In announcing it will be taking applications for the first time in three years, the Chicago Police Department said Tuesday it has lowered its minimum hiring age to 21 just a few years after increasing it to 25 in hopes of recruiting more mature candidates.
At a news conference at the police academy, Superintendent Garry McCarthy said recruits as young as 18 could apply beginning Thursday, though they would have to wait until they are 21 to be hired. Applications will be taken until Sept. 16 online at chicagopolice.org, and a written exam will be administered in December. Applicants need at least two years of college.
The department's staffing has long been criticized as inadequate by the union that represents rank-and-file officers, but in the past McCarthy has said Chicago had the most cops per capita among the nation's five biggest cities.
With more than 400 recruits graduating from the academy since July 2012, the superintendent said Tuesday that the department has been "staying very close" to its authorized strength of 12,500 officers, but he didn't give the actual numbers or say how many officers have retired this year.
McCarthy told reporters that any additional hiring that results from the first exam since 2010 would be to fill vacancies created by retirements.
"What we need to do is replenish the list so that we have a pool to select from that as people retire, we can hire folks," he said.
McCarthy's predecessor, Jody Weis, raised the minimum hiring age in 2010 to 25 from 21, though military veterans could still qualify at 21. At the time, city officials said they were hoping to recruit more mature and technically skilled officers.
But McCarthy said 21 is the minimum hiring age at police departments around the country.
Arthur Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago, said the minimum hiring age of 25 may have caused the department to miss out on many capable candidates because by then many people have chosen their career paths. He also noted that college graduates routinely enter the workforce in sensitive positions as young as 21.
"Maturity is most certainly correlated with age, as the brain continues to develop into emerging adulthood, but it is not fully determined by it," Lurigio said. "The key is careful selection, training and field supervision."
In addition to a written exam, applicants will have to undergo a psychological evaluation, testing for strength, endurance and flexibility, as well as a polygraph test, medical checkup, a background check and drug screening.
The department will advertise the application process over the radio and on signs aboard CTA trains and buses and in bus shelters across the city, McCarthy said. Clergy, elected officials and community leaders from across the city will also be tapped by the department to get the word out about the exam in order to ensure racial and ethnic diversity.
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