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.