The department is currently recruiting for 11 open officer positions. But the process of becoming a cop is not easy. There are background checks, written tests and physical requirements.
I’m not in the best shape, but I recently did a practice physical fitness test for those interested in becoming JPD officers.
I’m in my mid-30s. I try to hit the gym five times a week, but usually I’m lucky if I make it once or twice. As for diet, I prefer pizza and beer to salad and mineral water.
On the plus side, I’m pretty religious about taking vitamins and I quit smoking seven years ago.
JPD Lt. Kris Sell says many recruits approach the physical test with some consternation.
“So that’s why we’re having this practice test is to let people get a feel for it,” she says, as five of us gather on the Thunder Mountain High School track.
Things get underway with a 300-meter sprint, which we must run in under 77 seconds.
“You might want to jog a little bit,” Sell says. “We’ve seen people pull a hamstring on this section. It will make for a long day if you do that.”
The other “recruits” and I line up, and Sell lets us know when to start.
On your mark, get set, go!”
About a minute later we all pass the finish line with plenty of time to spare.
The sprint tests our anaerobic capacity. Sell says that comes in handy when chasing bad guys.
The vertical jump is next. It measures leg strength. To pass, we must jump at least 14 inches.
Measuring upper body strength requires we do at least 21 pushups. Then we try 15 sit ups in under a minute to test our core strength.
We finish with a 1.5 mile run in no more than 17:17.
“Try not to start too fast, but at a pace you can sustain for about 10 to 15 minutes,” Sell advises us. “You may walk, but walking will make it very difficult to meet the standard.”
I do end up walking part of two laps thanks to stomach cramps, but still finish in 15:29.
I cross the finish line with a flourish, and collapse on the track in mock exhaustion.
The physical fitness test is JPD’s minimum standard. New hires are required to go through the Public Safety Training Academy in Sitka, where the physical demands only increase.
“Well, your day starts at 5:30, and sometimes you’re not done until 8 o’ clock that night,” says Officer Keith Byrne. “So you’re kind of going, going, going, and by the time you get into your bed you’re just sleeping.”
Byrne says he was in pretty good shape when he went to the academy in 2012, and in even better shape by the time he finished.
“I was running five minute miles,” he says.
Besides running and strength training, Byrne says there’s a heavy dose of swimming at the academy, including some uniquely Alaskan scenarios.
They do things where maybe you’re on the water edge and you might get a crab pot caught on your leg,” Byrne says. “And they throw you into the pool and you have a crab pot tied to your leg.”
Police Chief Bryce Johnson says there’s no ongoing physical fitness requirement for JPD officers, but they are encouraged to stay healthy.
“We have a really nice exercise facility at the police department, where we encourage our officers to workout,” Johnson says. “We have a fitness pin that we give officers. We give them points for a master officer program, where they can get paid more. So, we incentivize fitness, and a lot of officers go to the gym.”
“The whole thing is physically tough”
My fellow “recruit” Matt Ferster says the practice test gave him a good idea what he needs to work on to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Just the whole thing is physically tough,” Ferster says. “When you haven’t stayed in shape for 20 years, it’s hard to get back in shape, and so that’s where I’m at.”
Ferster, 44, says he has friends on the police force who are encouraging him to keep at it. He thinks being a police officer would be rewarding.
Chief Johnson says JPD is recruiting heavily to fill its 11 vacancies, about half of them to provide security at Juneau International Airport as part of new federal rules.
The police academy is held twice a year. The next one starts in August.