Hall County Sheriff-elect Gerald Couch admits he’s struggled with fitness during his career in law enforcement.
“When I first became a detective, I was doing a lot of paperwork, and going out and talking to a lot of people,” he said. “Being an investigator is less physical than being a uniform officer, and so I started putting on weight, and I had to make sure I watched my lifestyle and change that.”
Now, fitness is a permanent commitment for Couch.
“I set my own personal goal to lose that weight and get back in shape, and I still do that to this day,” he said.
Now, as Couch readies to take the reins of the sheriff’s office in January, he wants to make fitness a goal for all deputies.
“It’s important to citizens that they have a department they can be proud of, and when it becomes obvious to them that there’s no physical standards that exist in a department, public confidence in the agency, and in its leadership, can deteriorate,” he said.
Couch plans to develop a fitness policy starting immediately with a fitness program for new hires, he said.
Couch said for current personnel, he plans to phase in a program over time.
“None of these actions are seen as anything punitive,” he said. “I want to change the lifestyle and the mindset to help the officers be healthier and enjoy their lives more, and perform better for the citizens of the county.”
Couch has stressed that such a program has precedence.
On his campaign website, he cites the Hall County Fire Department’s wellness program implemented eight years ago.
“We’ve used it for several years and our people go through the physical ability course once a year, and it’s timed, and they set out to monitor if they’re bettering themselves or not bettering themselves,” Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.
Kimbrell said he thinks he’s seen a positive effect.
“There are several people who have improved quite a bit, taken weight loss initiatives and have gotten in better shape. I think it has accomplished what it set out to do,” he said.
Couch said implementation in the sheriff’s office shouldn’t be a burden on the county budget.
“Currently we have exercise facilities; we have a gym at the Hall County Jail,” he said.
He also noted gymnasiums furnished by the county, including at North Hall, East Hall and Mulberry Creek community centers.
Many gyms also offer reduced rates for law enforcement officers, he said.
“You have to go about it the right way,” Couch said.
“You have to have the proper training for the instructors, make sure that we develop a program that will help the officers develop and is legally sound.
“We’ll use the current existing training personnel, and this will just be one of the programs that we implement in with our current training programs,” he added.
He also stressed that the positive byproducts of implementing a program would offset any cost.
“A fit officer wearing a squared-away uniform, carrying themselves in a professional bearing, commands more respect and cooperation from people they may come in contact with as suspects or the general public,” he said.
But it’s about more than just the aesthetics.
“Benefits for the citizens are improved job performance, reducing sick leave, lower frequency of accidents, overall improved morale of employees, which overall leads to a more professional delivery of services,” Couch said.
But the primary beneficiaries are the officers themselves, Couch said.
He listed “improved officer safety, public respect, more confidence, improved appearance, better health and longevity,” as just a few of the benefits of a fitness program.
And the challenge is worth the reward.
“Sometimes it’s tough to change lifestyles and mindsets,” he said. “But it’s for the betterment not only of the employee — the officer — but for the public as well.”