Courier reporter Evan Shields took the written and physical tests required of candidates hoping to join the Madison Police Department. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson)
Courier reporter Evan Shields took the written and physical tests required of candidates hoping to join the Madison Police Department. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson)
A few weeks ago, my editor offered up the idea for me to take part in the tryout for those hoping to become a Madison Police Department officer.

He wasn't suggesting a change in my career path. He just thought it would be interesting to tell our readers what one must do to become a police officer in Madison.

I reluctantly accepted the challenge.

There is an open position with the police department and 22 applicants want the job. During the previous hiring process, the department received 27 applications, which is about average.

"It kind of varies, and I know it's dropped in recent years," Chief Dan Thurston said. Thurston said that when he joined the force 20 years ago, there were 100 applicants fighting for one job.

The first part of the testing is a written exam, developed by Stanard & Associates, which specializes in tests for police officers. The Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police also recommends the test.

The written test is divided into three parts: math, reading comprehension and grammar. Those are crucial skills required of an officer.

The math portion covered addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. One application of this skill, Thurston said, would be adding up the value of stolen items.

The reading comprehension section measures a candidate's ability to read a statute and apply it to a real-life scenario.

The grammar section tests an applicant's ability to spell and use punctuation. Thurston said this is necessary because officers file written reports.

There are 65 questions on the test. In order to pass, applicants must score at least a 70 percent.

I managed a passing score, but did not get all the questions correct in the grammar section.

Next came the physical agility portion of the test. The Indiana Law Enforcement Academy sets minimum standards for applicants to be accepted into the program. There also are standards recruits must meet to graduate from the academy.

"What we've always used is the exit standards," Thurston said. If you send someone up to the academy, you run the risk of losing out on that time and pay for someone who may not pass, he added. So the department uses those standards to ensure their officers will graduate. There are five sections to the physical fitness portion of the test.

"The demands of the job require someone to be in relatively good physical condition," Thurston said.

I received this assignment Jan. 31, which gave me just over a week to train for the testing. Training on my own, I felt comfortable with all portions except for...

• Push-ups. Minimum of 25 required. During my training, I was able to get to 18. That happened to be the first thing I had to do after the written exam.

I think my adrenaline was jacked up. I pushed my way to 20 fairly easily, and gutted out the final five.

• Vertical jump. Jump with at least one foot planted. Get at least 16 inches off the ground. I know I passed, but I don't know exactly how high I jumped. I just know it was more than I expected.

• Sit-ups. At least 29 in one minute. I don't have the strongest abdominal muscles. But I was able to get 32. I really had to push to get the last couple.

• 300-meter dash. The time requirement on this one was 71 seconds. I knew I had a longer run following this one, so I didn't want to exert myself too much on this run. I was able to finish in 56 seconds.

• 1.5-mile run. Time limit of 16:28. I've been in fairly decent shape in the past, and figured I could handle this easily. I finished around the 14-minute mark.

After Saturday's events, the department was left with 14 applicants. From there, Thurston said a law enforcement panel would interview the applicants. That panel will include the chief, assistant chief and other members of the department to see how the applicants interact around superior officers as well as talking to people they don't know. Applicants will then interview with the police merit board following a similar structure.

The entire process is based on a scoring grid. The two interviews are the most important part of the process; both are worth 70 percent of the total score. Ten percent of the total score is based on performance on the written exam. The remaining 20 percent of the score is based on a background check.

The applicant with the highest total score will be given a conditional job offer, pending a physical and psychological evaluation. The process will then select a few officers to be put into a hiring pool. Any officers can be hired from that pool when openings occur. The pool lasts for one year.

"The last time we did the process, we narrowed it down to six," Thurston said. "In the past, our pools have generally been six or seven."

After the physical section ended, my body hurt. Thankfully I stretched out before running, otherwise it would have been worse.

I passed Saturday's testing, but that makes me far from qualified to be a Madison police officer.

Being a police officer is more than being physically fit.

It boils down to whether one is willing to lay everything - even his or her life - on the line when it matters most. These are the people we credit with keeping our streets safe and keeping the peace.

You want to make sure the best possible candidates are hired.

All this should make us step back and realize what police officers do for us every day. Take the time to thank them.