Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pushing the push-up agenda

If you've ever had the opportunity to spend time with me in town, you probably know that one of the main reasons I walk around outside is to do push-ups.  I participate in a very unusual physical fitness program, and after explaining the details to Police Chief Joseph Snyder, I think it's time for the story to be told.

Personal Integrity, Growth, and Strength
The program is called Push-ups for Personal Integrity, Growth, and Strength, and its basic tenet is simple:  when a police officer passes you on the street, drop and do ten.  The police vehicle or officer serves as a visual cue that it's exercise time, making it easier to remember; in fact, officers and civilians alike enjoy pointing out a passing police vehicle to me so I don't miss out.

However, this program is filled with nuance and depth that makes it a more successful exercise regimen than I have ever tried before.  Let's dissect the name:

  • Push-ups:  Not everyone's favorite exercise, but it can be done just about anywhere.  I've known people to try crunches for cops and leg lifts for law enforcement officers, but push-ups seem to have sticking power.
  • Personal:  This program is completely adaptable to the individual.  I originally decided to do only five per officer on weekends because I figured I would not be able to keep up; five departments have jurisdiction in New Paltz and weekends in a college town are always high energy.  I've dropped that rule, though, and added a few more for myself, such as doing an extra two if the vehicle has its lights on or if the officer is wearing a hat.  (Right now I'm considering actually doing one less if they're wearing a baseball-style hat, because I think they're unprofessional looking).
  • Integrity:  If you start this program, you will be visible and accountable to continue.  However, no one can tell me what my criteria are but me, and it's my job to maintain my own integrity.  I've had officers tell me it's too hot to do push-ups, and others who tell me to do more; I maintain my own code regardless. The integrity portion of the program is the only thing that got me through my first four-cop push-up mini-marathon.
  • Growth:  An officer on foot patrol commented on how I noticed police cars on the street before he did; my perceptiveness is definitely sharpened. I've built rapport with several more members of the force.  My understanding of police work, appreciation of how they're perceived, and even my attitude about the Bill of Rights have grown and matured since I have been actively doing push-ups in this way.
  • Strength:  Physically, since April of this year I have gone from a guy who was shaking on push-up number seven to someone who often does more than a hundred a day.  Because I get a visual reminder to exercise, I'm more successful than I ever was with morning yoga, a daily jog, or any other program.
Different people, different views
Different people who follow the program have different reasons, which is another facet of the "personal" aspect.

The fact that it can be shortened to "Push-ups for PIGS" is funny to many (civilian and officer alike), while putting a positive spin to the word.  ("Cop" was considered negative by some until the 1970s, but is now neutral at worst.)  Chief Snyder loves the "personal integrity" aspect, saying, "We'd have a lot less crime in this country if more people had personal integrity."

Justin Holmes, who coined the acronym based on an acquaintance's phrase and helped popularize the program on lower Main Street, believes it sends a multi-layered message.  "If there is civil unrest, we're here to help.  If there is abuse by our government, we're here to resist," he explained to Chief Snyder and myself.  He and his partner Amanda Catherine Stauble started using the police as a visual cue after they registered for karate classes.  "We had to find a way to keep doing push-ups all week, or the ones in class would have killed us," Holmes recalls.

Not everyone sees the program in a favorable light.  I've had people tell me, "Police don't deserve push-ups."  I tell them the same thing I've told a number of officers:  it's not for them, it's for me.  When I do it it's a gesture of respect, but not one of deference.

There are also officers who aren't thrilled; I occasionally get a stony glare among the many smiles and waves I get from passing police (one University Police car gave me a short chirp of the siren the other night).  Most take it as good fun, and I hope that the small number who don't will warm to the idea once they learn more about it.

That being said, most people are very receptive.  I make friends with civilians and police officers alike by doing push-ups for personal integrity, growth, and strength.  Everyone is happy to point out that a bicycle officer just scooted by when my back was turned, or remind me if I owe an extra two for the hat he was wearing. A state trooper parked his car to get out and talk with a group of us one night, after driving around the block three times to see if we really would do a new set each time.  (Actually most of us wouldn't do more just because the officer went around the block, but it was fun so we made an exception.)  A Town officer I had never met before stopped to chat because he liked my form. It makes "community policing" a very real goal.

There's something very special about living in a town where you remember the police officer's first name.  Thanks to my push-ups, I know that New Paltz is that town.


Martin McPhillips said...

It's never a good idea to "kid around" with the police. For about five different reasons. Among those is the general rule that you never know who you are dealing with. They are not your friend. They are not your enemy. That's the set point. And trifling with them, on any level, is to unnecessarily poke your stick into a potential hornets nest.

The police power held by the state is most often abused by the state, in the form of legislative or executive overreach (Spitzer using troopers for political purposes is an example of the latter), and most police officers are regular people who just want to do their job and go home at the end of the shift. It's generally best to leave them alone to do their job unless they are either not doing it or stepping over the lines of their authority.

Directing goofy gestures at them in public is impertinent.

Terence said...

As I said, Martin, there is a minority of people from all walks of life who don't view it favorably. I disagree, of course; I believe that what you call a "goofy gesture" is a bridge that helps me see someone with a badge as a human being who wants to do his or her job and go home.

I appreciate the police for the role they play, sometimes imperfectly, and I don't see why I should avoid an interaction which provides me with health benefits and them with a distraction from a sometimes (thankfully) boring job.

Martin McPhillips said...

If your use of the acronym PIGS isn't sufficient to disabuse you of your own claim to virginity here, then I officially question your rationality.

But the push-ups at the sight of a cop are plainly goofy in virtually anyone's vocabulary and, as I wrote, impertinent. It's also covered by the term "acting out."

Further, if you really want to get to know a police officer, go up to him or her and introduce yourself, like a person, as my late mother-in-law would have put it.

Terence said...

I don't use the acronym, actually. I don't tend to use them at all. I was the last on my block to stop saying "cellular phone," too. I do acknowledge that it's out there, and that it's been given a very positive spin by this program. I approach language much the way I approach party politics: I think that they're both tools that can be bent to my will, because that's how they're designed.

Introducing myself like a person would never have developed the rapport I have experienced. The other day I felt completely at ease waving an officer over to ask him about a missing child I was searching for, because we have an existing relationship. Most introductions to the police happen on a very bad day, and simply walking up to one, although always welcome, feels awkward to a lot of people (wouldn't want to disturb them while they're doing their job, you know). Since I had an existing relationship, we were able to communicate quickly and efficiently in a time of crisis.

I'll give you goofy; no reason to deny it. Impertinent? That's in the eye of the beholder, my friend, and most people I've spoken to see things differently.

Other commenters may yet prove your point; we shall see.

Anonymous said...

I thought you were talking about bras

Martin McPhillips said...

Emergencies are a significant part of the business that the police are in, and anyone who has an emergency can wave over a police car without having first established a prior relationship. Your ease with the situation will be a function of the reality of your problem. So the claim that this "rapport" you say you have established had effectuated smooth communication during the crisis of a missing child is fundamentally specious. The police have sets of adaptive protocols for dealing with all sorts of situations and having seen you do push-ups in their presence won't change that. They're too busy running through the situation in front of them and the options for dealing with it, if they are well-trained professionals.

When someone acts out to get attention from the police, as you have, they will definitely give it and they are actively sizing you up throughout. They are dealing with you and sorting you: "perp," "lunatic," "a$$hole," etc. They don't want "rapport" with you unless, perhaps, you'll make a good informant. You are being handled and handled professionally. The warm fuzzy feeling you get from receiving a "cop backrub" is an illusion. The police face more crises in a month, and more criminals and lunatics, than most people will face in two lifetimes, and they have personal lives where they establish personal relationships. Everything encountered on the job is business.

But I'm sure that they find you relatively harmless and perhaps vaguely amusing, but I'm also equally certain that you do not know who and what you are dealing with.

Terence said...

I hope you don't mind me relegating your view on this as being in the "paranoid with vague reasoning" category, Martin. I think you give neither our officers nor myself a fair shake, but that's your view and it's your right to have it.

Martin McPhillips said...

Well, I didn't use the acronym PIGS (and then claim virginity), act out in public to get attention, or engage in specious reasoning about my resulting "rapport" with police officers responding to a common emergency as their job requires, so I think I've given you a very fair shake.

As for the NPPD, they are a typical cop shop, with modern training and, I have no doubt, typical attitudes toward civilians that are common throughout the profession. I give them full credit for being who they are supposed to be, and respect the work that they do, and wouldn't dream of treating them in a frivolous or impertinent manner, or encouraging others to do so.

That said, I repeat my original comment: You never know who you are dealing with. These are human beings with unusual stressors, unusual authority, and they like to get their job done and go home. No civilian should play around with any of that in a way that uses public space to effectuate some goofy notion about bending meanings "to my will."

If you don't understand, for instance, that being required to chase and capture an out of control driver, as opposed to getting out of his way, is serious business that floods a person's system with adrenaline and puts his life at risk, then you're not going to understand why your acting out and your use of PIGS is frivolous.

I don't love or hate police. I simply respect their unusual and necessary role, and know that it's a job they really like to get home from when they are done for the day, without encountering some "rapport-building" therapeutic stunt that looks suspiciously like disrespectful taunting. Claims of virginity notwithstanding.

Terence said...

I didn't mean to suggest that I do so in a disrespectful or foolish fashion. If I approach an officer who is on foot or bicycle, and I don't know them, I explain my actions in advance so that they won't be construed as threatening. If they're actively engaged in police activity, I maintain a safe and respectful distance. I wouldn't do push-ups if I were the one who called them, and I wouldn't attempt to do them if they approached me in the course of an investigation of any kind.

I recognize that you otherwise view this as juvenile, or suspect, or insulting. I continue to see the world and myself in a more positive light.

Bee Mice Elf said...

I'm going to look at it like this “Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold -- but so does a hard-boiled egg.”

Call me crazy - but I do NOT like to provoke police officers. It will never be considered offensive to NOT do this - but it MIGHT be considered offensive if I do.

And just because YOUR intentions are good, that doesn't mean that some aren't using this as an eff you to the police.

If it's really about you and your physical health - maybe do pushups at the red lights, or when you see a prius :o)

MaryAnn Tozzi

Manysounds said...

All of the law enforcement I've witnessed talking about this with greet it with a smile -though I haven't heard from Sgt. B about it yet...

Regardless of that, it has been an ice-breaker between the NPPD and those that are doing this. I've seen some of the local "kids" go from outright distrust of police to remembering that they are people too, and with senses of humor.

As far as using the acronym PIGS is concerned, get over it. The police chief has, why can't you?

Martin McPhillips said...

Well, for one thing, I don't want a police chief who "gets over" his officers being taunted, through whatever indirect means, as "pigs." If he shows patience with it, on the bet that "this too shall pass," that's one thing. But integrating it into local police culture is unappealing to me, because it amounts to self-abasement, and therein the underlying predicate for corruption. Ideas have consequences.

Terence said...

Yes, Martin, they do. The idea of fear for its own sake, for example.

Robin said...

Martin, you really don't get it. I've witnessed this in action, and I've witnessed the officers making comment on it to Terence. The push-ups aren't done with any air of "taunting" -- there's no way they could be interpreted that way, really, as push-ups a self-focused gesture that does not impede the rights or safety of others. The officers who know about it grin and good-naturedly tease Terence about his form. The ones who don't usually look baffled, but not threatened, until it's explained to them...and then they're still baffled for a while, but still not threatened.

I think you come from a different background regarding the word. Terence pointed out that "cops" was a dirty word not too long ago. Think of this as a reclaiming of language, that seems to be working for all parties involved.

David said...

Modified Push Ups -As I read your blog post, I couldn’t help but think of the Push Up Bench as the most effective way for people who struggle with push ups , to be able to do them correctly (with full range of motion). Most modified push ups make them easier but only allow one or two variations. The Push Up Bench has 11 different levels to work through on the way to a full push up.

Terence said...

David - an officer I was speaking to recently (I fear his name escapes me; he's new-ish) suggested the use of dumbbells, because by holding onto them you use an entirely different range of motion which some experts think is more effective for building muscle mass.

bd said...

I'd pay to see anyone reacting in this disrespectful way to an Officer of the Law, tasered.

but that is just me,,

Police Officers lay their life on the line every day for our community in so many ways i can't count them all.
This childish attempt to "communicate ? " with our highly-trained Law Enforcement Officers is immature, insulting & dangerous.

Grow up!

SHOW RESPECT or go home.

George D. said...

This is just plain idiotic. Don't try kid yourself or anyone else that the police, like anyone else, wouldn't be bothered by this behavior that singles them out...regardless of how pure you claim your intentions to be.

Robin said...

bd, we are home. We live here, we own a home here, we pay taxes here. We are not childish -- but some of us are certainly playful. Sorry you don't think that our police force can appreciate it. They seem to think they can. Perhaps you ought to show them more respect. And George -- maybe you ought to ask a local police officer what he thinks about it before you start trying to read their minds.

George D. said...

Well, I'm gald that they're being professional. Let's face it, they have to deal with idiots all day every day. What are they supposed to day? That they find your antics silly, annoying, and disrespectful? Then you'd just call them out for being typical humorless cops.

Terence said...

Honestly, George, the only one who is being humorless is you. (Okay, technically Butch is too, but I would not want to denigrate his style by suggesting that it is merely humorless; Butch has raised outrage to an art form. Martin is being fearful and paranoid, which is humorless as a matter of course but again, that word fails to describe the fretful world view he has expressed.).

Feel free to live in the world you've created. My world is not only filled with happiness and fun, it's also filled with the security that only true community policing can bring.

MaryAnn said...

I would like to formally request permission to repost the following quote - of course completely credited to you TP Ward, on my personal social networking site as my status for the day+-
"Feel free to live in the world you've created. My world is not only filled with happiness and fun, it's also filled with the security that only true community policing can bring." :D