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Police officer physical ability test

The original Police Officer’s Physical Abilities Test (POPAT) was developed and constructed based on information collected through the Police Officer’s Physical Abilities Study. Information was provided by 217 representative and randomly selected police officers.  The officers were performing their various duties across all shifts. 

Each officer was required to complete a daily diary of all physical work associated with the job.  Their diaries extended over a one month period.  There were 9612 descriptive records received.  Activities such as walking, standing, running, jumping, vaulting, lifting, carrying, pulling, pushing, etc. were recorded.  Also recorded were descriptions of size and perceived levels of physical strength and fitness of arrested suspects.

The study identified the need for police officers to “get to the problem” and in doing so be able, on occasion, to move quickly (run) over short distances.  The run usually included frequent changes in direction, stairways, jumping ditches, low barricades (parking lot railings) and other obstacles. Thus, the 440 yard (1/4 mile) run station within the POPAT is designed to have participants show that they have the general physical ability to perform these activities at a defined minimum level of supportive aerobic fitness.

The study also determined that it was necessary for police officers to take physical control over suspects (prisoners) - “resolve the problem”.  A total of 837 suspects were arrested by the 217 officers during the study period. This activity of controlling human initiated resistive forces (fighting), in its simplest form, involves being able to control a combination of pulling and pushing types of forces.  Prisoner pulling and pushing abilities were measured in a study of physical abilities for Corrections Officers. 

Their demonstrated pulling and pushing abilities are listed below.  These figures reflect the amount of force prisoner groups were able to demonstrate while moving quickly through a controlled arc of 180 degrees simulating the twisting and turning of an actual wrestling combative event.

Table 1: Average dynamic pulling and pushing abilities of prisoners. BC Corrections COPAT Study.

Adult Male Prisoners (n=47) 80 lbs
Adult Female Prisoners (n=25) 50 lbs
Juvenile (youth) Male Prisoners (n=27) 70 lbs

The public expects that police officers will be able to control the average prisoner or suspect.   The police officer physical abilities study showed conclusively that the most persons arrested were males. Therefore each officer must demonstrate physical abilities, including pulling and pushing, equal to the average male prisoner.  The push and pull station (of the Physical Control Simulator) of the POPAT measures these abilities.

Additionally, reports of some of the physical confrontations showed that police officers can be required to perform at maximum levels for short periods of time.  During these encounters the police officers reported abnormal levels of psychological and physiological stress (found the activity to be both mentally and physically demanding).  During periods of extreme physical and emotional effort a person’s heart rate (HR) usually reaches their maximum.  Under maximal stress conditions focused mental capacity is taxed and motor skills requiring mental control, if not practiced, deteriorate. 

The POPAT test includes an activity with a rail vault which elicits a maximal heart rate within the test person while requiring the participant to demonstrate basic coordinative muscular abilities under conditions of maximal cardiovascular stress.

Our police officers often found themselves performing heavy lifting tasks (“removing the problem”) and many of the tasks involved carrying a male person.  The average Canadian male 20 ‑ 29 years weighs between 160 and 170 lb. The average age of the adult male suspect in the original study was about 27 years and weighed about 161 lb. 

A weight of 45 kg (100 lb.) is used within the POPAT to have participants demonstrate that they have the potential ability to learn to lift and carry a heavy weight.  A “Torso Bag" is used to have the participant coordinatively demonstrate integrated abilities of hand grip, arm flexor, back and leg strength, to represent lifting and dragging a person.

The reason that 100 lb. was decided on was primarily safety related.  Many persons have never trained to lift heavy weights.  Under the motivational testing conditions of POPAT a person may place themselves in position of risking a potential injury.  People must train their muscles and body position to lift safely.  Lifting 100 lb. is an adequate indication of a person’s ability to lift and carry heavy weights, and represents the weight of the average male torso.

The design of the POPAT is in the form of a circuit and includes activities that are the basic (and generally life experienced) components of the ability being tested.  Further, it is important that all activities within the POPAT are initiated and controlled by the person performing the test.  Thus, the components of most stations are objects over or on which work must be performed, leaving little or no discretionary decisions to be made by the test administrator.  This has been found to be encouraging to persons performing the test as they perceive the test to be job related, not difficult, reliable, and administered fairly.

The minimum standard of 4:15 was established through the testing of adult male prisoners in a study conducted in 1987.  This standard was re-validated in 1995.

Other similar POPAT studies with remarkably similar results were conducted in the early 1990's in Oregon USA; a slightly modified version of the POPAT was then adopted for the State.   LEPAT Inc. also recently completed a validation study on the POPAT for the Arkansas State Police (2016); a slightly modified version of the POPAT was then adopted. 

Most of the other tests used for law enforcement, including the PARE, were developed from the POPAT and its related research, and utilize the same, standardized equipment.

Farenholtz,DW & Rhodes,EC (1985). Development of a Physical Abilities Test for Correctional Officers in British Columbia, Presentation to Canadian Association of Sport Sciences.


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Speed and strength are both critical for passing the POPAT, but so is technique. Practicing with LEPAT helped me get through the push/pull. When I did it for the first time I had a lot of problems with it, but after I was shown how to do it properly the push/pull was something I could become confident in! Knowing what to expect and how to do it will ease your mind and allow you to focus on getting a competitive time!
~ Jennier M.  (June 2014)


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