Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Police-recruit age cap going away

New officers able to wear blue - and gray

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A move to better diversify the Cincinnati Police Division could soon turn up some gray-haired recruits.

        City officials are working on a plan to end the division's age limit. The under-35 requirement is too young, they say, to ensure a good mix of youth and maturity.

        “We want different races, ages, genders, backgrounds — a well-diverse police division,” said Sgt. Tony Shearer, who supervises recruits-in-training. “The idea is to recruit more persons who have a longer work history, who have more life experiences and who are more mature.”

        So if you can run a mile and a half in 13:35 and bench press 85 percent of your body weight, you could be in. No matter if you're 25 or 45.

        The move also will help address Cincinnati's piece of the nationwide decrease in police applicants, a problem exacerbated by the current economic boom. Fewer people than ever want to be cops in a time when even fast-food restaurants are dangling vacation and benefits.

        The Cincinnati force also faces competition from other departments for those who still do want to be officers. Recruiters from Seattle and Los Angeles have been in town testing recently.

        Seven years ago, Keith Fangman, now FOP president, was among the 3,700 people who applied to the department. Last year, the number taking the test dropped to 750.

        The age change follows many departments across the country.

        In Portland, Ore., last year, a 58-year-old retiree became the city's oldest-ever police recruit. In Covington, Rick Williams will be honored Thursday for being valedictorian of his recruit class. He's 53.

        “We're getting a lot of guys coming out of the military who are very physically fit,” said Greg Howard, who

        directs training of recruits for all Kentucky cities at the Department of Criminal Justice Training in Richmond. “They mix really well with the classes and bring a little maturity and real life.

        “It'd be foolish for us not to take them.”

        Contrast that to Cincinnati, where most of the current 20-member training class still haven't seen their 30th birthday.

        City Council has approved the change initially. Members now are waiting for a final ordinance, expected in the next few weeks. The age cap would be lifted immediately, going into effect for the recruit class next year. The summer recruit class was canceled after Chief Thomas Streicher suggested cutting it as a cost-saving measure.

        Mr. Fangman is not wholeheartedly supportive of the change, saying the city will be getting less for its investments in the older people because they won't have served as long when they want to retire.

        “The maturity factor is there,” he said. “But it also means the police division will get less years of service from these older officers.”

        Ted Schoch, commander of the training academy, said the issue of less service time is outweighed by studies that showed older recruits have similar or better performance records, fewer disciplinary problems and no marked increase in injuries.

        “I like the idea of a schoolteacher coming in here or an accountant looking for a job change,” he said. “But it's not like we're going to have people breaking down the doors.”

        At 49, Lt. Ed Harris still puts on a uniform every day and heads to work in District 4.

        “It depends on how you've cared for yourself,” he said. “But can I still get out here and do what needs to be done? Absolutely.”


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