NEWNAN, Ga. — Deep breaths, and constant pulls on the rowing machine are sounds of change at the Newnan Police Department - even if it wasn't an easy start.
“Really wasn't too happy about it, but it turned out to be a good thing,” said Officer Nick White.
We hear almost daily about the dangers police officers face on the job, but one statistic stood out in a study putting the average officer’s life expectancy at 57.
That’s about 22 years younger than the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and two years older than the retirement age of 55 at the Newnan Police Department.
Now, the agency is using that number as motivation to change how their force trains, and changing their officers’ lives in the process.
White, a six-year veteran of the force, is a perfect example of the transformation that has come, one session at a time.
“I'm able to breathe a little bit more,” White said. “Before then, I wasn't able to wrestle around with my kids like I used to.”
Since April, Officer White has lost 60 pounds, part of the more than 350 total pounds lost by the entire Newnan Police Department.
But it's not just about dropping weight, it's an effort to improve health and increase the lifespan of their men and women in blue.
After reading about that startling statistic, Deputy Chief Mark Cooper said the department decided to do something.
"We wanted to encourage our employees to become more physically fit now, not only to reduce workplace injuries, and in order to help us in doing our daily duties, but later on in life once we get to that,” Cooper explained. “When we do (retire), you want to retire and go enjoy everything that we've worked hard for over the years, to have more time in order to do that."
Lt. Brent Blankenship said he worked with the Texas Department of Public Safety, which launched the program 11 years ago, after training injuries, and even a death.
The Newnan Police Department trained in what's known as the Cooper Test, an assessment that incorporated things like running, vertical jumps, push-ups and sit-ups. They've now started using rowing machine workouts to get a better look at a person's overall fitness. The machines allow for factors like gender, age or weight when determining if someone meets certain requirements.
The Newnan Police Department says it’s the first in Georgia to begin the program, but they're spreading the word and hoping others will soon launch their own in different jurisdictions.
Leadership at the Newnan Police Department admits it had to convince officers this wasn't a plan to boot people from the force, but instead a path to a lifestyle change, and soon, lines were forming to use the machines during lunch and before or after shifts.
The department says now about 98 percent of the 88-person force are on board with the plan. Some have even purchased their own rowing machines to use at home.
“It’s also been a lot of fun, because now, we have competitions on our shifts," Blankenship said. "We have officers that are competing with other officers on their times. Our supervisors, our ranking officers - who have gotten into the program are motivating our younger officers."
In the end, it all call comes down to being better able to serve the community, and the lives and health of officers like White, who's feeling better and is now off medication he had been taking for about 12 years.
"My whole family has blood pressure and heart disease issues,” White said. “I just don't want that for me."