D.C. Police Department Challenges Workers to Drop a Few Pounds

Officers do stretches before a run to the Lincoln Memorial. From left to right: Polly Hanson, Marinthia Pemberton, instructor Alfred Durham, Gene Williams, Matthew Bromeland and Chief Cathy L. Lanier.
Officers do stretches before a run to the Lincoln Memorial. From left to right: Polly Hanson, Marinthia Pemberton, instructor Alfred Durham, Gene Williams, Matthew Bromeland and Chief Cathy L. Lanier. (Gerald Martineau - Washington Post)
By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009

The morning quiet of the Mall is punctuated by a few joggers and walkers at 6 a.m. on a recent weekday. The sun is barely out, and cars move quickly on the empty pre-rush-hour streets. Arriving at the corner of Third Street and Madison Drive NW in black Crown Victorias with tinted windows and District government license plates are four people about to join the exercise fray.

They are Alfred Durham, a D.C. assistant police chief; George Bolden, head of the police department's information technology staff; Matt Bromeland, a staff assistant to Chief Cathy L. Lanier; and Betty Gene Williams, a staff assistant to Durham.

Wearing shorts and T-shirts with sayings that betray their day jobs ("No Time for Crime 202 I'M BORED"), they stretch their arms to the sky and jump on and off the curb, limbering up before the hour-long workout. The exercise crew is one of almost 200 police department teams taking part in the agency's first-ever weight loss challenge, styled after the popular reality TV show "The Biggest Loser."

Lanier decided one day after taking a rare early-morning jog on the Mall -- and feeling great afterward -- that the long hours and erratic schedules of police work were wreaking havoc on the health and well-being of officers and police employees, including herself.

She called Durham, her executive officer, and told him about her idea. If random Americans on television could get together and lose weight in a friendly competition, why not D.C. police?

Apparently Lanier struck a nerve. Almost 800 officers and civilian police department employees signed up for the competition, which began in June and ended this month.

"It's much, much harder to eat well and to exercise when you work the crazy hours that we work," Lanier said. "But I wanted to improve the overall fitness of our police department."

These being police officers, there is good-natured dark humor in the team names and lots of competitive ribbing. Lanier's team calls itself "The Phat and the Furious." A group of officers working in the explosives unit decided to go by "Half a Ton of Fun."

Durham's team would get together each Tuesday and Thursday morning. They were clear on their goal: beat Lanier's team, lest they suffer the barbs in their close quarters in the department's fifth floor.

They decide on a team name: "Who Dat."

"Because by the time we're done," Durham said, "people will look at us and say, 'Who Dat?' " A former substitute teacher, Williams did plenty of walking as she tried to keep up with middle school students. Then she joined the police department three years ago and her administrative job kept her in her seat most of the day. The candy bowl sits across from Williams's desk at police headquarters, and she would snack from it often.

The pounds crept up.


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