Editorial: Don’t force police to retire at 60

A 60-year-old officer with the Oak Bay police department wants to remain on the job, but the local police board has said he must leave. The decision reflects a mandatory retirement policy employed by all four municipal forces in Greater Victoria. For reasons of health and public safety, Saanich, Central Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay require their officers to retire at age 60.

The same rule applies in many cities across Canada, and while there have been several attempts to dislodge it, all have failed. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled several years ago that although this is indeed a form of age discrimination, the broader public interest justifies it.

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There is some evidence (though scarcely overwhelming) that officers face an increased risk of heart attacks if they stay past 60. There is also the concern that they might be less capable of handling violent confrontations.

But this feels like one of those bureaucratic regulations that time and circumstance have long since left behind. Some officers, citing burnout, might indeed be happy to take early retirement.

But surely there is a place for those who prefer to remain. Aren’t there administrative jobs that need doing? What about all the paperwork that increasingly burdens law enforcement? And wouldn’t our police forces profit from the accumulated wisdom of seasoned officers who have seen it all?

The RCMP appears to believe so. Mounties can stay on the job beyond 65 if they choose, as long as they meet the fitness standards.

Moreover, many RCMP units operate in remote locations considerably more challenging than Oak Bay. If our national force has overcome these difficulties, there is no obvious reason why municipal departments cannot.

There are also financial implications to consider. By some estimates, it costs $70,000 or more to train a new recruit from scratch.

And that’s if sufficient recruits can even be found. With a large group of baby boomers getting ready to retire, forces everywhere are struggling to fill vacancies.

In this respect, law-enforcement agencies are no different than other employers. School boards, universities and health authorities are faced with a rapidly aging workforce that cannot easily be replaced.

That’s one reason there have been discussions about raising the general retirement age to 67 from 65. The federal government has said it will not pursue this option at present.

But with fewer young people joining the labour pool, and many older workers getting ready to leave, it’s difficult to see how current arrangements can continue.

So let’s approach this matter in stages. First, are municipalities with police departments legally permitted to raise the age of retirement to 65? The answer to that question is yes. They would have to negotiate any change with the police union, but that appears feasible.

Second, would there be additional pension costs involved? Since police pensions are designed to pay out at 60, most officers who worked longer wouldn’t cost extra, because they have already maxed out.

However, there might be a few who hadn’t reached the ceiling, and those would require additional contributions by their employer. The amounts, though, would be modest.

Third, if there are no legal or pension difficulties, should municipalities like Oak Bay revisit their policy? We believe the answer is yes.

It is an enormous waste of highly skilled personnel to discard them while they still have something to offer. With police forces under increasing fire due to allegations of misconduct, the presence of older, wiser heads might serve as an anchor in difficult times.

In short, mandatory retirement at 60 is an obsolete policy crying out to be ditched. Not just Oak Bay, but all the police departments in our region should chart a new path.

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