“Too Old To Patrol?” Mandatory retirement is legal

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Fort Wayne Police Department employs at least eight officers who are currently violating the city’s mandatory retirement law. 15 Finds Out first reported the violations Tuesday. A leader with the Indianapolis Metro Police Department (IMPD) says enforcing the law is perfectly legal and good for staffing.

Bruce Henry is the director of human resources for the IMPD. He says it’s unusual to find officers who are over 70-years-old and want to stay on the force.

But what is rare in Indianapolis is a reality in Fort Wayne, where at least two officers are currently over the age of 70.

15 Finds Out discovered at least six other officers in their 60’s, which violates a Fort Wayne law which says officers must retire by age 60.  If it sounds like age discrimination, the federal government would disagree.

With most other professions, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act makes mandatory retirement against the law. But when it comes to law enforcement and fire departments, the law makes an exception. Local and state governments can set a mandatory retirement age as long as it’s no younger than 55.

Henry thinks the law is designed for the obvious physical reasons. He also agrees with Fort Wayne FOP President Mitch McKinney, that it should help staffing.

“In order to get new blood into organizations at times, that has been the prevailing acceptance and wisdom as it relates to officers and firefighters transitioning in and out of agencies,” Henry said.

When asked what he would do with a capable 70-year-old who still wanted to be on the police force, Henry said he would try to find a different place for that officer to serve in public safety. But he says he would definitely not violate the law by letting the employee remain a sworn officer.

“We would not intentionally go out of our way here in the city of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Police Department, to violate the code relative to age restriction, mandatory retirement age, or something of that sort. We would not do that,” Henry said.

Indy’s mandatory retirement age reflects the state’s 70-year-old barrier. Henry personally thinks skills tests are a more effective way to gauge and enforce retirement. Still, he says for a police agency held to high standards, there are much better options than simply ignoring the law.

“If we have a case whereby we believe that a law is outdated and we can prove that the winds of change are more on our side than against us, I think that’s the opportunity for them to come together, revise that code and present that for approval from their local body,” Henry said. “That’s what we would attempt to do here I would hope, and that’s what I would advocate for them in Fort Wayne.”

The city of Fort Wayne couldn’t give a clear reason why it hasn’t been following the mandatory retirement law, but leaders say it’s been that way for almost 30 years.

New Thursday, thanks to the 15 Finds Out investigation, the wheels are already in motion toward changing Fort Wayne’s mandatory retirement code. Tune in to NewsChannel 15 at 6:00 p.m. to hear what a couple city councilmen have to say about it.

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.

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