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December 18, 2002

Dad's Army

After 9/11, I gave serious thought to turning my life upside down. I was (and am) a man in his middle 40s, somewhat bored by buying and selling securities for a living, who had enough cash in the bank (and a wife who was making enough money to support us both) to think about joining up to do my part in defending the homeland. (I hate that word, with its creepy Nazi/fatherland echoes, but "domestic security" just doesn't have much emotional weight to it.)

Anyway, I thought that I would make a pretty good cop or FBI agent. (The CIA, while more challenging, would have been a problem because I have two young kids, a life here in Manhattan, and a rather serious inability to lie with any kind of credibility whatsoever.) I'm well educated (degrees from Harvard and Oxford), experienced in the world of business (former partner in an LBO firm and a Managing Director in a major investment bank), physically fit, have travelled broadly on four continents (including such garden spots as Afghanistan and Pakistan, among many others), am a good judge of people and their motivations, and would be willing to work cheap. Should be a slam dunk to get a job, eh? Well, it turns out that if you are over the age of 37, it is damn near impossible to get a job in law enforcement in this country. (In New York, you can't even take the exam to become an NYPD officer if you are over 35.)

Wait a minute, you say. Isn't there a law against "age discrimination" in this country? Yes. There is, the "Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967". But law enforcement agencies and fire departments are specifically exempted from this statute (See USC 623 [4] (i)). This is a bad idea that prevents many qualified, interested people (like moi, for example) from serving the public.

Here in NYC, in the wake of 9/11, hundreds of senior NYPD and FDNY officials have chosen to retire in the past year, creating a serious shortage of experienced workers. Why? Largely because few could afford not to. Under NYC's civil service rules, retirement pay is based upon a multiple of your final year's income. After 9/11, hundreds of hours of overtime were racked up by many of the uniformed services, leading to record incomes during 2001. If cops and other uniformed personnel with their 20 years in retired during 2002, they would "lock-in" a pension based upon 50% of 2001's overtime-rich incomes for the rest of their lives. If they continued to work, then their ultimate pensions might well be considerably lower. Needless to say, retirement rates have gone through the roof.

Why not let some of us older folks help to fill the gap? Being older, and hopefully wiser, we would be less inclined to the testosterone induced excesses of 20 year old rookies. Admittedly, while I go to the gym 4 or 5 times a week, I probably could not run down a "perp" as well as some 25 year old, but how many times have you seen a policeman actually running except on TV? Also, it stands to reason that an extra 20 years experience in getting along with people would probably help in being a cop.

If Mayor Bloomberg wants solve the NYPD and FDNY's recruitment challenges, replacing an age limit with fitness requirements would be an easy (and fair) way to do it.

P.S. The headline "Dad's Army" refers to a classic British sitcom regarding the Home Guard during WWII.

December 18, 2002 at 01:23 AM | Permalink


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i was intrested in becoming a police officer with
the nypd.i am within the qualifications to serve my community.i currently work in the medical field as a radiologic technologist,i am both mentally stable and physically agile.but i am "37 years too old".i would rather consider myself 37 yrs young,but not according to the nypd.there have been succesful appeals for us old folks to obtain a position in the nypd.if there is anyone willing to take this unfair employment act by the nypd further please e-mail me.by the way the ny/nj police departments are the only departments with this early age limits.most of them are at around 40-44yrs,so that puts you at the required retirment age for law enforcment 63yrs old.

Posted by: nello caltabiano | Oct 5, 2003 6:32:13 PM

I have the same problem. Took the NYPD exam, got 94% on it, a good score, and then was told that I was too old to serve. Now I have decided to "push" for what I want. I joined the NYPD Auxiliary, and an involved in the 30th precinct. But am determined to become a full time law enforcement officer in the NYPD. I知 fit, strong and well educated, trained as an architect actually, and have an insatiable desire to serve my city, and make it a better, safer place for everyone. And I will, I just hope this gets resolved before I知 46

Posted by: Nick Bunning | Feb 19, 2004 1:35:11 PM


I agree with you 100% and wish you luck with your ambition. As far as getting the age rules changed, I suspect that legislative action would be needed. At the federal level, law enforcement officers were specificially carved out of the anti-age discrimination legislation.

I think there are two issues at work here. First, that many people are stuck with the mental image of cop work being very physical, as I'm sure it used to be back in the bad old days when cops used to break heads.

Second, the defined benefit pension system is based upon the concept of the 20 or 30 year career. If you don't have at least 20 years of service, I think you are severely screwed. (Of course, this would actually make it cheaper to hire older cops, unless they went out on disability.)

Anyway, the one useful piece of advice I received from a retired NYPD sergeant. He suggested getting a job with either the DA's office or the state AG's office. They have a number of investigators on staff who are peace officers. If they liked you enough, perhaps they could be persuaded to send you to the police academy and get you a shield.

Anyway, good luck!


Posted by: Spart | Feb 19, 2004 4:31:56 PM

I am currently working in Law Enforcement and have been a cop with two of the largest Florida agencies for eight years. While NYPD will extend the age requirement 6 years for just two years military expierience, they don't extend this to folks with law enforcement expierience. What gives! I served 6 years in the National Gard, and although the military provides a good foundation for law enforcement, there is a big difference between military expierence and law enforcement expierence.

Posted by: Robert Stewart | Jan 3, 2006 1:30:42 PM

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