Police officers who exercise in their leisure time will now be able to claim the time as duty hours, according to a circular from home affairs minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V).
The change is part of an effort to improve the physical condition of police officers, a subject that successive mayors and ministers have had their eye on for years. The change from police walking a beat to the situation today, where police officers are virtually only ever seen in police vehicles, has much blame to bear.
But so, at the same time, has a growing tendency to overweight in the population as a whole.
The circular – the usual method for the federal home affairs ministry to govern police practice – makes it clear only certain types of exercise will be considered valid for the allowance. Exercise is not sport, so darts or billiards will not count, nor will any kind of motor sport.
Genuine sports like athletics and football will count, although a kick-about with the kids in the park might require some argument. Swimming is genuine exercise (and reputedly one of the best for overall condition) while jogging is specifically mentioned in the circular.
The rule states that any officer who takes part in exercise outside of working hours for a minimum of one hour per week can claim that hour as paid duty.
“Many officers can exercise for an hour during their working hours. That has always been the case and we still prefer it today. The federal police, among others, have the necessary infrastructure for this,” said a spokesperson for the federal police.
“But for emergency services, especially the local police, it is not always possible to squeeze out an hour during the shift for jogging or fitness.”
The new circular aims to provide more flexibility for officers who cannot take advantage of in-hours sports facilities.
“In concrete terms, officers who cannot exercise during working hours are allowed to enter one hour of sports activity per week into the computer system in which they also register overtime. Cycling to work every day is not eligible, there are other arrangements for that. And everything is also done in consultation with the managers,” said the spokesperson.
Police unions are unanimously positive.
“Police work not only requires a high level of physical preparedness, mental health is equally important. And research has already shown enough that sport plays an important role in this,” said Vincent Houssin of police union VSOA.
“The new regulation is already being applied at the federal police and in many local zones. Hopefully it will soon become a general rule. Because with the local police, it is still the chief of police who has to give his agreement.”