- Mike Rutledge Staff Writer
City Council last month lifted the maximum age someone can be when hired as a Hamilton police officer. Proponents hope the move will help two ways — increasing the police force’s ethnic diversity and experience, and expanding the pool of eligible applicants.
Before the ordinance was approved May 25, no officers could be older than 35 when hired. There now is no age limit.
“I’m not concerned with an applicant’s age,” Police Chief Craig Bucheit, who pushed for the change, told the Journal-News. “I’m concerned about their desire and passion to serve our community, and how well they can perform their duties as a police officer.”
That was the impetus behind the change, according to Bucheit.
“I can tell you over the years that we’ve lost many applicants because of the age restriction. There have been people who have been on previous eligibility lists who were eligible and then because of the age restriction, they became ineligible (on their birthday),” he said.
The change also was considered 31 years ago: In 1985, a Hamilton Civil Service Commission informational report recommended that the maximum age of 35 to become a police officer be lifted. “The maximum age limit for application would then conform with the federal law; that age is 70 years,” according to that 1985 report.
According to a report the city’s human resources director, Timothy Werdmann, wrote to council last month, Bucheit “has been seeking to increase the allowable maximum age for applicants for the position of police officer in order to expand his potential pool of applicants and to allow for greater diversity within the ranks of the Police Division.”
Informal city surveys found other police agencies, including Cincinnati and Columbus, have no maximum age restrictions.
The Rev. Michael Reeves Jr., president of the NAACP’s Hamilton, Fairfield and West Chester unit, applauded the change.
“I’m very impressed with Chief Bucheit’s cutting-edge way of doing things,” Reeves said. “He’s an out-of-the-box thinker, and that is the type of thing that we need for Hamilton.”
“True diversity is diversity where we go the extra mile to ensure that diversity actually happens,” Reeves said. “When you start to go the extra mile, and you do these out-of-the-box things, that’s when we will truly see a diverse community.”
Bucheit said while the volume of applicants for police-officer jobs is down, “the quality has never been higher,” with candidates better prepared and more qualified than before.
Civil Service and Personnel Director Nadine Hill, who is on Hamilton’s Diversity and Inclusion Commission, which was created to break down barriers to diversity, said she isn’t sure how many people have been rejected because of their age — or how many have been deterred from applying because of the city’s age ceiling. But when other departments have layoffs and their officers who are let go seek employment elsewhere, “that could be a time that the city would benefit” without having the age ceiling, she said.
“This also allows us to cast a broader net and open the process up to more folks,” Bucheit said. He gave the example of a 15-year veteran from another department who wants to relocate here, or somebody who leaves the military after 20 years of service.
“Those are folks that we want to have the ability to take a look at,” he said.
“In the diversity piece, it could bring a greater pool of seasoned professionals,” Reeves said. “Because when you’re older than 35, a lot of times, your kids are raised, so now you have experience raising a family, you’ve gone through college for sure, and you’ve got some life experience. I think sometimes that will help with how we deal with the public.”