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Young guns: CPD exam age dropping to 18

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Sun-Times Library

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Updated: August 6, 2013 6:22AM

Eighteen-year-olds will be able to take the Chicago Police Department exam under a change designed to increase the pool of eligible applicants and boost diversity, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

In 2010, then-Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis raised the application age from 21 to 25 to attract a more mature crop of officers.

But Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has decided to drop the application age to 18 and set the age to become an officer at 21 — the minimum hiring age in other major cities, like New York and Los Angeles. Applicants can take the police exam in New York at age 17 ½ and at 20 ½ in Los Angeles.

“By offering the exam at 18 and letting them enter at 21, it allows us to reach people as they are making major decisions about their career path,” said Adam Collins, a Chicago Police Department spokesman. “It allows us to increase the pool of eligible applicants.”

The new age requirements would apply to the next exam, which will be held later this year. The department hasn’t set a date or location for the test and still must select the administrator. The last test was in 2010.

Michael Shields, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, supports the changes.

“We believe that the department loses many motivated, qualified candidates who graduate from college at age 21 or 22 and do not want to wait three or four years to start their career,” Shields said of the age 25 requirement.

In 2010, one Western Illinois University graduate protested the age 25 requirement by creating a Facebook page called “The Chicago Police Minimum Testing Age Will Destroy My Career.”

“When the minimum age was increased to 25, we opposed it,” Shields said. “We are happy the department has decided to right its mistake.”

But Weis said the age 25 requirement didn’t prevent the department from finding enough qualified applicants for the last test.

“Nearly 9,000 people tested and more than 8,000 passed,” Weis said. “To me, it’s about maturity.”

Weis suggested the department hold annual tests instead of giving one test every several years.

“If someone misses the test, they have to wait years for another one,” he said. “I’d try to improve this by offering a yearly test — and a real test that does not have a 93 percent pass rate. What type of screening process is that?”

Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in early 2011, 429 officers have graduated from the police academy during seven ceremonies. Emanuel says he is trying to keep pace with attrition from retirements.

The department’s new age requirements are among a series of changes McCarthy has made since taking over from Weis after Emanuel was elected. Among the changes, McCarthy disbanded the roving citywide strike forces that were a cornerstone of Weis’ violence-control strategy. McCarthy is focusing on fighting crime at the district level.

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