For the first time in 35 years, the police have lowered the physical standards for new recruits, a move that observers say reflects a drop in the fitness levels of officers - and the general population - in the past few years. The new tests start this month. It means that all would-be police officers heading to next Saturday's recruitment day probably won't run out of breath as they will be asked to sprint much shorter distances and there will be no more sit-ups, pull-ups or squat thrusts. The changes start in the same month that the force launched its first Facebook page, in what many view as a concerted effort to regain the public's trust after the controversial handling of last year's Occupy protests. A police spokeswoman denied the easier tests were to widen the talent pool, and that the changes had been more than six years in the making after a review was launched in 2009. However, a former Hong Kong police inspector, who now teaches criminal justice at an American university, had a different view. "The general fitness of the Hong Kong population is decreasing," said Professor Wong Kam-chow from the department of criminal justice at Xavier University in Ohio. "The pool of potential Hong Kong police officers would contract if police were to stick with the old fitness test standard." Wong said the test should determine if someone was fit enough to go through further training, rather than be a one-time recruitment assessment. The revised test includes an 800m run, a 4 x 10m shuttle-run during which candidates have to pick up bean-bags placed on the ground, a vertical jump and handgrip tests. The old tests included a 10 x 10m shuttle run. A number of former high-ranking officers recognised that white-collar crime and desk-based investigations were now more prevalent, but that the general fitness levels of prospective and serving officers had to be maintained. "Changing the standards is not a good move as it's taking the easy route," said one former senior police officer. "Every police officer needs to have a minimum fitness level, but the standards have degenerated in the past few years and continue to degenerate." "A force of 29,000 people is a representative slice of society so people will have heart attacks, fall off cliffs, have accidents; it's part of life," he said. Another former senior police officer said during the 1980s and 1990s - when the level of violent crime in Hong Kong was much higher - the physical prowess of officers matched that of the criminals on the streets. "But the place is not what it was," he said, "and you can't just rely on elite units," because it might be a constable or an auxiliary officer who is first on the scene. One former officer with experience in elite formations said it was now more difficult to recruit members to the police tactical unit and the special duties unit. "It's a different culture," the ex-officer said, referring to a generation with an obsession with smartphones and computers. In 2007, the force stopped carrying out mandatory annual fitness tests after a male constable complained to the Equal Opportunities Commission because women were allowed longer to complete the test. Before 2007, male officers had to finish a 2.4km run in less than 12.5 minutes for those under the age of 35 and 13.5 for those over 35. Officers could also opt for a 4.8 km walk or 20km of rowing. In addition to the fitness requirements, the police said those applying to be a constable should have a mature personality, confidence and effective communication skills.