Physical requirements in place for a reason

July 31, 2014

In an episode of the venerable “Andy Griffith Show,” an unemployed Gomer Pyle tells Sheriff Andy Taylor that he’s going to apply for a butcher’s job at the local market. Andy asks him, “You know anything about cuttin’ meat?” Gomer replies, “You think they’ll ask me that?”

Just as it makes sense a grocer would want a butcher with appropriate qualifications, it is reasonable to expect women who wish to become Pennsylvania State Police troopers should meet the existing physical fitness standards for those positions. The federal government, however, begs to differ and decided to meddle with the way Pennsylvania conducts its public safety business.

The Justice Department, having apparently run out of legitimate cases to pursue, filed a 10-page lawsuit earlier this week against the state police, claiming the PSP’s physical fitness test for state trooper applicants amounts to illegal discrimination against women, because a lower percentage of women than men are able to pass the test.

The Justice Department crunched a few numbers and determined that had it not been for these supposedly onerous physical requirements, Pennsylvania would have another 45 female troopers.

Now, let’s look at reality.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, in an Associated Press report, was quoted as saying identical physical requirements for men and women who wish to become troopers make sense because male and female troopers do the same job, and he notes that lowering the standards would threaten public safety.

“By the nature of our job, we’re out there by ourselves,” said Noonan. “A lot of times we don’t have backup. So, to put a test in place that basically passes everybody – well, what’s the point of having a test?”

Noonan is expressing what we like to call “common sense.”

The commissioner pointed out the standards for state police recruits are fairly moderate. They include completing a 300-meter run in one minute and 17 seconds, 13 push-ups, a 14-inch vertical leap and finishing a 1.5-mile run in less than 17 minutes and 48 seconds.

“This is not an impossible task,” said Noonan.

“We’re not looking for Olympic athletes.”

Between 2003 and 2012, nearly all male applicants met the physical standards, and more than 70 percent of females passed. Clearly, if nearly three-quarters of the women were meeting the standard, it is hardly an overly high bar.

But the folks at the Justice Department, it seems, climbed so far up in their ivory towers that they are no longer getting sufficient oxygen to their brains.

It boggles the mind, but according to the AP report, the department alleges the state police physical testing “does not qualify under the law as a business necessity.”

And then there’s this, from Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general from the department’s Civil Rights Division: “The Department of Justice is deeply committed to eliminating artificial barriers that keep qualified women out of public safety work.”

Two things here, Ms. Samuels: Those barriers are there for a reason, and they are in no way artificial. Also, they are not keeping “qualified women” out of public safety work. They are weeding out those who are unqualified.

We wonder how many times Ms. Samuels found herself on an isolated country road, one on one with a dangerous criminal, wrestling with the suspect while he tried to get control of her service revolver, fighting for her very life. We’re guessing never.

As in all employment situations, we believe women should be treated equally. They should not, however, be given special treatment, especially when the safety of others hangs in the balance.



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