Former officer says compulsory police fitness test too hard, caused some injuries and not fit for purpose

By Rachel Helyer Donaldson for RNZ

A former police officer says the compulsory fitness test is too hard and needs to change if police want to recruit and retain more front line staff.

Other officers, both former and current, agree.

The government's acknowledged it is going to be hard to deliver on the coalition agreement to train 500 new officers within two years with the minister Mark Mitchell saying it would be three years and then having to re-commit to two.

Former police officer Gavin Benney said the Physical Competency Test - or PCT, which police college students must pass to graduate - has never been fit for purpose, and many other former cops agree.

Benney, who was in the force for 30 years, said the Physical Competency Test for students and serving officers was irrelevant.

A test was needed but it must be relevant and should not include scaling a two and a half metre high wall or dragging a body which few police do in frontline work, he said.

Once they have qualified, officers also have to regularly re-sit the test.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the PCT involves a combination of tasks that must be completed within a set period of time, depending on age.

"It involves a 200-metre run, pushing a heavy trailer, carrying a spare tyre, walking a beam, leaping a ditch, climbing through some windows, over a fence [and] dragging a body."

He said officers aged 50-plus do not have to climb over the wall - due to how upper body strength changes over time.

Benney said he was aware of a number of officers who had been injured doing the test.

Cahill confirmed this, saying figures from 2020 show there were 108 injuries but it was likely the number of minor accidents was higher.

The association said it did as much as it could to ensure people could stay.

One police officer seriously hurt her knee leaping across a ditch. She recovered but was unable to do the test because of the psychological trigger.

The officer could do every other test and the association argued that should be enough to stay on. The police agreed.

Cahill said every year about three to four staff who had been injured on the job could not pass the test and had to leave.

Asked if the test should be made easier, he said it had been peer reviewed, and deemed fit for purpose.

But he said it was a divisive issue.

"There's very strong polar [opposite] views about whether it's relevant. If someone who has been in the police a long time, can clearly show they can do their job but might have had an injury and can't pass the PCT, should clearly not lose their job."

Cahill pointed out the police need some sort of test to ensure all officers are fit for frontline duty - as was the case in 2022 with the protests at Parliament.

Officers who could show they were trying to get over their injuries had the best chance of staying on, he said.

Benney said change was urgently needed in the police force, to attract more recruits, and that needed to come from the very top.

So could Police Minister Mark Mitchell, a former dog handler who was also in the armed offenders, still pass the fitness test?

"With his age, he probably only has to touch the wall these days... so he'd probably do it okay I would think," Benney said.