Silky Silverman Out To Prove 63 Isn’t Too Old to be a Cop
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YONKERS – He still keeps a pair of handcuffs in the back pocket of his jeans, just in case.
After 41 years and two months as a New York police officer, Silky Silverman had to turn in his gold shield and leave his life as a plainclothes detective because he had reached the New York Police Department’s mandatory retirement age, 63.
While Mr. Silverman has been able to make a handful of arrests in retirement, spending time away from the squad room at the 43rd Precinct in the South Bronx, one of his many posts through the years, has not been easy.
“It ain’t fair,” Mr. Silverman, 73, said of the age limit. “They put you out to pasture. It’s paranoia. They think because you’ve been around forever you’re going to corrupt all the young guys and teach them how to cut corners. But the new guys don’t seem to get it. They’re like robots, machines. They follow the Patrol Guide. That’s why they could still use guys like me.”
Mr. Silverman, whose given name is Irwin and who got his nickname after fellow officers compared his running speed with that of the storied racehorse Silky Sullivan, wants the age limit changed. At different times in his retirement he has mounted challenges to the department, he said, in hopes of convincing police brass to alter the rules. With increases in life expectancy, better medicine, and other scientific advances, Mr. Silverman has argued, the department should not be losing so many seasoned and dedicated officers each year.
The president of the detectives union, Michael Palladino, also said the department should change its mandatory retirement age to a more flexible process, in which a police officer’s fitness for duty is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“The department has lost some topnotch guys because of that limit,” Mr. Palladino, of the Detectives Endowment Association, said.
Careers such as Mr. Silverman’s, however, are unusual, Mr. Palladino said. Of the union’s 9,500 retired members, only one or two detectives a year remained employees of the Police Department until age 63. Most detectives leave after serving 20 years, when they become eligible to claim their pensions, to seek jobs in the private sector and capitalize on their “marketability,” Mr. Palladino said. The president of the lieutenants union, Anthony Garvey, said the Police Department should keep a mandatory retirement age, to protect from “stagnation” in the ranks and allow for upward mobility. Mr. Garvey said, however, that the limit should be extended to match the Fire Department’s: 65. “If the firefighters can stay on that long, that’s where we should be, too,” Mr. Garvey said.
The Police Department’s position is that while the age limits may result in quality officers’ being forced into retirement, such rules are necessary to keep the department agile.
“Mandatory retirement is common in the military and police departments, even though it results in the loss of good people before they are ready to leave,” the department’s chief spokesman, Paul Browne, said in an email message.
If the department recognizes it is losing “good people,” Mr. Silverman said, brass should at least make the age limit more flexible. Cases should be analyzed independently. A capable detective who was deemed physically unfit for duty, Mr. Silverman said, could serve as a training coach. It would be helpful for rookie officers, Mr. Silverman said, to learn some of the subtle crime-fighting lessons that are not printed in the Patrol Guide.
For example, Mr. Silverman remembers walking alone at night in the South Bronx in the 1960s when he spotted a group of 14 men walking down the street with weapons such as baseball bats, pipes, and bicycle chains. They were on their way to a gang fight, he reasoned. But without his partner or backup, the detective asked himself: How he could make all those arrests single-handedly?
He flashed his badge. “I say, ‘Hold it up, guys. Nobody runs. I got a major drug bust about to go down, and you guys are gonna mess it up. If I have to call my guys out of positions on the roofs, you’re gonna get collared for a heavy-duty charge. Just walk with me and we’ll have no problem.’ “
Silky Silverman led them into the precinct like lemmings, he said, and charged them all with disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, and criminal possession of weapons.