Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Early on a recent Saturday morning, more than 100 women gathered at Las Vegas Metro Police headquarters to try their luck at some of the physical tests required to become a cop or a correctional officer.
Shirts bearing the Metro seal under a field of pink and the words “Women’s Boot Camp” were given to the participants at this free fitness class that mimics what official recruits experience.
“Are you ready?” said a tall, male recruiting officer at the end of his introduction speech.
The women murmured in affirmation.
“Are you ready?” he repeated, louder and more forcefully, as if this were a pep rally.
“Yes, sir!” the women shouted in unison. He was already getting somewhere.
As instructed, the women stood and turned toward the door. They were dressed for a workout, their faces were tight with excitement and fear.
The officer explained that they would now begin the mock fitness test. “Are you ready for that?” he called.
“Yes, sir!” They answered.
“We’ll see,” he said.
The potential recruits exited the classroom in single file and continued to the expansive fifth-floor roof of the Metro parking garage. As they walked outside, other recruiters reminded them not to forget their water bottles and score sheets.
How high can you jump?
The fitness requirements for police recruits are the same, regardless of gender.
While both genders can succeed with practice, the recruiters say that some of the tests tend to prove more challenging for men or women. For example, men tend to have more trouble with the sit-ups, while women tend to have more trouble with the push-ups or vertical jumps.
First up: the vertical jump. This test took the longest because the metal base of the measuring device must be adjusted for the standing height of each jumper. To pass, recruits had three chances to clear at least 15 inches. To jump higher, recruiters suggested practicing squats and calf-raises at home.
Asia Windley, a 21-year-old criminal justice major, completed a 16-inch vertical jump. She said that she wants to become an officer because she has a strong view of right and wrong. She wants to help bring justice to Las Vegas.
Unique Jackson, 18, was both nervous and optimistic. “I feel like I can do it, but then my stomach gives me butterflies,” Jackson said. “But God is with me, so I know I can do it.” She has dreamt of being a cop since age 5, inspired by her great-grandfather who was a police officer in Dallas.
The Saturday morning test was worth it for Jackson, who works as a security guard for the CSN Cheyenne campus. “It helps a lot (to) practice so I can just get ready for the real test,” Jackson said. “I get to see if I can do it or not.”
For the agility test, the women broke into teams and lined up behind rows of orange cones. At the starting sound, the first person in each line would run back and forth, in between and around the cones. They had to complete the pattern perfectly and sprint back to the starting point in 19.5 seconds.
For the upper body portion of the test, participants had to complete 23 standard push-ups (no knees-on-the-ground “girl push-ups” for these women) and 30 full sit-ups within a minute (hands must stay cupped behind the ears and elbows must hit the knees, which is harder than it looks).
By this point in the boot camp, the parking lot, which provided scant shade, was heating up. But the running portion of the test still remained. The women had to complete a 300-meter run in 68 seconds as well as a 1.5 mile run in less than 17 minutes.
Stephanie Cohen, 24, went above and beyond the upper-body tests, completing 45 sit-ups in one minute and besting the push-up requirement by two reps.
“I’ve been working off adrenaline and everybody else’s positivity,” said Cohen, who wants to be a police officer so that she can help people and the community. As for the female-only mock fitness tests, Cohen said, “It’s a good feeling to do your best without the stress.”
Teamwork beats competition
During each ordeal, the women cheered each other on and shouted directions. One female recruiting officer yelled encouragement, such as: “Get that suspect! Don’t let him get away!”
Overall, the vibe was friendly, positive and collaborative instead of competitive.
“That’s what we want, because our strength comes from being a team member,” Officer Larry Douglas said. “We want everybody to get in that mindset early. When you go to the academy, you’re going to be a member of a class. When you’re on a patrol, you’ll have a partner and be part of a squad.”
Douglas said that more women are needed to join the department on all levels. “That’s why we started doing things like the women’s boot camp,” Douglas said of the annual event, which concludes with informative lectures about leadership, the background check process and Police Academy.
“My daughter’s only 7, but if she were to come out here and see the ladies, then later on, she’d be able to see herself doing this,” Douglas said, explaining one of the values of diverse representation in the department.
Even if participants ultimately do not choose to become police officers, Douglas see value in their attendance. “It’s not exclusive. If a man wants to attend, that’s fine. We keep it relaxed. We want people to participate,” Douglas said. “They’re out here seeing what we can do and that they can interact with police officers in a nice, friendly manner. Even if we have only one person out here and we can change their mind, that’s a success.”
Helping the next generation
When Metro Officer Michelle Funes started as a police cadet more than a decade ago, she felt incredibly intimidated. Moreover, she didn’t get much encouragement from family or friends. “Not a lot of people support women in law enforcement,” Funes said, “but our department does.”
Despite such support, the field remains dominated by males. Funes said that there’s only about one female per squad of 10-12 males. “A lot of females don’t think they can do it because it is a male-dominated job,” Funes said. “So holding events like this just shows them that they can. I think it’s a great value.”
In addition to these large and more sporadic recruiting events, Funes recommends that aspiring officers attend the free PT prep sessions at Police Memorial Park, which occur at 6:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. “We help whoever wants to come out, male and female,” Funes said. The training sessions include mock timed tests as well as addition strength, agility and cardio training. They last about two hours. Funes said that the training sessions draw about 25 people to each session and that 75 to 80 percent of the people who participate in the sessions go on to pass the test.
According to Funes, it’s a great time to become a police officer. “We are holding (tests) every month and hiring like crazy,” Funes said. The next written test is September 5 and the next fitness test is September 6. In past years, people who failed one of the tests may have had to wait a year or more to try again. “If you pass all your tests, you will end up in the academy. This is a great opportunity. We’re very short (staffed).”
Funes looks out upon the parking lot full of women cheering each other on and said, “It makes my heart smile, it really does. Since I’ve been doing recruiting, I get a lot of women asking, ‘Can I really do this?’ Absolutely. If you have the heart for it, you can do anything.”