My MENSA bright ex-partner has a few hot buttons, this is one of them. He simply cannot fathom why conservatives fight the idea of younger retirement of police and fire personnel. I pointed out it isn’t really the retirement it is the abusive amount of a few highlighted retirees. Nobody should be making 400 grand a year retired as a police captain or some such foolishness. However, the police and fire personnel need to be able to retire comfortably and far sooner than sixty-five years of age. Why? Because if they don’t, you are going to get hurt or killed.
Let me explain. Police work is dangerous. You can argue so is high rise construction or race car driving or any number of other jobs. I agree. But the danger isn’t just for the officer, it is dangerous for the public as well.
As my buddy pointed out. “You see some sixty-five year old guy driving down the road, peering over his glasses, taking up a lane and a half and you think “JEEZZ.. this guy is dangerous! Yet, what would you say to us giving that man an emergency vehicle with lights and a siren and the opportunity to drive a hundred miles an hour down the road?!” My buddy was laughing at the visual he was describing.
“Or you have an old guy (or gal) trying to see ID at night or without his glasses while being on a street stop.” That would be dangerous to him and everybody around him as he struggles to read the fine print instead of keeping an eye on the bad guy.”
And I added the obvious. “Imagine you are pinned in your car after a wreck. The car is leaking fuel. Up pulls the police and first responders and you see the guy running up to you is sixty and has the arms of a teenage girl, instead of the twenty-five year old SWAT guy who exercises every day and can lift the car with one arm you had hoped would show up”
My buddy offers this. “People don’t realize the danger of having people who are too old doing this kind of work. For the love of God the PGA recognizes that age is an issue at fifty and started a Senior Tour! And that is GOLF!! Chasing a ball around the lawn with a stick!”
The issue isn’t that complex. Police work, the physical part of it is damaging to the officer. Psychologically, the damage can be far worse. Remember what we do. We handle all the crap society doesn’t want to see. We pick up the dead bodies, we investigate the murderers, the rapists, the serial killers, the child molesters, and we get them out of your way as quickly and quietly as possible. How much would the public be willing to pay for that service? Add to that the gunplay, the attacks, the injuries and the threat of lawsuits the question becomes how much would you demand in payment to do that job recognizing there is no retirement pension plan? You would want your money up front because you don’t know how long you can or want to do the job. How much is a fair salary? A hundred grand a year? Two hundred?
Well, most jurisdictions can’t afford that kind of money. So the choice becomes hire people willing to work for chump change and give them the power of life and death over the public (think TSA with guns, bullets and arrest powers) or hire qualified people with a promise that they will work and live a high threat, high stress job for “x” years and then be allowed to get out with a reasonable retirement early enough so that the public doesn’t suffer the officer’s declining skills.
I’m fifty-five and retired. My City made a choice to remove highly paid experienced officers from the payroll by offering an early buy out. It worked for them and it worked for me. In the years prior to my retirement I started to realize I was becoming the living example of the old saying I would hear about elderly people having sex. “It takes me all night to do what I used to do all night!” In a sense, that is what happens to us. We get slower, older, weaker (although we work out and eat right) and we get to a place where our skills diminish to the point where helping someone in trouble may be beyond us. And also remember, there is no special place we can put old cops. We try but there are only so many SRO positions or other “softer” duties. Plus, the job hasn’t changed at all. The technology is better, but the risks are the same as they were when I first started back in 1977. It simply is what it is. Worse, the bad guys are smarter, stronger, faster and I’ll argue more deadly. We are just getting older.
And that combination gets YOU hurt or killed.
For example, your house is on fire, as it happened in my city last year, an officer is first on the scene. He’s about thirty, in shape and strong. He runs into the house, as I would have, struggles through the smoke and flames to find the old woman and carries her to safety. I would have tried to do the same thing, but my lungs aren’t as young, I’m not as strong or as resilient. I might get to the woman, I might get her up and in my arms, but I honestly wonder if I can then get us both out! She dies, I die. Nobody wins.
This realization makes some older officers not run after suspects or chase down felons or actively engage in high risk behavior (like stopping a bunch of lowlife’s late at night. Instead he might see the problem and decide to just keep on driving). My buddy points out when he was hurt in a fight he was just under thirty years old and had run into a drug addled buzz saw. My friend won the battle and made the arrest, but lost the war. He ended up injured and it took a long, long time to recover. Unlike another professions- like pro football- we aren’t getting paid for the injury time or receiving salaries so large we can offset any losses. If we go on light duty we lose any opportunity for overtime or details or any other manner of income available to the healthy officer. So in a sense, we get injured and we also get financially dinged. In one recent case an officer was injured and was forced off the force into a civilian job because he just couldn’t recover to a suitable level. He was fifty-something and a good cop when he got hurt. The injury, while severe, was one a person twenty years younger could bounce back from. He just couldn’t. I get it. I remember the day I took a whack from someone. I got hit on one shoulder, not that hard, and felt the shock makes it way to my other arm. It HURT! Ten years earlier I would have laughed it off and dropped the guy with a hip toss. Heck if I tried to throw someone over my hip now, I’d probably throw my hip out!
For years, police officers used to complain about the fact the fire department always got new stuff. Their “hook” was to go to the public and say “You need to pay for a new fire station in your neighborhood. It will cost an extra twenty-five dollars a year in taxes.” If the public complained about the cost, the firemen would just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well okay, but if your house burns down because it took us an extra five minutes to get there, and you didn’t want to pay an extra few dollars a year in taxes… well, I guess that’s what you want….” Suddenly, all the people would all clamor for the tax increase over worrying about their house. The truth is the chance they’ll need a fireman is far smaller than the chance they will need a cop.
In a sense, the police are in the same boat. We offer a service that if not properly suited to the task will fail the public. We just don’t articulate it as well. We should say. “Listen we’ll get there as soon as possible when that strong young muscular rapist- just out of prison- kicks in your door, but realize the officer showing up will be about sixty, a hundred and fifty pounds at best, with a bad knee and hearing/vision issues. That is the guy we have because we can’t fire him, we can’t retire him and we can’t replace him At one time he was a butt kicking beast with hundreds of violent felon arrests under his belt, but now he is a little slower. He’ll do his best, but he’s not that quick, not that strong and frankly not that willing to get beat up, but he will probably write one hell of a good report and interview the suspect to get a confession. However, if we could get old Barney off the payroll, his replacement is a three tour military veteran who is twenty-eight, 6-1, all muscle and kills bad guys with a glare.”
How many of you are going to say that keeping the old guy, is your best option? And how many people would pay that extra twenty-five dollars a year!
And that’s the point. Like my buddy pointed out, even the PGA freaking recognizes you are getting old at fifty. And they chase balls across the lawn for a living!