Too many blobbies on the beat

Overweight police officers and new recruits are unable to pass basic fitness tests
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It is, perhaps, the end of the thin blue line – and only Britain's criminal fraternity will welcome the change.

After years of warning that the country's crime-fighters are not immune to the obesity epidemic, police chiefs have been confronted with evidence that we are threatened with a generation of blobbies on the beat.

New figures released by the Home Office have revealed an enduring problem with police officers failing to make the grade because their fitness levels aren't up to standard.

Forces around the country have reported high numbers of potential recruits and young officers failing basic fitness tests. Latest returns show that one out of six probationers and would-be officers in Avon and Somerset and Kent failed rudimentary tests of stamina and upper-body strength. In Norfolk the failure rate was 10 per cent, while in Northamptonshire and Lancashire it was around one in 13.

Police trainers report "repeated and pathetic failures" from youngsters and older recruits undergoing basic fitness tests. The prospect of an overweight force has serious implications for crime rates across the country.

Obesity and sedentary working conditions are already affecting the performance of many time-served police officers. Police chiefs in Scotland have ordered tubby traffic cops to slim down, and several UK forces have introduced closer fitness monitoring for all serving officers. However, only one has so far demanded annual fitness check-ups for all its officers – and an efficiency review has now removed the requirement for all forces to submit detailed information on fitness tests to the Home Office every year.

Richard Brunstrom, Chief Constable of North Wales Police, introduced mandatory fitness testing for his officers last year. "We have a [national] job-related fitness test for all recruits, but hitherto we have not kept this up throughout our careers – which is ridiculous, especially given the physical nature of our task and the current obesity epidemic," Mr Brunstrom explained on his blog. "But more than this, we are trying to instil a different long-term culture among our officers. We want them to take pride in their health, to get and remain fitter, not just to pass an annual minimum test, but to look after themselves – they'll live longer and police better."

In the first few months of Mr Brunstrom's on-the-job testing, about 5 per cent of the 200 officers taking the tests failed – and the two worst performers were hauled off frontline duties until they got back into shape.

The National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), which oversees police standards, said candidates were given every opportunity to pass the tests – but if they failed three times in a row, they were out on their ears.

A spokeswoman for Northamptonshire Police said last night that anyone unable to reach the required standards receives advice on improving fitness levels. She added: "It is a condition of appointment that they pass the fitness test."