By JERRY A. ANDREE, manager, Cranberry Township, Pa.
A novel fitness initiative, created to benefit local police in this suburban Pennsylvania township, overcame a series of obstacles that for years have impeded the spread of police fitness-oriented programs in municipalities throughout the country. It offers a model that other communities can follow as well.
Police departments are valuable assets for any municipality. Often the largest single budget item, law enforcement requires trained personnel to perform under less than ideal conditions and under circumstances that are counterintuitive to those of us with desk jobs. Encouraging a fit lifestyle makes practical sense. But it’s difficult to find common ground to promote fitness and wellness programs that address the unique set of physical demands that apply to local police officers whose work frequently involves transitioning from a sedentary task, seated at a desk, to a flat-out sprint in response to an emergency call. Combine that with unconventional shifts, often unhealthy eating habits and stress from all the above, and your workforce is rowing upstream to a fit lifestyle, much less a lifestyle prepared for the unplanned rigors of police work.
Recognition of those risks is nothing new. But addressing them proactively has been elusive. Mandatory fitness standards for police are rarely achieved through collective bargaining. Beyond that, anti-discrimination laws, while well intended, make adopting fitness programs that apply to men and women on a police force, regardless of their ages, largely unattainable.
Successful elements behind Cranberry Township’s police fitness program:
- Articulate the goal and secure municipal management support.
- Identify an inside champion — leadership from the top down.
- Make it completely voluntary, and don’t ask for medical information.
- Provide meaningful incentives.
- Create individualized program goals, normed for gender and age.
- Welcome outside partners.
Creating a police fitness program
As a result, until last year, Cranberry Township — a municipality of 31,000 — was unable to move forward with a fitness program that was truly appropriate to its 28-member police department, despite the township’s support for a healthier community and workforce. That was when the elements of a meaningful fitness/wellness program began coming together. The momentum can be described in a word: leadership. Chief of Police Kevin Meyer was committed to creating fitness opportunities for the officers, even as simple as purchasing new equipment for the township’s employee fitness areas.
The union’s leadership recognized, focused and collaborated with the chief in creating a program that is 100 percent voluntary, with diverse fitness and wellness opportunities for all officers interested in participating. And those efforts were championed by our governing body, the Cranberry Township Board of Supervisors, which lent its full support to the program, now known as Elite Police Fitness Incentive Training.
The FIT program adopts approved fitness norms and includes township collaboration with a nearby fitness facility — owned and operated by a retired NFL player — and a nationally owned, locally headquartered nutritional supplement company. The program emphasizes core fitness and wellness concepts, with incentives that matter to the officers — time off and recognition.
Elite Police FIT officially kicked off Dec. 8, 2016. Fully 90 percent of the police officers had signed onto the program by the time of its launch, and training to meet the first set of assessment metrics began almost immediately. On their own time, officers are coming into the gym at all hours to improve their strength, agility and endurance. Program participants also sign on to at least two options from a menu of wellness programs covering topics such as weight loss, smoking cessation and healthy snacking.
Already, the program has lifted morale, built camaraderie and enhanced the physical comfort of our officers. Over time, we look forward to having a more tactically effective police force with fewer sick days and lost-time injuries as well as lower insurance costs. Beyond that, as the program develops, we could even consider extending the program to the rest of the township’s staff — employees who can realize the same sorts of benefits that our Elite Police FIT participants currently enjoy.
Jerry Andree has served as the township manager of Cranberry Township, Butler County, Pa., since 1991. Prior to his service with Cranberry Township, he served as the township manager for Hampden Township, Cumberland County, Pa.; director of parks and recreation for Bensalem Township, Bucks County, Pa.; and director of adult education/recreation for the Derry Area School District in Westmoreland County, Pa.
Andree is a graduate of Penn State University, where he earned both his bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public administration. He also serves on a number of community and governmental boards and has been recognized by numerous local, state and national organizations for his efforts in municipal management.