Police walking the beat to get lessons in plodding

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S POLICE officers have always been famed for their flat feet. Now they are to be taught how to walk.

Merseyside Police, concerned about high levels of ill-health, believes that many problems may be linked to the way officers pound the beat. The force is asking officers who report with bad backs, hips, necks, ankles or knees to undergo what it calls - with a straight face - a "gait analysis".

This involves them being filmed as they walk a treadmill at Liverpool University's department of movement, science and physical education. Their gait is then scrutinised to see if they walk with their feet turned inwards or outwards, or "at ten to two on a clock face". All such abnormalities can lead to serious physical ailments.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has expressed outrage that retirement on grounds of ill health is costing the police service pounds 250m a year.

Officers whose gaits suggest they are given to proceeding in a disorderly fashion are referred to a podiatrist at the department of sports medicine at Lancaster and Morecambe College.

David Edge, head of the department, said that spines and joints in their lower limbs are then assessed for damage and a plaster-cast taken of their feet. The casts are sent to a specialist firm in America where a carbon fibre orthotic device, which fits into the sole of the shoe, is made to correct the officer's walk.

The same technique has been used to help to cure the back problems of several sports stars including the West Indian cricketer Eldine Baptiste. Mr Edge said: "Police officers spend a lot of time on their feet, and a lot of them suffer from back and knee problems. If we can put their feet back in the correct alignment we can save them a lot of pain and the police force a lot of money."

More than half of retirements from the Merseyside force are on ill-health grounds. Podiatry, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, healthy diets and a drug and alcohol recovery programme are being used to help sick officers back to work.

The Independent revealed earlier this week that police officers nationally are to undergo compulsory drug testing to try to cut the sickness bill.

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