Council pushes to raise age cap for new cops

The Boston City Council was scheduled on Wednesday to vote on a home rule petition that would increase the maximum age for becoming a Boston police officer from the current cap of 32 years of age to 40.

If the council were to pass the petition (the council meeting was scheduled to take place as the Reporter went to press) it will be forwarded to the mayor for his signature, and then sent on to the Legislature. The entire process is certain to stretch well past April 23, the date by which Boston citizens must register to take the civil service exam on May 19. Several councillors, though, who spoke at a hearing Monday to consider the age increase, said they hoped that committed candidates would take the test regardless of their age, in case the age requirement is raised at a later time.

Seven city councillors spoke in favor of the motion at a hearing called by Councillor Michael Flaherty, as did Edward Callahan, head of human resources for the Boston Police Department, and Tom Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association. Callahan and Nee were flanked by about a dozen Boston residents who have taken the civil service exam, some multiple times, but passed the 32-year age limit before being called to the academy.

"I see the face of Dorchester here," said City Council President Maureen Feeney, referring to the group of residents that had shown up to represent her public employee-saturated third district. "An honorable policy would not be lateral transfers but to hire people from the city."

Several councillors voiced their dissatisfaction with the lateral transfer initiative, announced last week by Mayor Thomas Menino and Police Commissioner Ed Davis, which will allow around 60 officers of any age to transfer from police departments in other Massachusetts cities to the Boston Police Department if they weather the standard testing and screening process.

"My problem is that there are men and women now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan waiting for an opportunity to come back and be part of their city's police department," said At-large Councillor Stephen Murphy. "We need to allow people who live here to compete here."

The lateral transfer program is being enacted, explained Callahan, because the department has exhausted the list of age-eligible Boston residents who earned a respectable score on the last entrance exam, proctored in 2005.

Nee pointed out that this will be the first time that the city has accepted lateral transfers.

That the test is only offered by the state once every two years is one reason Callahan believes the department has struggled to maintain a robust list of qualified and eligible Boston residents between hiring periods. He also cited the increasing fees to take the test (originally $75 for the upcoming test, now $100 because the initial registration period has passed) and the age requirement that puts many test-takers with strong scores past the 32-year cap before being called to a spot at the academy.

"We should have the exam every year," said Callahan.

Callahan said on Monday that the Police Commissioner was in support of raising the age to 35. In subsequent testimony Nee and several councillors suggested a limit at 40 or beyond, while also acknowledging that an unlimited cap might be unreasonable.

"We understand that as a candidate gets older, they might be more likely to get injured and be out of service for a long time. But that is a much older age than it used to be," said Nee.

The age limit was set at 32 for both Boston policeman and fire fighters in 2001, when the Fire Department was struggling with older hires abusing the department's pension system.

The State Police have an entrance limit of 35 years old, while the MBTA Police Department, which works significantly within the city of Boston, does not have an age cap.

Three past test-takers testified at the meeting. Dorchester resident Stephanie O'Sullivan, 35, a civil investigator for the Suffolk County D.A.'s office, said she has taken the test six times in the past, but has never been called to a class.

"I always knew that I wanted to work in law enforcement," she said. "City jobs for city people."

Feeney and Murphy also asked whether the date of the test could be postponed if the home rule petition gained wide support. Callahan said that beyond the logistical complications of delaying a statewide test, the mayor and commissioner were committed to getting a class of new officers out of the academy by January of 2008, which would that the test not be pushed off of its current date of May 19.

A home rule petition filed by the mayor would have asked the council to consider raising the age requirement to 36, but an aide to Flaherty said the at-large councillor had necessary unanimous support of his colleagues to amend the age to 40 years of age during Wednesday's council meeting. The home rule petition would then need the mayor's approval.

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