Oregon City Council is considering a proposed ordinance that would set the maximum age requirement to 35 for those who want to join the police department, but will grant waivers under certain conditions.
Under the Ohio Revised Code, unless provided by ordinance, the maximum age for a new officer is 35.
“If we do nothing, the administration would follow state law,” said Administrator Mike Beazley at a committee of the whole meeting on June 18. “It’s ambiguous. At one point in the past, council did repeal an earlier age limit based on an older court case. And because of that ambiguity, someone could make the argument that we don’t have an age limit. And in the past, we have hired an individual who was older than 35. We don’t think that’s a responsible approach.”
Police Chief Mike Navarre said the city has previously hired a new officer who was 37 years old “in violation of state law.”
“I think it’s important to clear up that ambiguity for prospective applicants who are interested in becoming Oregon police officers,” said Navarre. “We’re getting calls on a test in October. They want to know what the age limit is. We are telling them that state law says it’s 35 because council has not acted affirmatively to change that. I would personally like to see it cleared up. I personally think that 35 is the right age. It’s the most common age.”
Navarre said he is concerned that an officer who is hired after 35 years old will be over 60, “out on road patrol, wrestling, fighting, getting into pursuits.”
“It’s a tough job for someone when they get into their 60s, and most officers have to attain 25 years of experience to qualify for their pension,” said Navarre. “If we hire them in their 30s, they’re going to be into their 60s before they are eligible to retire. We can’t force them to retire. So they are going to want to stay. It’s tough on someone when they get to that age to do the job the young patrol officers are doing right now.”
City council could provide a waiver to people over 35 years old who they deem worthy.
Council President Tom Susor said he didn’t think council granting waivers was a good idea.
“Bringing in a waiver into council sounds just like a giant, political boondoggle that we’re going to lay on some future council,” said Susor.
“Council would always have that option,” said Mayor Mike Seferian. “We can’t take that away from council. I agree that it’s something council would probably want to exercise under rare situations. It may never happen.”
Councilman Jerry Peach said granting a waiver would allow a person to take the civil service test and compete with other applicants on the same basis.
“So I think it would seem to me the likelihood of the process being subject to excess or abuse is very unlikely,” said Peach.
“We’re just acknowledging that council has that power, and they may choose to use it, but in all likelihood, probably not,” said Seferian.
Councilman Sandy Bihn asked if an officer from another community who is over 35 years old could still be hired if prior years in law enforcement counted towards retirement.
Navarre said he would support hiring an officer who has prior experience “that would count toward their minimum requirement for obtaining a pension.”
“Anyone who came here with law enforcement experience could use that time and credit toward their pension,” said Navarre. “Also, individuals with military experience make excellent police officers. We could have someone come here at 38 with 20 years in the military. I would fully support council giving them a waiver and allowing them to take the test.”
Bihn said she would like the ordinance to include such criteria.
“We could tweak the language that simply says the maximum age is 35, unless they have other experience, and we can list the categories,” said Beazley. “And the Civil Service Commission may deem those qualifications as appropriate and give them the authority to include them on the list.”
“That would be very good,” said Bihn.
Council agreed to return the proposal back to the administration for further review.