Oak Bay Rec helping shape future police officers

Diane Luszniak works on the push-pull machine at Henderson Rec Centre

Diane Luszniak works on the push-pull machine at Henderson Rec Centre

There’s exercising and then there’s exercising to become a cop.

Just ask Diane Luszniak.

In hopes of moving ahead in the police job application process, the Saanich resident first ran the police officer physical abilities test – better known as POPAT – in 2009.

Luszniak was scheduled to tackle the test that June, but with about a month to go, she signed up for Recreation Oak Bay’s specialized police fitness training program.

Despite her efforts and her athleticism, she didn’t make the grade. Prospective hires for municipal law enforcement departments in B.C. must complete the POPAT in four minutes, 15 seconds or better – it’s 04:45 or better for the RCMP version of the test.

“You’re pretty much wiped at the end,” Luszniak said of the POPAT’s demands. “You give it your all.”

She continued to train, however, and passed the test in October. She hasn’t taken time off from training since and signs up again each time Oak Bay Rec offers POPAT. She’s one of three or four diehard students who have been with the program since the early days.

Oak Bay Rec Centre is the only municipal fitness facility in Greater Victoria offering this highly specialized training. It provides police officer hopefuls with access to a job-specific obstacle course, as well as personal trainers who can help them shave crucial seconds off their time.

“There’s no real way to duplicate other elements in this course,” said Luszniak. “You really want to get a sense of what you’re up against. This course is the only way to do that.”

More than 100 people have taken the course since it was created in 2008. While some just want to try a different workout, about 90 per cent hope to work in law enforcement. While no record of success is kept on hires, a few participants have gone on to become RCMP or municipal police officers, as well as reserve constables.

“I think it’s critical, at least at the entry level, to demonstrate that you’re physically capable,” said Oak Bay police Deputy Chief Kent Thom, who last ran the POPAT six years ago.

RCMP officers must pass the physical abilities requirement evaluation or PARE, which closely resembles the POPAT.

Both test a police candidate’s physical prowess: their ability to leap a six-foot mat, jump hurdles, sprint, turn hairpin corners, climb up and down stairs, hop a three-foot vault and get up quickly from a lying down position, over and over again during six continuous laps.

And that’s just the obstacle course.

Once the circuit is completed, it’s over to the push-pull machine, which simulates an upper-body struggle with a suspect. Finally, the last leg of the test is not timed and involves carrying a heavy sandbag for several feet.

“You’ve got to be in decent shape to go through the course,” said trainer Niño Samson, who conducts Recreation Oak Bay’s police training. “It’s probably the hardest workout at Oak Bay.”

For some of the more proud male students, the program has been a rude awakening about their level of physical fitness.

“I see a lot of guys go in cocky and come out puking,” Samson said.

Luszniak ran the POPAT test about three weeks ago and passed again – not the last time she’ll need to pass the test with a competitive time. She’s been selected to train as a reserve constable with the Victoria Police Department, starting April 21.

“It’s not a matter of passing it and sitting on the couch,” said Luszniak. “It’s a competitive process to get in.”

Recreation Oak Bay next offers a full-length police training course from May 2 to June 13 and another from July 4 to Aug. 22. Sessions run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Henderson Centre, 2291 Cedar Hill X Rd. For details, please visit recreation.oakbaybc.org, or call 250-370-7117.