‘Stomachs in,’ warns police minister

By Wendy Jasson Da Costa Time of article published Oct 11, 2012

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Durban - The fat blue line could take a while to transform into a lean mean police force as officers around the country have been told, yet again, to trim their waistlines.

Policemen and women have been instructed to get into shape and eradicate their bulging bellies. To do this they have been armed with logbooks to track their progress, or lack of it, as well as diet and exercise manuals.

Assessments at seven police stations in Durban between October last year and September this year, show that many still have spare tyres instead of six packs.

Responding to questions by DA MP Gareth Morgan, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has revealed that fitness assessments and training were carried out on police officers at the Westville, Pinetown, Mariannhill, Hillcrest, KwaDabeka, Hammarsdale and Mpumalanga police stations.

Out of 714 who were made to sweat it out, 237 failed to make the grade and have been warned to lose weight and get fit before they were re-assessed.

Mthethwa said the manuals educated members about the dietary changes they needed to make to “rectify” their body mass index and the training programmes which would assist them in improving their fitness level to the standards set by the police.

The anti-potbelly drive started with former police commissioner Bheki Cele in 2010 when he told cops that “people must envy your body” and to walk “stomach in, chest out.” His comments were posted on YouTube and inspired a techno hit which synchronised his speech with dance beats and were even used as cellphone ringtones.

On Wednesday Morgan said he had asked for the statistics because the police stations were in his constituency. He believed the assessment was a reasonable sample for police personnel in urban areas in KZN.

“The number of people failing the assessments in the last year is unacceptably high, ranging between 30 and 50 per cent... We expect our officers to be fit to fight crime,” said Morgan.

He said “significant intervention” was needed and, within six months, the number of cops failing the assessments should be less than 10 percent. “Continued failure over time with no medical explanation should result in disciplinary action,” he added.

Cele previously warned officers that their jobs were on the line if they showed an increase rather than a decrease in uniform size.

However, Mthethwa’s spokesman Zweli Mnisi, said efforts undertaken to help the officers were just to encourage them, but they would not lose their jobs.

In his response to Morgan, Mthethwa said the KZN provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, would send a letter to the relevant cluster commander and station commanders to “sensitise” those who were not yet “competent”. The letters would refer them to module eight of the fitness toolkit for guidance on preparation in improving their fitness level before their re-assessment.

“When victims of crime come to police stations, they need to find officers who are well-trimmed and super-fit, not lazy cops. After all, police stations are the face of our policing effort,” said Mthethwa after responding to the parliamentary questions.

The minister emphasised that, as part of the ongoing programme around fitness, all new police stations would include gyms.

Gareth Newham, from the Institute for Security Studies, said there were some units in the police where fitness was more important than others.

While it was important for police officers to keep up their fitness levels, they could not be sacked for being unfit unless it was in their employment contract.

Newham, who heads the crime and justice programme at the institute, said the public would rather trust an overweight police official who was confident and came across as interested in what they had to do than trim and fit officers who were not interested in their jobs. - The Mercury

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