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For Lexington police, it pays to be fit

In April and May, it pays to get in better shape if you're a Lexington police officer. Passing the annual physical fitness test — given during those months — earns officers a yearly bonus of $300 to $500.

The test is one of several incentives the police department uses to encourage officers to stay in shape. From maintaining a fully staffed bike patrol, to operating a 24-hour gym for sworn officers and staff members, to encouraging officers to maintain outside gym memberships, the Lexington police department considers staying in shape a requirement to do the job well.

"When an officer clocks in for their shift, there's no telling what kind of challenges they will be facing that day. Being physically fit is important," said Sherelle Roberts, spokeswoman for the department.

At the annual fitness test, officers will be testing their strength, speed and stamina in fitness criteria outlined by the Cooper Institute, a health research institute in Dallas. Participants will be timed on a 1½ -mile run and tested on sit and reach, sit-ups and a bench press.

Officers ranked sergeant and below get $300 for passing three of the four exercises in the 30th percentile. Lieutenants and captains get the same deal, but they get an extra $200 if they rank in the 70th percentile.

Sgt. Mike Wright, supervisor of in-service and recruit training, estimated 90 percent of Lexington officers participate in the elective testing program, and most, if not all, score in at least the 30th percentile.

"Some of the officers that don't participate are in as good of shape as I am," he said.

"It's important that officers maintain a high fitness level, not just so that they can chase or grapple with suspects, but for less-apparent physical aspects of the job as well," Roberts said.

"There are all kinds of situations where we might have to help lift things, or run or stand out in cold or hot conditions for an extended period of time," she added.

The police department tries to instill physical fitness standards in its officers from the day new recruits begin the police academy. Members of the current recruit class, which started in August, will have sectioned off and run the entire 17-mile length of Man o' War Boulevard by the time they graduate.

"We try to let them know coming in that the physical fitness expectations are going to be high," Wright said. "There is a set standard across the state that officers do have to meet to be hired, and then we expect a little bit more out of them than that."

While recruits spend most of their days in classrooms studying laws and training with equipment such as firearms and radar guns, they work out three days a week at the police gym on Old Frankfort Pike, running, throwing medicine balls and doing hundreds of push-ups, tricep dips, four-count jumping jacks and sit-ups.

On top of routine workouts, by the end of the academy recruits are expected to be able to complete a six-mile obstacle course.

Other training, such as defensive tactics, requires recruits to grapple with fellow officers acting as struggling suspects.

Recruit officer Ricky Yates said that can be difficult because the recruits are familiar with the tactics used to subdue suspects. But Yates said that training will be invaluable when the recruits inevitably have to wrestle a fleeing suspect to the ground.

"Some suspects will be just as familiar with our tactics because it won't be the first time they've been arrested," Yates said.

At police academy graduation ceremonies, the department often posts before-and-after pictures of the recruits, Wright said.

Yates said he has lost more than 25 pounds since enlisting in the academy. Recruit Olivia Brooke Loyd, who was slender to begin with, said she's seen an increase in muscle definition. Both say their confidence has risen as a result of challenges they have overcome during their training.

Wright said he expects his recruits, as well as sworn officers, to be physically well-rounded, meaning they need to find a middle ground between strength, speed and stamina.

"If you're great big and strong but you can't run and you don't have the endurance, you've only got half the picture," he said. "If you can sprint and you're faster than anybody and you can catch anybody but you can't do anything with them once you catch them, you've only got half the picture."