FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) -It’s a little-known law in which the Fort Wayne Police Department is in direct violation. City code states officers must retire before they turn 60-years-old. But 15 Finds Out has discovered several high-ranking FWPD leaders over the age of 60.
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The story began with an anonymous tip into the 15 Finds Out hotline. Someone called, concerned with an FWPD sergeant who is in his 80′s. That sergeant declined to be interviewed for the story. It’s also important to understand, everyone 15 Finds Out spoke with on camera said the older officers are capable of doing their jobs. But police union leaders in Fort Wayne say not enforcing this law directly impacts recruits and new ideas in what is called a younger person’s game.
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Fort Wayne’s mandatory retirement code was amended to age 60 in 1982. 15 Finds Out discovered at least eight officers over 60. They’re all sergeants, lieutenants, and a deputy chief. One of those officers is in his 70’s and the other in his 80’s, according to Public Safety Director Rusty York.
The violations have raised concerns in both Fort Wayne police unions. Sergeant Mitch McKinney is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Wayne Lodge #14. He thinks not enforcing mandatory retirement could eventually hurt staffing and an aging department could deter new recruits.
“This is a young man’s game and if we want to continue to have a viable police force in Fort Wayne, we have to be able to recruit and bring new people in on a constant basis,” McKinney said. “If we keep a heavy cap of folks who are over the age then it restricts us from being able to hire more folks.”
In April of 2013, 15 Finds Out first reported below-average staffing at FWPD in the series “Is Fort Wayne really a dangerous place?” Since then, city council raised taxes and FWPD started a new recruiting class in 2014.
According to city leaders, another new recruit class is expected in 2015 as well. It will be paid for by a federal grant. York expects the department to be back at full staff following the two academies.
While McKinney acknowledges the benefit of older, wiser officers, he thinks changing the mandatory retirement age to 67 and enforcing it would make more financial sense as well.
For example, Sgt. Bill Walsh is the officer in his 80’s. According to city records, he made $92,000 dollars in 2013 before overtime. Lieutenant Gerald Mungovan, also over 70, made $76,000 before overtime. Most new recruits are said to make about $50,000 after their first year of service.
“If we have a mandatory retirement age, once folks reach that and they’ve already done their three decades, some if not more, of work in law enforcement, once those folks retire, now that releases money to come back and the city has that freedom to use those monies to hire new people,” McKinney said. “It’s just being fundamentally sound and having fiscal responsibility to make sure we’re taking care of the needs of the department and not stacking up our wants.”
Sofia Rosales-Scatena is the president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association in Fort Wayne. She thinks not enforcing the law makes it tougher for young officers to make an impact in the department.
“Most officers do want to promote and when we have people who are in positions that just don’t ever seem to go, then it does make it a lot harder for other people to take their place and bring fresh and new ideas into the department,” Rosales-Scatena said. “Follow the law as it’s written. I think as a police department it becomes a little hypocritical that we enforce some laws and not others. I think if the law is on the books, we need to follow it. If we do not want it there, then we need to take measures to take it off of the books.”
But Public Safety Director York doesn’t think aged officers are affecting staffing levels or the budget in a negative way.
“These officers who are older than 70-years-old are functioning. They’re performing their job requirements effectively. So I see no reason to penalize them merely because of their age,” York said. “Every officer on our department right now is capable.”
York confirmed other officers have previously voiced concerns about the older officers on his department. He said personnel in question have gone through medical examinations to ensure they can physically handle the job. He also noted that officers have to qualify with their firearms four times a year.
York said the 60-year-old mandatory retirement age hasn’t been enforced since the 1980’s, years before he was even police chief. City leaders couldn’t give a clear reason why it has gone unrecognized for so long.
Still, the public safety director thinks the little-known mandatory retirement age should be moved to 70 and enforced, while grandfathering in officers who are currently violating both the city and state code.
“Should we reconcile the city ordinance, probably we should. And we’re looking into that,” York said. “We just have to be very careful. We don’t want to with all good intentions go and change the retirement age and then impact other things that we do involving our pension or our merit system.”
15 Finds Out looked up the disciplinary history for both FWPD officers over 70. Most recently Sgt. Walsh was suspended for what is listed as “alertness on duty” in 2005. A city attorney said he was suspended for one day because he had the volume on his hand-held radio turned down.
Records show Lt. Gerald Mungovan’s latest discipline was a letter of reprimand toward “obedience to department policies” in 2002. It’s unclear if age was a factor in Walsh or Mungovan’s actions.
15 Finds Out previously reported that Fort Wayne violated state code by having two officers over 70, which is the age barrier for the Indiana. Both York and Chuck MacLean, assistant professor of law at the Indiana Tech Law School, said the state retirement code does not apply to FWPD. MacLean said FWPD was eligible to be grandfathered into a set of laws that predated the state statute. That’s why the department’s actions can be inconsistent with state code, but not violate it.