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Most people who want to join the Rochester police can't pass the fitness test

James Brown
WXXI News file photo

As the Rochester Police Department looks to boost its roster of officers, it has run into an obstacle: The vast majority of recruits have failed the agency’s physical agility test.

During a Rochester City Council meeting, Chief David Smith said that over the past year, 800 people applied to become Rochester police officers. The department invited half of those applicants to take the fitness test and only 12% — 49 candidates — passed.

Smith noted the problem in a conversation on the department’s efforts to up its recruitment numbers.

Smith described the department as initially “very excited” by the large applicant pool, but that feeling quickly turned into disappointment.

“They’ve been invited back, we do it twice now, so they get a physical fitness prescription to go get themselves in a little and then come back, so a number are invited back, but that was very disheartening,” Smith said.

The department is currently about 80 officers short of its target staffing level of 720 sworn officers. Its goal for the 2024 fiscal year is for 90 new officers to complete field training. Mayor Malik Evans has included funding in his proposed budget for a new class of 50 recruits to help the department reach its goal.

The candidates must pass the physical agility test to become officers. The fitness exam is based on three metrics — pushups, situps, and a 1.5-mile run.

To pass the fitness test, a recruit must meet certain criteria based on their gender and age bracket. The test is based on rules set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Service, derived from standards developed by the nonprofit Cooper Institute.

For example, to pass the test, a 25-year-old man would have to do 29 pushups in a minute, 38 situps in a minute, and complete a 1.5-mile run in 12 minutes and 28 seconds.

Spokesperson Lt. Greg Bello said the department is working to retool the physical fitness test. In the past year, the department for the first time began allowing applicants to retake the agility test. The department is also hoping to “modernize” the test to better apply to current policing.

Bello described the standards for the current test as outdated and arbitrary.

“When’s the last time we’ve had to chase someone for a mile-and-a-half, especially in the city?” Bello asked. “... I mean, we’ve had in the past an applicant fail by missing one pushup, one pushup and you can’t be a cop now, which is arbitrarily ridiculous.”

Under Evans’s budget proposal, the Rochester Police Department would see the largest budget in its history, at just shy of $110 million.

A sizable portion of the budget increase is due to an interest arbitration award given in contract negotiations between the Rochester Police Department and the Rochester Police Locust Club, which awarded officers retroactive pay adjustments and a one-time $4,000 bonus.

The low staffing numbers have translated to a spike in overtime costs in recent years, which has led to some officers raking in $250,000 paychecks in the last fiscal year.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.
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