Very few people have the time to train like a professional athlete. Fewer still have the drive to stay fit year-round, as evidenced by the resurgence in gym attendance in January. But when you work in law enforcement in one of the most densely populated cities on the planet — a place that some 450 violent street gangs call home — you’d better be sure that your fitness is on point. Your life — or someone else’s — can and usually does hang in the balance.
“It’s important to stay strong and fit because it can save your life or your partner’s life,” says Officer Joe Diaz, a 14-year veteran of the LAPD’s elite Metropolitan Division. “You’re dealing with guys that are in prison working out all the time. I always tell guys, ‘While you’re sleeping right now, some guy in prison is training, waiting for his chance to get out, and you’re going to have to deal with him. Better to train now than regret it later.’”
And train they do. Officers who earn their way into LAPD Metro don’t just have to pass tactical proficiency and oral exams — they have to be strong and superbly conditioned. Metro is the only division within the department to mandate that its officers meet semiannual performance standards. To help meet those marks, every Metro officer is given the first 90 minutes of his or her shift to hit the weight room, track or obstacle course. Because when hand-to-hand combat, foot chases through urban areas, 24-hour shifts and precision shooting are all part of the job, the last thing you want to be worrying about is whether you got enough time in the weight room or on the treadmill the week prior.
In Metro Division, a hardcore culture of fitness is helping to win back L.A.’s streets, one rep at a time.
On any given day, a patrol officer will respond to a wide variety of calls. Some will be more routine than others. But on a daily basis, Metro cops can pretty much count on confronting dangerous or violent offenders — people who have no interest in being in a cage and are willing to run, fight or fire on officers to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“We’re not focusing our attention on misdemeanor arrests; we’re focusing on felony arrests, putting people in prison,” says Officer Anthony Daniel, who has spent five of his 17 years on the force in Metro. “These people don’t want to go in or go back in. Every day, every pedestrian stop or traffic stop is potentially dangerous, and that’s why I’m working to keep in shape. We’re focusing on trying to get those serious offenders off the street.”
First established in 1933, Metro has undergone several personnel expansions, from 70 officers to 200 in 1968, then up to 350 sworn officers in the aftermath of the 1997 North Hollywood shootout, when two would-be bank robbers sporting body armor showered responding officers with automatic gunfire in a brazen daytime siege that played out on live aerial news feeds. The suspects were the only ones killed, but the event left 11 officers and seven civilians injured and pointed to the need for more cops equipped with the proper training and gear required to quickly dispatch this type of threat.
The division is divided into several field platoons, each with its own specialty. “A” is administration and support, and the “B” and “C” platoons represent the utility players in the lineup, tackling tasks ranging from dignitary security to counterterrorism. “D” Platoon, or SWAT, works hostage crises, barricaded suspects and other high-risk situations. Metro’s horse-mounted unit, “E” Platoon, specializes in general crime suppression and crowd control. K-9 units, which don’t have any additional letter designation, are skilled in the art of searching out suspects or narcotics. The collective expertise of these platoons helped create a 9 percent drop in violent crime in the city in 2012 and, because of their value to the safety of those who live in their jurisdiction and the stressful and unpredictable nature of their work, top physical health is a priority.
“Metropolitan Division officers, by virtue of their specific skills, assignments and duties, carry on their person a complement of equipment that is more complex and heavier than the standard-issue gear assigned to patrol officers,” says Capt. John Incontro, the division’s commanding officer. “Factor in the potential for responding to unusual, emergent and stressful situations and being deployed on-scene for long hours, and you have the makings of a materially demanding job. It is well-documented that a person with a high degree of fitness will be less prone to injury, better able to handle stressful situations and maintain their cognitive skills in those scenarios.”
MANY WORKOUTS, ONE GOAL
Though Metro cops spend the first hour and a half of each shift working on improving their fitness levels, there is no one-size-fits-all routine that they follow. Each officer takes his or her own path toward ensuring success on Metro’s still-evolving PFQ, or physical fitness qualification, which includes a mix of running and bodyweight exercises. (See “PFQ: A Look at LAPD Metro’s Qualifying Standards” on Page 46.) Some officers opt for standard mass- and strength-building schemes, some prefer circuit-style training and some like to stick to trail runs. But a great many of Metro’s uniformed dynamos have adopted components of CrossFit training to maximize physical preparedness.
“I do CrossFit as part of how I train,” says Officer Leila Ryan, a 15-year force veteran with six years on Metro. “We have tons of CrossFit equipment, and I’ll either use the Workout of the Day from the [CrossFit] site, or I’ll make one up.”
Ryan, a former national-level rugby player, still has a penchant for the extreme and confesses that she enjoys tackling versions of the now-famous “300” workout, performing 30 reps of 10 different exercises without rest. This sinister list includes explosive moves and challenging bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and V sit-ups.
“Being short and female, I’m constantly having to prove myself,” says Ryan, who has endured serious back injury, concussions and memory loss as a result of tangles during chaotic arrests. “I don’t want to give them a reason to think I can’t hang! I’ve been in the gym since a young age and I’m naturally athletic — I played junior college tennis and basketball, too — so Metro’s fitness standards are a natural fit for me. Most people who come to Metro are fitness-minded anyway. For a lot of us, it’s part of our lifestyle already.”
K-9 Officer Aron Algren and “C” Platoon’s Diaz also like to incorporate elements of CrossFit into their routines. Algren, who is plagued by low-back issues, enjoys being able to take on workouts that can build strength and enhance overall conditioning using only his bodyweight. This is, of course, on top of the rough-and-tumble bite-suit work and sprints that he does with his 70-pound Belgian Malinois, Roscoe. Diaz likes to up the ante by donning tactical gear — which can weigh in excess of 40 pounds — during his high-intensity work with kettlebells and battle ropes. “That way I can manage myself better when I do have to wear the gear,” says Diaz, 45, whose son is also a member of the LAPD. “It’s not as bad anymore because I’ve done it under stress. I try to vary my workouts. I don’t like to be stale or stagnant in one workout.”
Officer Eric Coffey, a 12-year man who has spent six of those with the division’s Mounted Unit, enjoys running but also incorporates bodyweight work after logging the requisite miles each day — all this before performing another workout with his 1,500-pound quarter horse, Boston, which calls for him to mount and dismount in rapid fashion multiple times before deployment and another couple of dozen times while out on the street.
The choice of PFQ exercises — push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and running — is unspectacular, but each officer attacks the minimums with the intensity of a snarling search dog. SWAT’s Joe Martinez routinely builds workouts around the PFQ, taking a longer run (three to four miles) before returning to the gym for a calisthenics gauntlet. Officer Mary Davis, who has been with Metro for more than 17 years, also trains for PFQ success but is not against building in hill sprints, distance runs, bodyweight moves and other moderate-weight gym staples in order to keep things fresh and challenging.
Again, each officer is acquainted with the stakes. Serving warrants and not knowing what’s behind the door or jumping over a wall in pursuit of an armed suspect requires unshakeable confidence in your training. Gym time, for these A-typers, only serves to complement their already exceptional tactical prowess. “It helps us to focus on the job at hand if we can keep the physical training up to par,” Davis says. “It means one less thing to worry about in the field. The gear doesn’t get any lighter no matter how light you are or if you’re a male or a female. If you have to get over the wall, you have to get over the wall. Because of that, every Metro officer, barring any injuries, strives to produce maximum results each time they take a PFQ. You can call it pride or big egos, but we always train as if our partner’s life counts on it.”
TRAIN LIKE IT’S LIFE OR DEATH
General good health is a decent incentive for workout diligence, but for Metro officers, the adherence to their fitness programs can be more accurately traced to events in the field. “One time, I was working a narcotics buy,” “B” Platoon’s Daniel says. “The suspect, a big guy, saw the police officers after making the transaction with the narcotics officer and sprinted. I took off after him. When he realized that he wasn’t going to outrun us, he stops and turns and decided that he was going to try to take me on.”
Instead of waiting for help and despite the fact that the suspect had stopped in his tracks, Daniel lowered a shoulder and, with the closing speed of a cornerback, drove it into the man’s midsection, sending them both careening to the asphalt. In an instant, his fellow officers arrived to help subdue the less-than-cooperative subject.
Davis recalls an instance when agility under duress helped to defuse a difficult situation. “There was a help call, where officers were getting shot at from inside a house,” she says. “We responded to that location and started to put together a tactical team. We had to get all our gear on and climb over walls onto rooftops, trying to traverse our way toward the threat because any other access would have compromised us and put us in the line of fire for the suspect. We went over three houses to get to a position of advantage, in full gear, with rifles. But that’s fun — that’s the stuff we live for!”
In order to get to a barricaded suspect with a hostage recently, Martinez, as part of a SWAT breach team, thundered away on a reinforced door with a 50-pound ram more than 20 times before they could gain entry.
One of the most dangerous situations a police officer can find himself or herself in is becoming separated from his or her partner during the pursuit of a suspect. “C” Platoon’s Diaz, who weighs in at 160 pounds, found himself in just that spot one time when trying to apprehend a man suspected of robbing an older woman.
“This lady came up to me and my partner and told us she got robbed,” he recalls. “We walked around the corner where she said he was and there were two guys right there. One takes off running. I ran a good quarter of a mile behind him in this foot pursuit. And there’s a lot going on here. It’s being able to put out your location on the radio, watching the guy’s hands, running in boots. All the while, he’s in shorts and basketball shoes, running 100 miles per hour. I keep after him, keeping him in my view because I know most guys will start pooping out after 100 yards. I could see that he was wearing down.”
Diaz finally caught up with the suspect but was blocks away from his partner. It was one-on-one. “I grabbed his wrist and he was bigger — about 6’2”, 6’3”. I was thinking, ‘You’re not going to win.’ When I’m in this uniform, it gives me a mental and physical edge — I’m just not going to quit.”
Diaz tussled with the suspect for more than 10 minutes, which he said felt like a lifetime, before his partner arrived and helped restrain him. “If I wasn’t in great physical shape, I would have had a much harder time with this guy.”
This type of encounter is commonplace for Metro cops, bringing another occupational hazard into focus. “You have a gun — if he takes it from you, he could kill you or someone else with it,” Diaz says, just in case there was any doubt about the value of physical strength in law enforcement.
PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH
You will be hard-pressed to find another municipal law-enforcement agency that sets aside paid time for its officers to prepare for the physical rigors of the job. With only so many man-hours to dish out, most departments would rather their officers spend that time on the range or on patrol. But battling the demons in the City of Angels requires a force that is able to respond with a physical aptitude that meets or exceeds its already high level of tactical proficiency.
“Officers assigned to Metro, regardless of their assignment within the division, must be able to work long hours, handle difficult physical and mental assignments, and advance the department mission at high-profile events both planned and unexpected,” Incontro says. “Some of the significant events within our scope include the protection of heads of state, the president of the United States, the Academy Awards and numerous other details as required by the department. The different platoons of Metro have specific duties that are high risk, difficult and extremely physically demanding; readiness is essential to their success. The Tactical Support platoons (“B” and “C”), Mounted Platoon, K-9 or SWAT platoons are all required to be in top physical fitness due to their specialized and demanding role within the department to protect and serve the people in and of Los Angeles.”
In Metro, keeping fit is expected. In this division full of go-getters, no one needs to be told what to do. All leaders by nature, they instead take their cues from one another. “You have to push yourself in the gym, but it helps when your friends and partners are in getting themselves physically and mentally prepared,” Daniel says. “That gives you that extra drive to get in there.”
PFQ: A Look at LAPD Metro’s
Every six months, officers are scored on a points system based on the following standards. SWAT officers are required to meet these marks on a quarterly basis. But these criteria are constantly being re-evaluated to be more relevant for the division.
Exercise/Activity Minimum Maximum
Push-Up 30 50
Reps must done continuously to failure. Officers must begin in the top position with back flat and arms locked out, then, on the down position, the sternum must touch the hand of the counting officer, which is placed flat on the ground.
Pull-Up — 20
Reps must be done continuously to failure. Officers begin in the hanging position with arms locked out, palms facing forward (pronated). The chin must come above the bar at the top position, with the legs hanging straight down — no kipping allowed.
Sit-Up 40 80
Reps must be done continuously to failure. On each rep, the officer’s shoulder blades must touch the ground and the chest must break 90 degrees (respective to the thighs) in the top position.
Retooling the Run: The Los Angeles Police Department may be more than 100 years old but new tricks abound for this blue bloodhound. As sports science continues to evolve, so have the fitness requirements set forth for Metro officers. One specific area in which the standards are evolving is running. Previously, officers were required to run three miles in less than 27 minutes. Realizing the toll this can take on joints and preferring that officers train for runs more suited to those they may encounter on duty, LAPD Metro has trimmed that run down to 1.5 miles, with a 13:30 minimum. Regardless of length, officers’ runs usually take place on the hilly, outdoor terrain surrounding the Police Academy in Los Angeles.
And when you consider that most Metro officers are between 35 and 45 years of age, stress management is as vital to work productivity as it is to shelf life. “Our fitness culture helps with the stress,” Davis says. “In Metro, we don’t have set days off or hours. They change from day to day. Nothing is set in stone. The workout at the beginning of our shift is key to keeping people prepared for anything.”
The job can be wildly unpredictable, which is why it’s important to control as many of the training and preparation variables as possible. That is where Metro flourishes — it takes the best of the best and whittles them into one physically imposing peacekeeping instrument that can deploy in a moment’s notice to any and all manner of crises that may erupt.
“Only with officers who maintain that high level of fitness can we complete the missions asked of us,” Incontro adds. “Every officer assigned to Metro understands and values the need for physical fitness. Here, it’s not just a job requirement. It is truly a part of our organizational culture.”
Whether it’s behind an HK416 rifle at the range or beneath the weight of a loaded barbell in the gym, this talented group of law-enforcement officers is committed to excellence. They protect and serve, just like any other sworn officer, only they are trained to do it faster, with more force and for longer.
So sleep well, Los Angeles. Metro and its muscle are on the case.