I had an epiphany while waiting at the Wawa. A detective I’d worked with nearly twenty years ago walked into the Wawa where I get my weekly coffee. It’s my Friday morning treat. But this morning, unlike others, I garnished an idea that had to be explored immediately. What if cops were not hired until AFTER they were 35 years old? Thirty-five is the cut off for new recruits. Most seasoned officers have scaled the ranks and are preparing for retirement by the time they’re in their late 30s. By age 45, most officers are too young for the retirement home obviously, but young enough to embark on a new career. The wisdom that a mature officer must have…
Not knowing the statistics involving the average age of officers accused of misconduct, I can only recall the emphasis on empathy. The civil injustice argument is that our law enforcement community is out of touch with the people that it serves. Rookies are so eager to make their mark that empathy is not as coveted as aggression. Making the arrest gets the recognition that restoring community confidence lacks. But what if these cops already had the experience in the community that was not embalmed in distrust, racial inequity, or profiling? An older cop (who usually aspires to be a detective or ranking officer) is more likely to deescalate a situation. Police don’t just arrest criminals. They are community servants. There’s an opportunity to lead a community and to be a positive example. Cops are the ones who respond to all types of distress calls. Caught in traffic with a woman in labor? Grandpa wandered off again? Noise ordinance violations? Who do we call? We are never disappointed when the police arrive regardless of the officers’ age. But wouldn’t we agree that a seasoned officer has a more realistic approach?
In a more intense scenario, which officer would you want to respond? In a domestic violence call? Community disturbance? How about an attempted larceny? A recruit straight out of the academy (or with only a few years experience) has a lot to learn about long term implications. Since when does a year of physical training, days of class lectures, or hours of practice at the shooting range qualify anyone to effectively manage a crisis? Are they equally qualified to mediate a dispute? The answer is yes according to past practice and societal norms.
With all of this (mis)information spinning in my head, I approached the plain clothes cop who was wearing his badge on his belt opposite his cuffs. I let the fellow behind me in line scoot ahead just so I could chat with the detective. Omitting an introduction, I was blunt. I asked him, “do you suppose that with all that is going on with our failing pension system, it would be more prudent to be starting a career at our age rather than preparing to retire?” He responded gently, “pardon me?” I introduced myself as merely another public employee. I took a different approach. He was not annoyed. Seemingly intrigued, he waited for me to explain. I continued, “do you suppose there would be fewer cases of misconduct if the officers were a little older?”
He said, “well, I hadn’t given it much thought”. This was probably the most honest answer he could have given. Why not? A forced answer is not necessarily a good answer. Who was I to ask, anyway? I thanked him for listening and thanked him again for serving the community as I paid for my coffee.
I walked away wondering if he would ponder why I had engaged him. Would he follow me to my car? Would he write down my tag number? Was it probable that he might remember working with me long ago when I was a cadet? Our hair is gray now and our memory is selective. Did it even matter? Even after I no longer worked in law enforcement, the sight of uniformed officers intimidated me. Today was very different. The detective was no more thrown off than I was. Perhaps I planted a seed. Or maybe the entire conversation would be discarded.