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Police agencies vary on age limits
Published November 10, 2007
MIAMI - Was 76-year-old Deputy Paul Rein too old for duty?
It's a harsh question in the wake of Rein's death Wednesday, but it merits asking, considering that Rein was somehow overtaken by a 40-year-old inmate and fatally wounded with his own gun.
While a mandatory retirement age is allowed for public safety employers under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, implementation is up to each agency. The New York and Chicago police agencies, for instance, have age limits. So does the FBI.
The Fraternal Order of Police successfully lobbied for the exemption in 1996, arguing that the ability to meet the physical demands of law enforcement diminishes with age, said union executive director Jim Pasco.
"It's not only harder to defend yourself, but think of the very strenuous nature of, for example, a foot chase," he said.
There are 85 Florida correctional officers over the age of 65 and 372 between ages 60 and 64, according to the state Corrections Department.
Pasco says many local agencies don't favor an age limit because it's harder to recruit officers and expensive to train them.
Conversely, high pensions encourage officers to retire much earlier than at age 65, many after 20 years.
Representatives of several police agencies around the country reported varied policies in dealing with older officers. Many use physical fitness requirements instead of age limits.
Experts argue that an officer's age is not always the best gauge.
"Everybody agrees they want to have the best police and firefighters. The question is whether age is the best proxy for reaching that goal," said Dianna Johnston, assistant legal counsel for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.