Can FBI Fitness Infiltrate Chicago Cops? | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Can FBI Fitness Infiltrate Chicago Cops?

When Jody Weis became Chicago police superintendent back in February of 2008, he had a habit of announcing big changes aimed at rebuilding the image of a department plagued by scandals. One of his ideas received a cool welcome in the city of deep dish pizza, Italian beef, and Maxwell street polish. Weis floated the idea of physical fitness tests for Chicago cops, which wasn't all that surprising—given that Weis had come from the FBI, where physical fitness is part of the culture. To top off this special series of Eight Forty-Eight encores, we bring you this report from May of 2008, by WBEZ's Robert Wildeboer.

When FBI agents in Chicago are having a slow afternoon at the office, they can always head down to the second floor of their building near Roosevelt and Damen where there's a large workout room.

Bright sun shines in the windows lining the south wall of the gym and soft rock plays over the sound system.

ambi: Oooh baby I love your way, everyday.

No doubt inspired by the Peter Frampton classic, one agent bench presses two-hundred and thirty-five pounds, though at the end he starts getting a little shaky and someone runs over to spot him.

Another agent has set up some free-hanging rings like the ones used in gymnastics competitions. Suspended in midair, with his hands on the rings and his elbows locked, he lowers himself and then pushes himself back up.

GLASHEEN: As you see we got people on the treadmill right now, we have some elliptical trainers, stationary bikes...

There's lot's of complex workout equipment but Special Agent Michael Glasheen prefers the simple stuff, like sandbags.

GLASHEEN: I'll just grab the 25 pound bag and I'm going to do overhead lifts here and it's going to work the full body. I'm just going to squat down and raise it. Squat down.

FBI agents are allowed to take one hour per day three times a week to work out on the clock. That time is intended to help them pass a fitness test they have to take twice a year. Here's where the contrast with Chicago's cops comes in.

They also have a fitness test but the standards are essentially meaningless. Officers don't have to pass, in fact, they don't even have to take the test if they don't want to.

Glasheen is the fitness coordinator for the Chicago FBI office. He administers the FBI test and he says it gives agents a goal to work towards.

GLASHEEN: It's as many sit-ups as you can do in a minute, a three-hundred meter run, followed by as many push-ups as you can do, and then followed by a mile and a half run.

To pass the test you have to reach a minimum standard in each of those four events and then you get extra points for exceeding the minimum. When I got back to the radio station I looked over the test requirements with my good friend Ben Calhoun. We share a cubicle and I often bother him when I'm working on stories.

I'm 31 and he's 28, and I bike everywhere and Ben works out. We thought the test looked easy enough. Pretty soon our confidence turned to boasting, then trash talk, at which point a head to head challenge was inevitable.

We called up special agent Glasheen and he agreed to administer the FBI physical fitness test to us at Loyola University's track.

GLASHEEN: I'm going to go off your movement and then I'll start the clock when you start moving and then we'll go from there.

WILDEBOER: Okay so we have sixty seconds to do as many...
GLASHEEN: do as many sits-ups the right way as you can.
WILDEBOER: And what's the minimum? What do we have to get here?GLASHEEN: The minimum to get one point is 38 to get one point. Allright Ben are you ready? Set. Go. One. Two. Three.

So to pass the test you have to get a total of 12 points over four events but you also have to get at least one point in each event so you can't just be really good at sit-ups and then bomb on the rest.

GLASHEEN: 25. It's only getting easier. 26. 27. Ah, keep your hands together. 27 that didn't count.

Glasheen is a stickler for form.

GLASHEEN: 28. 28. Hands are coming apart. 10 seconds to go. 5 seconds to go, Ben. Alright your time, Ben. 28 sit-ups.

Okay, so the sit-ups weren't as easy as we thought. We both had high hopes for the next event, a three hundred meter sprint. To get the minimum one point we had to run it in 52 seconds or less. Ben ran first.

ambi: Chariots of Fire up

GLASHEEN: Come on, Ben. Pick it up, Ben. Give it all you got.

Glasheen is very encouraging.

GLASHEEN: 53-point-eight-six.
CALHOUN: Did I make it?
GLASHEEN: You did not.
CALHOUN: I didn't make it?

No you did not. I did slightly better on the sprint, but not well enough to have bragging rights of any sort. And when we had to do push-ups five minutes later, Ben did 19, I gave up at 18. Both of us failed to meet the minimum.

At this point, I think it goes without saying that we didn't do particularly well on the mile and a half run either. Nonetheless, Glasheen was, of course, very encouraging.

GLASHEEN: If you give your max effort on every event, it's a tough test. It really is. And Ben gave his max effort there. I mean he gave a max effort.

It's neither disasterous nor terribly surprising that two public radio reporters bombed the test, but Glasheen says there are a number of important reasons FBI agents need to pass, why they need to be in good shape.

GLASHEEN: Not everyday you're chasing a fugitive. Not everyday you're on a stakeout but that one moment, you only have one chance to do it right. You know we each qualify four times a year with our weapons. Do we shoot out in the street four times a year? I hope not, no. But that one moment you have to do it, there's not a second chance and let's take shooting for instance. The better shape you're in the better you're able to handle that stress of potentially having to shoot someone, make that decision because, I mean your heart rate's going to be almost exploding when you have to make that decision, do I shoot? Do I not shoot? The better shape you're in, you're going to be able to fight off that stress internally and hopefully make a more informed decision that's right for everyone.

Last year, out of Chicago's 13,500 police officers, only 2,400 passed the department's voluntary fitness test.

The remaining 80 percent of officers either failed or didn't even try. If superintendent Jody Weis wants to make physical fitness tests mandatory for the entire force, he'll have to get the okay from the police union.

The city and the union are currently negotiating a new work contract for Chicago cops.

Update: Chicago Police Department fitness standards have not changed since this story originally aired in May of 2008.

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