How old is too old? Chicago suburb declines to raise maximum age for new cops

"I always worry about that age limit and if we are increasing liability for the city," said Chief Frank Kaminski

By Jennifer Johnson
Pioneer Press Newspapers, Suburban Chicago

PARK RIDGE, Ill. — A proposal to increase the maximum age at hiring of new police officers in Park Ridge failed to generate support from elected officials or the city's chief of police this month.

Six of Park Ridge's seven aldermen said on Nov. 15 that they are not interested in pursuing an ordinance change that would bump up the cut-off age for new police officers from 35 to 40. The proposal would have applied to both entry-level hires and lateral transfers from other police departments.

Some elected officials also raised objections on how the proposal came about and that legal work on the ordinance was performed without authorization from the city.

The age change request came from the Park Ridge Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, a volunteer body with five members appointed by the mayor with approval of the City Council. Among the board's duties are establishing lists of qualified candidates for hiring and promotion within the police and fire departments.

Peter McNamara, chairman of the board, suggested that increasing the maximum age of new hires may allow for a larger pool of officer candidates at a time when the number of individuals applying to become police officers has fallen.

"Just given the decrease in interest and the increase in people seeking to leave their current employers — predominately from the city of Chicago — we thought it would be a good way to expand our search," McNamara said.

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Joan Sandrik, another member of the board, suggested that a "degree of maturity never hurts" and that older applicants may want to join the police department after a career in military service.

"We wanted to widen the field to offer that maturity that might not be there with a 21-, 22- or 23-year-old," she said. "That's something to consider as well."

Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski indicated that he is not a proponent of raising the new officer age limit and did not bring the proposal to the fire and police board. He said a lack of age restrictions for new police officers in the 1980s resulted in a rise in officer disability claims when he was with the city of Evanston.

"I always worry about that age limit and if we are increasing liability for the city," he said.

"I just think things are OK right now," Kaminski added.

Under state law, all applicants for positions within Illinois police and fire departments "shall be under 35 years old." Home-rule communities like Park Ridge can increase the maximum age restriction for entry-level and lateral hires, attorney Michael Jurusik told the board of fire and police commissioners in September, meeting minutes show.

Jurusik also told the board that a federal ruling on age discrimination allows restrictions on hiring age when it is related to the duties of the job.

Kaminski said the Park Ridge Police Department has not encountered problems with recruiting new officers.

"At this point in time, we've been fairly lucky," he said. "Because of the lateral program, we have gotten younger officers from other agencies that have come over to us, which I think is a good thing."

In the last year, the department hired seven new police officers, four of them from the Chicago Police Department, Kaminski said. The other three hires consisted of a police cadet, an entry-level officer from the police eligibility list, and an officer who left another police department, the chief said.

"I think that's a credit to everybody in the department that people want to come here," Kaminski said. "Hopefully we've created a good environment and culture to become a police officer."

For the City Council, the manner in which the proposed change in the maximum hiring age came about generated more discussion and consternation from elected officials than the age increase itself.

Mayor Marty Maloney pointed out the commission had billed its own attorney to craft the draft ordinance without first receiving authorization to do so from the City Council or the city manager. Maloney said the bill was "about $1,000."

"I don't like the idea that someone went and did something and now the city is on the hook to pay the bill," the mayor said.

City Manager Joe Gilmore acknowledged that it was "a bit unusual that (the commission's attorney) had created an ordinance and prepared it," and he had questioned the expense after seeing an invoice for the attorney's fee.

Gilmore suggested that some procedural changes may need to be made.

First Ward Ald. John Moran was the only aldermen to vote in favor of increasing the police officer hiring age to 40.

(c)2021 Pioneer Press Newspapers (Suburban Chicago, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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