years. I’ve never had to do one push-up be­fore putting hand­cuffs on some­one.”

Ne­wark Po­lice Capt. Ivonne Ro­man

In one year, the rate of women fail­ing po­lice academy physical tests al­most tripled af­ter New Jersey im­posed a test on re­cruits that some re­gard as nearly im­pos­si­ble.

Po­lice academies weren’t al­ways so un­even. Women and men once passed the physical tests at a sim­i­lar rate.

Women failed up to 13 times as of­ten as men af­ter a lit­tle-known state com­mis­sion told as­pir­ing cops that they had to get stronger within nine work­outs or go home.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the As­bury Park Press, part of the USA TO­DAY Net­work, found 31% of women failed the physical test in 2017, com­pared with 2% of men.

“That’s news to me,” said James Ab­bott, po­lice chief in West Orange, one of the 16 mem­bers who served on the Po­lice Train­ing Com­mis­sion when it made the rule change. He said he would dis­cuss the gen­der gap at the com­mis­sion’s next meet­ing in Au­gust.

“Now learn­ing from you that there’s a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of fe­males fail­ing versus the

males, that kind of raises some red flags, and I think that should be looked at more closely,” Ab­bott said. “There should be sim­i­lar rates of dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.”

The USA TO­DAY Net­work brought the is­sue to the at­ten­tion of the state’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial.

A spokesper­son for New Jersey At­tor­ney Gen­eral Gur­bir Gre­wal said he con­vened a work­ing group to study po­lice train­ing prac­tices and he “looks for­ward” to act­ing on its rec­om­men­da­tions.

That gap be­tween women and men could be the foun­da­tion for a class-ac­tion law­suit that might cost the state mil­lions, a law school as­so­ci­ate dean told the Net­work. If New Jersey were a com­pany, the dis­par­ity be­tween male and fe­male can­di­dates would prompt con­cern un­der fed­eral em­ploy­ment guide­lines.

The fail­ure of women at po­lice academies costs the pub­lic hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in squan­dered re­sources and ex­ac­er­bates the state’s low num­ber of fe­male of­fi­cers.

Law en­force­ment lead­ers, in­clud­ing East Orange Po­lice Chief Phyl­lis Bindi, told the Net­work they no­ticed in re­cent years that women failed po­lice academies at a higher rate than men. The Net­work an­a­lyzed data from the New Jersey At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice – which over­sees the Po­lice Train­ing Com­mis­sion – for the first look at how po­lice re­cruits pass or fail academies.

New Jersey ranks be­hind 31 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia for women par­tic­i­pat­ing in law en­force­ment. At the last count in 2016, one-third of the de­part­ments in the state em­ployed no fe­male po­lice of­fi­cers.

In­stead of help­ing more women earn their badges, the state lim­ited the time for as­pir­ing po­lice re­cruits to im­prove their push-ups, sit-ups, jump­ing and run­ning if they didn’t do well enough on their first at­tempt. In­stead of be­ing trained to grow stronger over the course of about five months in the academy, they get the boot if they haven’t im­proved two or three weeks af­ter fail­ing their first physical exam.

No one can be­come sig­nif­i­cantly stronger in that time, ac­cord­ing to Steve Far­rell, a se­nior re­searcher at the Cooper In­sti­tute, which rec­om­mends physical tests for cops na­tion­wide.

The cost 123 women their shot at a ca­reer in law en­force­ment.

Gen­der gap

Grap­pling with un­fit po­lice re­cruits for years, the Po­lice Train­ing Com­mis­sion spent at least $300,000 for a consultant to de­velop a test re­cruits would take be­fore get­ting into po­lice academies, ac­cord­ing to a com­mis­sion mem­ber.

The Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion – which over­sees govern­ment em­ploy­ment for more than 300 agen­cies in New Jersey – warned the train­ing com­mis­sion about re­cruits ap­peal­ing their test re­sults and said more data was needed “to de­ter­mine whether or not there is any dis­parate im­pact be­tween male and fe­male po­ten­tial trainees,” meet­ing min­utes show.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice sued Pennsylvan­ia State Po­lice, al­leg­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against women be­cause of a gen­der dis­par­ity in po­lice academies cre­ated by physical tests.

“It was ba­si­cally the same test that we were go­ing to use,” James Shar­rock, vice chair­man of the New Jersey Po­lice Train­ing Com­mis­sion, told the Net­work.

The train­ing com­mis­sion put the pretest on hold, meet­ing min­utes show. In­stead, it es­tab­lished in Jan­uary 2017 the test and the time limit re­cruits have to pass it early in the academy.

Un­der that time limit, the train­ing com­mis­sion cre­ated a gap be­tween the sexes like the one cited in the Pennsylvan­ia law­suit.

Shar­rock said the com­mis­sion “never would de­lib­er­ately be dis­parate.”

He raised the pos­si­bil­ity that there were more re­cruits com­ing from civil ser­vice towns in the years when more women failed. Those towns can’t turn down a can­di­date for physical fit­ness rea­sons be­fore the academy.

“If this ar­ti­cle that you’re writ­ing is fair and there’s some­thing we could look at, I’m sure we’re go­ing to look at it,” Shar­rock said.

Dan Colucci, an­other mem­ber of the com­mis­sion, in­tro­duced the idea of test­ing re­cruits early in the academy, meet­ing min­utes show.

He said re­cruits should come to the academy pre­pared.

“This is not a health spa where we’re go­ing to take you from not be­ing able to do any­thing to mak­ing you phys­i­cally fit,” Colucci said.

In New Jersey, po­lice re­cruits are ex­pected to do th­ese ex­er­cises:

❚ A ver­ti­cal jump of 15 inches.

❚ 28 sit-ups in one minute.

❚ A 300-me­ter run in 70.1 sec­onds or less.

❚ 24 push-ups in one minute.

❚ A 1.5-mile run in 15:55 min­utes or less.

Ben­e­fits of women of­fi­cers

Ex­perts said fe­male po­lice of­fi­cers tend to use less force than men and can be bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tors.

Ne­wark Po­lice Capt. Ivonne Ro­man, a former po­lice chief, said she knew a fe­male de­tec­tive with a knack for coax­ing suspects into pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion. One in­ter­view with a sus­pect, she re­called, helped solve two murders.

“It was just sim­ply by hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, not com­ing across threat­en­ing at all,” Ro­man said. “I think that can work for men or for women. It just seems like a style that comes more nat­u­rally to women.”

Out of more than 460 po­lice de­part­ments in New Jersey, there are 11 fe­male chiefs, ac­cord­ing to the state as­so­ci­a­tion of po­lice chiefs.

There should be more, Bindi said. “We bring a dif­fer­ent set of skill sets to the lead­er­ship of polic­ing,” she said.

State data shows men passed New Jersey’s po­lice academies at a higher rate than women ev­ery year since 2009.

More than 9,800 men ap­plied to New Jersey po­lice academies from 2009 through 2018, com­pared with 1,460 women. Look­ing at those years to­gether, 91% of men grad­u­ated com­pared with 66% of women.

Women used to fail physical tests at a rate sim­i­lar to men.

From 2009 through 2014, the rate for women fail­ing academy physical tests hov­ered around 2%-4%, com­pared with less than 1% for men.

There was a spike in 2015 for un­clear rea­sons. Twelve per­cent of women failed the physical test in 2015 com­pared with 3% the year be­fore. The fail­ure rate for men re­mained un­changed, about 1%.

Three mem­bers of the po­lice train­ing com­mis­sion said they didn’t re­call a change to physical test­ing rules in 2015. Meet­ing min­utes show changes to the cur­ricu­lum for po­lice re­cruits in 2015 but not the physical test­ing pro­ce­dure.

New Jersey failed many women in 2017 and 2018.

Af­ter the state cut the time re­cruits have to get stronger, women failed the physical test at 31% in 2017 and 18% in 2018, com­pared with about 2% in both years for men.

The cost of fail­ing women

The fail­ure of fe­male po­lice re­cruits at a dis­pro­por­tion­ate rate is costly for re­cruits and New Jersey tax­pay­ers.

The state spent at least $246,000 on women who failed physical tests in 2017 and 2018, ac­cord­ing to state data and an es­ti­mate by one town that it costs $2,000 to send some­one to the po­lice academy. Re­cruits earn a nom­i­nal salary and go through sev­eral tax­payer­funded tests be­fore they get to the stage where they’d be told they can’t do enough push-ups.

The failed re­cruits can lose thou­sands of dol­lars them­selves. They might quit jobs for po­lice train­ing, and some are re­quired to buy uni­forms that, if they fail, they’ll never use again.

The big­gest expense could come in the form of a class-ac­tion law­suit against the state.

The gap be­tween men and women pass­ing the physical test is enough to es­tab­lish a foun­da­tion for a le­gal claim of gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to Charles Sullivan, se­nior as­so­ci­ate dean at Seton Hall Uni­ver­sity School of Law. Sullivan es­ti­mated the cost for the govern­ment to de­fend such a law­suit would start at about $50,000 and could cost tax­pay­ers $2 mil­lion.

That le­gal showdown would hinge on whether New Jersey could show why it’s nec­es­sary to limit the time re­cruits have to get stronger.

Sullivan was skep­ti­cal. “What’s the busi­ness ne­ces­sity?” he asked. “Doesn’t seem like there would be any busi­ness ne­ces­sity for re­duc­ing the amount of time.”

What do other states do?

There’s de­bate about whether re­cruits should have to do push-ups to be­come sworn of­fi­cers.

Add a bench press to New Jersey’s po­lice re­cruit fit­ness stan­dards, and they would match the stan­dards pro­moted to law en­force­ment for three decades by the Cooper In­sti­tute, a Dal­las­based health re­search non­profit group.

At least 31 other states use some or all of the Cooper ex­er­cises, ac­cord­ing to a na­tional re­view con­ducted by un­der­grad­u­ate researcher­s from the Col­lege of New Jersey in co­op­er­a­tion with the USA TO­DAY Net­work. Four­teen states use ob­sta­cle cour­ses sim­i­lar to chal­lenges of­fi­cers might face on pa­trol, such as climb­ing over a fence or drag­ging a dummy that weighs as much as a per­son.

Across the coun­try, state poli­cies on the timing of physical tests range widely. Some states have no stan­dard. Some states test re­cruits be­fore they en­ter the academy. Re­cruits in some states get the du­ra­tion of the academy to grow stronger. Some states don’t al­low a retest if the re­cruit fails on their first at­tempt.

Ro­man, the former Ne­wark po­lice chief, ques­tioned whether push-ups are nec­es­sary for po­lice work.

“I’ve been a po­lice of­fi­cer for 24 years,” she said. “I worked in gangs, narcotics and street crimes for more than 10 years. I’ve never had to do one push-up be­fore putting hand­cuffs on some­one.”

Cooper In­sti­tute re­searcher Steve Far­rell said the ex­er­cises it rec­om­mends – in­clud­ing push-ups – were sci­en­tif­i­cally val­i­dated to be a le­git­i­mate test of the up­per body strength nec­es­sary for po­lice work such as wrestling a sus­pect.

Far­rell and Ro­man were skep­ti­cal of New Jersey’s time limit on po­lice re­cruits.

“If you are sub­stan­tially far away from the pass­ing stan­dard, there’s no way in heck that you could sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove your fit­ness level in just two weeks,” Far­rell said.

He es­ti­mated some­one would need four to six weeks to sig­nif­i­cantly change their mus­cu­lar strength and about eight weeks for car­dio.

A chance at her dream job

Erica Hicks is fight­ing to be a cop. She lives with her mom, un­em­ployed while she works out daily.

Af­ter she was booted from the bar­racks of the state academy for correction­s of­fi­cers in March, she set her sights on be­ing an of­fi­cer in Irv­ing­ton, her home­town.

She said she was hired by the town, and she plans to at­tend the po­lice academy in Septem­ber. She jogs through a park near her home ev­ery morn­ing. The run­ning por­tion of the test is a killer, she said.

She said she thinks she’s ready. “I have to pass this test,” she said. This story was pro­duced as part of a fel­low­ship with the John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice. Re­port­ing as­sis­tance was pro­vided by un­der­grad­u­ate researcher­s from the Col­lege of New Jersey un­der the guid­ance of As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor David Mazeika: Alexis Depew, Daryl Hoehne, Kyle Maliniak and Angela Meneghin.

 ?? AN­DREW FORD/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? Erica Hicks works out ev­ery day to try to pass the physical test to be a New Jersey cop.
AN­DREW FORD/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Erica Hicks works out ev­ery day to try to pass the physical test to be a New Jersey cop.
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 ?? AN­DREW FORD/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? Ivonne Ro­man, a po­lice cap­tain, says a non­threat­en­ing man­ner “just seems like a style that comes more nat­u­rally to women.”
AN­DREW FORD/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Ivonne Ro­man, a po­lice cap­tain, says a non­threat­en­ing man­ner “just seems like a style that comes more nat­u­rally to women.”

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