‘Like a meat market’ – police fitness test for new recruits attacked for being sexist

Female officers were nine times as likely to fail test as men, and were wolf-whistled at

A police fitness test has been labelled “unfit for purpose” because it discriminates against women and is geared towards overweight officers, a new study has found.

The research, led by Professor Craig Jackson, head of psychology at Birmingham City University, called for the obstacle course for new recruits to be scrapped – describing how female officers were wolf-whistled at by male colleagues and saying the test was like a “sexist meat market”.

Mr Jackson is presenting his findings to the British Science Festival in Newcastle.

The research found women taking part in the test were nearly nine times more likely to fail than males. Half the entrants were overweight, of which over 40 per cent passed the test.

“When I’ve seen this test being applied, it is a little bit like a very sexist meat market,” said Professor Jackson. “Lots of male officers gather round while the female recruits bounce and jiggle and run around, and they’re wolf-whistling and clapping – it’s quite a sexist environment.”

His findings follow an independent review commissioned by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, last year on police pay and recruitment recommended that officers should be disciplined if they fail fitness tests.

Led by the former rail regulator Tom Winsor, the review laid out sweeping reforms on physical and educational standards for police, and found that 52 per cent of male officers in the Metropolitan Police were overweight, with over a fifth obese. In response to the review, police endurance tests are being introduced this month, which forces have a year to implement. They involve a 15-metre shuttle run.

The gender-neutral timed obstacle course (Gentoc) referred to in the Birmingham City University study was developed by the former Royal Ulster Constabulary. It is designed to replicate some of the everyday physical demands that officers might face.  Participants have to crawl on their hands and knees, scale flights of stairs, walk along narrow beams, drag a dummy human being and run through slalom posts. Entrants have to complete the course in three minutes and 45 seconds. Over 90 per cent of men finished the course in time, while only 60 per cent of women completed it.

Mr Jackson called for the test to be ditched in favour of one that affords female officers “a little bit more  privacy and dignity.”  

His study has been criticised, however, as it analysed test results for 1,701 candidates in only one police force over five years to 2012. The constabulary has not been revealed. The College of Policing, which handles police training across the UK, said the Gentoc was not a national standard test.

Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merrett, head of the college’s national fitness working group, said the new annual fitness tests being rolled out were “compliant with equality legislation”. He added: “There is no obstacle course or upper strength testing as part of this annual fitness test. We will be ensuring that the fitness test does not discriminate against gender or other groups, and for the first 12 month the College of Policing will audit data on pass and failures to understand how groups are performing.”

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