David Scott, a part-time officer in the Barnstead Police Department of New Hampshire, is suing the New Hampshire Police Standards & Training Council for sex discrimination. (Story here.) The police department agreed to hire him as a full-time police officer upon satisfactory completion of the department’s physical fitness tests. Scott passed the bench press, sit-up, and pull-up portions of the test, but could not run 1.5 miles in the time allotted for men. If he were a woman, however, his best time would qualify him to pass.
We can debate the legal merits of the case, but I’m more interested in the idea that women don’t need to run as fast as their male counterparts. Are criminals going to run more slowly if a female cop is chasing them? Will criminals leap smaller fences? Do they weigh less? Is there any discernible reason to require less of women in testing, when presumably, the same will be asked of them on duty?
Yes, without lower physical fitness requirements, there would be precious few women police officers, and presumably, it’s a good thing to have women officers around to do things like strip-search female arrestees who need strip-searching. But if they are out on the streets and incapable of chasing down perps or doing whatever needs to be done that requires a high level of physical fitness, then they simply aren’t qualified for the job.
The women’s fitness test would then indicate that they are qualified to hang around the station, and presumably, any man who passes that test should be able to do the same thing. On the flip side, any woman who passes the man’s test could be out on the street or on the SWAT team or whatever it is that requires a high level of physical strength and endurance.
The other alternative is that the male physical fitness standards are too high – that a police officer job can be done competently by anyone capable of passing the women’s physical fitness test. Then, the question is why would good, capable officers like David Scott be denied a place on the force because of overly stringent standards?
Sex discrimination isn’t the problem; it’s a symptom of a larger problem, i.e. the idea that we can apply different standards to people facing the same challenges and somehow obtain a good result. Criminals don’t run that much more slowly when chased by lady cops. Calculus doesn’t solve itself when an affirmative action admit is doing it. Surgery doesn’t become less bloody or more safe if someone who was admitted on reduced standards is performing it. Fires don’t burn more slowly, or fire hoses don’t become more manageable, when women or minority firefighters are wielding the hoses.