Does Size Matter?

Note: I’m taking a week off from “Off the Beaten Path” segment. I plan to have the next can’t miss travel stop post ready for next Friday.

Recently, I participated in an interesting discussion over at regarding physical attributes of police officers. The exchange resulted from an article in the St. Petersburg Times:
When the Tampa Police Department needs a touch of compassion, someone who can roll into any situation and defuse it with a calm, tolerant demeanor, they know just the guy.

He's like a superhero of sorts, a man of many powers. His specialty is children, especially those who have been abused, as he has a knack for dealing with them, literally, eye to eye. His mere presence can calm a thrashing, fighting criminal. Thugs just don't feel like taking a punch when they see him.

His supervisor says he's great for crawling through small windows or tossing on roofs or over fences. He can do it all, it seems ... except maybe put you in a standing headlock. Or dunk a basketball.

Go ahead and make a wisecrack. Officer Mike Ruiz, not quite 4 feet 11, has pretty much heard it all.

For someone who stopped growing in middle school, "Mikey" (as some of his friends and colleagues call him) picked a tough job. Fighting the bad guys isn't always easy when you're half their size.

But by the time he joined the Police Department 15 years ago, Ruiz, now 38, had become used to proving people wrong.

He was among the smallest kids at Robinson High School, where he wrestled for three years. His parents sent him to the doctor for a series of tests to find out why he wasn't growing, but his doctor determined it was genetics. (Ruiz also had a small uncle.) He doesn't have dwarfism, which is characterized by short limbs and other physical traits. He's just short.

After high school, Ruiz wasn't sure what he wanted to do for a living. He spent a couple years in the Army, deflecting the taunting of his supervisors. When he got out, a police officer friend of his suggested he try law enforcement.

He spent a few years as a reserve officer when Tampa police had a hiring freeze. It was the only time he wondered if his size was holding him back. A veteran police officer once told him to think about another line of work as Ruiz applied to 37 law enforcement agencies around the state. But Ruiz, who now lives in Brooksville near the Pasco County border, held strong to something his mother once told him.

"Consider the source," she said.

It's his mantra when anyone says something unkind, and really, his approach to people in general.

Ruiz, who now works out of District 2 headquarters near Busch Gardens, has a policy to "be the nicest guy in the world to you" until he has a reason to treat you otherwise. Everyone is a ma'am or a sir. Everyone deserves to tell his side of the story.

"Interestingly, (his size has) caused him to be a really good communicator," said Sgt. Mark Delage, Ruiz's supervisor. "He's learned a lot of different techniques to make up for his lack of height and, a lot of times, the big bad guys don't feel as threatened by him…
The debate centered around the officer’s small size after a user posed a question regarding if the closest back-up unit was a long way away, should an officer 4 foot 11 be expected to “hold serve” in a fight? Obviously, the question is unfair on a number of levels, but my response was this:

I think if you answer "no" (that 4’11 is too small) then the follow-up question is what ht./wt is acceptable? Is 5 foot 5 or what about 5 foot 9? Should then American policing return to the real old days when police officers were often times hired because they were the biggest (in stature) men?

As the other posters stated, the officer would simply need to use some more conservative strategies in doing his job.

I used to work with a sergeant that had been shot in the leg and continued on the job after his recovery despite a pronounced limp. When he was involved in situations where a subject was likely to flee on foot, he and the other officers in the detail knew that more cautious approaches would be used until another unit got to him.
Every officer deals with strengths and weaknesses, and each department sets minimum requirements for physical activity. If an officer exceeds those guidelines, but needs to sit on a phone book to drive a patrol car (at 5 foot tall) or has to sit with his/her head hanging out the window (at 7 foot tall), I am all for them being allowed to do their job.


copswife said...

The biggest, in stature, guys aren't necessarily going to be the best for the job either. Maybe they're compasionate, helpful, smart people that would make good cops, maybe not. Maybe a guy that is 4 11 would have a complex and be a horrible cop. It's the individual.

Good for that officer. He took a hard situtation and turned it around.

J. J. in Phila said...

Stature has one advantage; it can intimidate. It has one disadvantage, it can intimidate.

It sounds like Officer Ruiz is using his size as an advantage. :) More power to him.

Meadowlark said...

There's a guy with Husband's department that they call the "Pocket Ninja" because yeah, he's short, but he's like a ninja - one minute not there, the next minute arresting your ass.

Husband (only 5'8) once had a large guy - probably 6'7 and 300lbs that he had to cuff. He told the guy to turn around to be cuffed and the guy said "Who's gonna make me" and Husband mustered up all the bravado he had and said "Don't make me embarbass you in front of all these women" and the guy turned around. Husband definitely breathed a sigh of relief on THAT one.

Christopher said...

All I ask is that they can hold their own and can be counted on to chip in when it matters.

The officer's physical description is irrelevant to me.

Sandra G. said...

I'll second Christophers comment, in that I could care less what size an officer is, just as long as they can do their job and be counted on.

It's all about attitude and knowing what your strengths aand weaknesses are.

Meadowlark - we have a few 'pocket ninja's' on our job too!

mrs. fuzz said...

interesting to think about. I've talked to HF about this because I noticed how scrawny some of the cadets are in his group, but apparently it really does depend on the person. If they can handle themselves, I'm sure there are advantages as well as disadvantages with each size. Even a "smaller" officer can be intimidating. At least i think so. But I'm scared of cops. All of them pretty much.

I've heard a similar discussion about females in the emergency services such as firefighters. Do you want a girl carrying you out of a burning building? Well, if she can meet the same physical standards as her peers, then I don't have a problem. But even myself, as someone who promotes equality and all that, would hope that if it came time to be rescued out of my 10 floor city apartment, that she could pull it off. I'll stop there.