Sunday, January 5, 2003

Patrol suspends heavy troopers

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Six State Highway Patrol troopers have been removed from their jobs because they weigh too much.

At a weigh-in Friday, one female trooper was 50 pounds overweight, while one of the five suspended males was 71 pounds overweight. Guidelines in their union contract specify maximum weights by height.

"It's a sad day. It really is," said Jim Roberts, executive director of the Ohio State Troopers Association.

"If you smoke like a chimney - no problem, says the patrol. But if you don't look like a Ken doll in your uniform, that's a severe offense," he said.

Mr. Roberts said the troopers met virtually every other fitness standard. He said Trooper Da'rrel Thomas, assigned to the Georgetown post, was 19 pounds overweight, but had achieved the patrol's "star" level for flexibility leg press, bench press and body fat.

Another suspended trooper, Neil Hedrick, assigned to headquarters in Columbus, is a pistol-shooting medalist selected as a district trooper of the year in 1995.

The six have a combined 113 years of experience. They were a combined 262 pounds overweight, and ranged in age from 26 to 47.

"We'd much rather have one of these troopers than someone who weighs 90 pounds," Mr. Roberts said. "We've got a lot of guys who are underweight."

Lt. Gary Lewis, a patrol spokesman, said the indefinite suspension without pay is not arbitrary. He said the six were put on notice for failing to meet weight guidelines nearly 2 years ago.

If the suspensions become permanent, they could substantially reduce the pensions of three troopers within one year of retirement.

They will have one year to meet standards and return to their jobs, and will continue to receive health benefits in the meantime. Lt. Lewis said their full pensions would be restored if they meet the standards in one year.

The vacancies resulting from their suspension will not be filled.

Nearly 40 troopers threatened with suspension two years ago were assisted through a fitness-information program initiated by the troopers union. Mr. Roberts said many troopers, including one who barely met the requirement Friday, lost dozens of pounds by taking laxatives and diuretics and running in rubberized sweat suits.

Lt. Lewis said nearly 1,500 troopers meet the patrol's height-weight standards, adopted in 1986. Some might exceed weight limits, but have low body fat because of exercise. The guidelines allow for that.

The fitness requirement, including the weight limit, is designed to ensure that troopers can perform their duties. The height-weight requirement is expected to be an issue in negotiations with the union. The contract will expire June 30.

Troopers younger than 40 have physicals every two years. Checkups become annual at 40. Weigh-ins occur monthly.

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