The streets are safer with me behind a desk writing about the law instead of out running after criminals, enforcing the law.
I discovered this fact after attempting the tests to become a merit officer with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department on March 14.
And the key word there was “attempting.” It was not pretty.
Just more than a dozen people showed up to test, but at the end of the day, only five would be considered for the two open spots.
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The spots were opened when Sgt. Jeff Hess resigned for personal reasons and Deputy Jessica Smith accepted a job with the Fishers Police Department.
This is not any normal job interview. You don’t show up in your best pant suit with references in hand. Instead, you show up in your running shoes with a calculator in hand for the math test.
Deputies are required to know more than the law and how to enforce it correctly. They also must know how to multiply decimals, add fractions and measure cubic feet.
I took one math class in college. I got an A, but after my final, all of the information was dumped out of my head. My journalism professor at Franklin College used to say there are three kinds of journalists — those who know math and those who don’t. I fall into the latter.
However, I excelled on the spelling and grammar portions of the merit officer test, which was a relief. “You better get that right,” test monitor Lt. Brad Stogsdill told me.
We tested in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center. I sat next to Crystal Spencer.
She had tried out to be a state trooper, a Columbus officer and an officer in Seymour. The Columbus resident decided to come to Brown County to try out to be a deputy.
She has an associate degree in law enforcement and bachelor’s degree in homeland security.
“I am determined to get it,” she said. “I may not get it this year, but I will get it because I won’t give up.”
During the Indiana State Police physical test, the officers act like drill instructors, yelling at the candidates as they try out, she said.
“They expect you to be 100 percent. If you show up and you don’t pass one thing, they send you home,” Spencer said.
She had trouble passing the physical portion of the test.
“I can do the sit-ups and the run, it’s the push-ups and the jumps that get me,” she told me. “Even though I haven’t passed, I don’t stop trying.”
Brown County has the same standards. Spencer was unable to complete the physical portion because she did not meet one health requirement.
But I thought of her as I finished my sit-ups and push-ups. They asked me after the sit-ups if I wanted a break, and I refused. I didn’t want them to slow the process down for me.
“There are some women that go in there and expect special treatment because they are a woman, but I do not,” Spencer said. “I expect they treat me exactly like they do the boys, because I have joined a male-dominated profession and I’m ready to show that I can do it just as good as they can, if not better.”
Ready to run?
The sheriff’s department was testing all candidates using the exit standards for the police academy. Candidates who had already received training from the academy were not required to take the physical tests.
I have never participated in the police academy, and I haven’t run on the high school’s track since freshman year of high school, almost 10 years ago.
When it comes to physical activity, I will be the first to admit it that I hate it. I have horrible coordination, and if I try to run for an extended period of time, I feel like dying.
Meanwhile, all these athletic men were passing me by. From what I could tell, they were barely huffing and puffing.
I ran the 300-meter in 1 minute, 41 seconds. Exit standards state this must be done in 1 minute, 11 seconds.
I was not able to complete the vertical jump 16 inches off the ground, but I did try three times.
Exit standards require officers to do 29 sit-ups in one minute and 25 push-ups.
I was able to do five push-ups and about 10 sit-ups. But hey, at least I tried.
“I think things went well. The group here that finished here today, they all passed the exit standards to get out of the academy, which are higher standards than it takes to get in,” Sheriff Scott Southerland said.
“We have to do this, because if they go to the academy the first day and they do the physical testing, if they don’t pass all these tests, they send them home.”
Being an observing reporter and not a real candidate, I was able to get a “free pass” on the physical requirements and keep moving through the process. Everyone around me dropped like flies when they couldn’t complete a requirement, but I was able to keep going no matter what my score was — and it was not good.
Southerland wanted me to get the full experience, and that’s exactly what I got.
I was breathless, red-faced, sore and tired at the end of it.
But the environment was supportive, and the officers who’d gathered at the high school’s track were cheering for the last candidates to cross the finish line of the mile-and-a-half run.
All candidates remaining at that point in the testing process finished within the exit standard time of 16 minutes, 28 seconds.
Me? I dropped out after the first lap because I did not want to intimidate my fellow running mates with my awesome running skills. This was completely out of the goodness of my heart and not because I was breathless and wanted to pass out.
Last two standing
Southerland said all the candidates would make great members of the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s a problem, but it’s a good problem,” Southerland said of the qualified candidates. “It’s going to be a tough decision.”
After interviews before the sheriff’s merit board, Paul Henderson and Josh Stargell were chosen.
Both are Nashville police officers. Four of the five candidates who made it to the finals were from the town’s police force.
“It gives them a chance to spread their wings a little bit and get outside of the square-mile of Nashville,” Southerland said.
“The hardest thing was to tell three people who are my friends and who are good, qualified candidates that they weren’t chosen,” he said.
The town is now going through the hiring process to replace those officers.
I don’t think I’ll challenge them, though. I know where I belong.