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How fit are the New Zealand Police?

Jumping fences and scaling walls is all in a day’s work for police officers – and they have to be fit to do it. Nicky Dewe finds out what’s involved.

Even working on a health and fitness magazine, I spend a lot of my professional life sitting still. From nine to five, my brain may be busy but my body, not so much.

For constable Carley Eklund and detective sergeant Kate Smith, stars of TVNZ 1’s Women in Blue, this is not the case. For them, and the rest of the New Zealand Police, physical challenges can present themselves at any time. To prove they’re up to it, they must put their bodies to the test every two years just to stay qualified.

So what does it take to be fit enough to fight crime? One Wednesday afternoon, I stepped out from behind my desk and went along to find out.

The Physical Competency Test (PCT) involves completing a series of obstacles within a set time limit. This includes dragging a 74kg weight (in the from of two suitcases chained together) along the floor for several metres. Why? To prove you’re strong enough to move an unconscious body, of course.

There’s a trailer you have to push for 10m, a window frame you must be able to jump through, a 1.8m wall to climb, a 2.2m fence to scale, plus walking on a beam, jumping over obstacles and crawling under hurdles, to name a few of the other challenges. To top it off, you need to do it all in around three minutes (if you’re a woman under 40) to pass.

Police officers are given plenty of support to pass the test, but at the end of the day, if they don’t, they’re out. I’m certainly daunted, and my job doesn’t depend on it. Carley and Kate, on the other hand, seem more amped than apprehensive.

“The physical aspect of the job was definitely part of the appeal,” says Carley. “It keeps you fit, and chasing after criminals is always fun.”

“It’s the most fun part of the job,” adds Kate, with eyes glinting.

I get the feeling that Carley and Kate’s idea of a good time is different to mine, but right now, we’re all in this together. Physical education officer Sean Tagg is there to guide us through the process and has us warming up around the room before we get down to business.

First up is beam walking, followed by a running jump and hurdles. I’m proud to say I crush it – until we get to the wall. Even though it’s handily clad in a velcro-like fabric (less likely to be the case in a true crime scene), I find myself stuck halfway up.

As far as I can tell, there’s nowhere to go but down again. I suggest that maybe my legs are simply too short for these kind of shenanigans, but Sean guides me to hook one foot over the top and pull the rest of my body up and over. It’s not a technique I’d have naturally opted for, but it’s the best way to accomplish it injury free, apparently.

Carley and Kate cheer me on and I make it over. Bolstered by this new-found ability, I approach the wire fence. Climbing up is no problem, but Sean tells me I have to hang down halfway over, securing myself with both arms, then hurl my legs from one side over to the other. Carley and Kate manage it with aplomb, while Sean helpfully stands in place ready to catch me.

It’s a literal leap of faith, but I do what I’m told and the next thing you know I’m right-side up on the opposite side of the fence. I did it! Maybe I can be a cop after all.

Then Carley and Kate give me the low-down.

“So how many of these skills would you use in real life?” I ask.

“Jumping through windows and over massive fences – we have to do that all the time,” says Carley. “But the adrenaline kicks in and you don’t really even think about it”.

“Yeah, and going under the hurdles is a good one,” says Kate. “I once had to crawl underneath a house to find a murder weapon. It was awesome!”

To me this sounds positively appalling, but for Carley and Kate it’s why they do it.

“I knew I wanted to be a cop by the time I was 10,” says Kate. “I love it.”

“My dad was in the force, so I grew up hearing all the stories,” says Carley. And was Dad happy for her to follow in his footsteps? “Yeah, he was stoked,” she says. “Mum was a bit worried, though.”

Afterwards I know for certain that I’m more suited to magazines than law enforcement, but I’m chuffed that I’ve tried out the challenges, albeit with Sean there to catch me if I fall.

I’m more than happy to leave the crime watch to Kate and Carley and get back to the office, but if I have to throw myself over any fences en route, I know I’ll be fine.

For more, see the March issue of New Zealand Good Health Choices. Don't forget to visit our Facebook, and follow us on Instagram.

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