“Too Old To Patrol?” Councilmen want retirement law changed

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Changes may soon be coming to a police retirement law after a 15 Finds Out investigation. 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. Now, at least one city councilman says he’s working to revise the law.

It’s a city law that dates back to the 1980’s, when Win Moses was mayor of Fort Wayne.

“When we wrote this law in 1982, we considered it progressive but definitive, that it wasn’t going to changed much. Well, we were wrong,” said Moses, who served as mayor from 1980 to 1987.

Like most others, Fort Wayne Councilmen Tom Smith and Mitch Harper had no idea there was a mandatory retirement law for police officers. The law states officers must retire by age 60. 15 Finds Out discovered at least eight officers in direct violation. Leaders say one of those is in his 70’s. Another, Sgt. Bill Walsh, is in his 80’s.

Mandatory retirement perfectly legal

Councilman Smith (R-District 1) has special interest in the violation, since Walsh is a northeast Fort Wayne sergeant in his district.

“He’s a good example of a police officer who’s still doing a very good job, well respected and you know there’s no reason for him to leave. He may go until he’s 90,” Smith said with a laugh. “I doubt it.  I don’t know, but he’s in good shape.”

Smith continued, “This idea of a 60-year-old mandatory retirement age is quite frankly foolish and I’ll probably talk to Marty Bender (councilman and FWPD deputy chief) and we’ll get it repealed.”

Public Safety Director Rusty York hopes to change the retirement age to 70 and grandfather in the two officers over that age. Sgt. Mitch McKinney, president of Fort Wayne’s Fraternal Order of Police Wayne Lodge #14, wants it changed to 67.

Councilman Harper (R-District 4) thinks older officers who still want to be on the force should be reallocated in other public safety roles. But like everyone else, he thinks something needs to change.

“If an officer can do the job physically, I don’t think age is any bar,” Harper said. “The discrepancy with what is currently on the books and what the practice is needs to be rectified.”

Harper continued, “That’s something that the police department needs to seriously look at today and have those conversations. If they’re avoiding that simply to let the calendar pages turn, perhaps that isn’t the best way to approach it either.”

Councilman Smith says he’s working with Bender to revise the law. Bender happens to be one of the officers over 60 violating the city code and declined to be interviewed for this story.

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.

15 Finds Out will continue to follow any progress on the mandatory retirement changes and will have the latest as soon as that information becomes available.

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