Jean Philippe Barros is in his second term as a state representative, after serving three terms on the Pawtucket City Council and three years on the city’s Juvenile Hearing Board. On July 17, Barros planned to take the first step toward adding another title to his lengthy resume: police officer, starting the municipal training academy at the age of 53.
Pawtucket Public Safety Director Antonio Pires tells The Hummel Report that Barros, who is Cape Verdean, was chosen from an initial applicant pool of 700; 80 of those got an interview, and a final pool of 50 was chosen to go to the state’s Municipal Police Training Academy in Lincoln.
“We don’t have age limitations, most departments don’t,” Pires said. “I think (the Rhode Island) State Police has; I know Warwick has. We’ve talked about that internally. The thinking was, listen, if someone is qualified they have to go through a fitness (test), whether it be police or fire. If they are able to pass the written test and if they are able to pass backgrounds and psychological, we’re not going to exclude them.”
Barros was selected to begin the academy’s 129th class in mid-July. He told The Hummel Report why he wanted to become an officer. “In my way of thinking … it was certainly a way of continuing my public service and also to be like a role model to some of the younger men and women of color, who may at some point potentially consider joining the police force as a career.”
And, why he believed the issue of his age, was a non-issue.
“I never really thought my age would be an issue. Never really gave it (a thought), other than when the people in the process, in the know, started questioning my motives, my age.”
Mid-way through our conversation Barros dropped this bombshell: He sent a letter two days before he was to begin to Pawtucket’s chief of police saying he was withdrawing from the academy “because of all the constant questions regarding my motives for the change in careers at this late stage in my life.”
Barros added that he didn’t want to be a distraction for other recruits and the city. Pires said Pawtucket police officers have to retire at age 65 so Barros would have had a maximum of 11 or 12 years on the job had he joined the force.
Hummel: What about the argument of somebody who would say the city is investing in this person? You’re sending them to the academy, you’re bringing them on. What if you only get 10 years out of them? Does that shortchange the city on its investment?
Pires: I don’t think so because what’s actually happening today with the younger generation, especially on the police side, a lot of these youngsters are very well-educated; they come to the job not with the necessary belief that they’re going to stay on the job for 35 years. So today there’s no guarantee that if we invest in a 25-year-old that that 25-year-old is going to be here for the next 30 years.
Barros told us he heard the chatter coming out of the Police Department, and comparisons to a North Providence firefighter who joined the department at age 52, only to experience a series of injuries and retire on a full disability pension.
“I’m trying to be a service to my community and I’ve been doing it in a different capacity. This is just an extension of what I’ve already been doing. You’ve got 23 weeks of the academy that you have to go through. If I don’t make it, well okay, yeah he’s not cut out for it. That’s okay, but before I even get started I’m already being vilified as if I’m doing something nefarious.”
Then there’s the issue of a city politician getting onto the local police department. Did Barros pull some strings?
“Well, it’s a vigorous, vigorous effort for any individual to go through and to qualify from a physical standpoint,” Pires said. “Whether you’re a state representative, whether you’re a minister or whether you’re a television commentator, sitting down and taking an exam and getting X amount of score on the exam doesn’t matter; it matters what you know and how you apply the answers to it.”
Barros stands by his decision, but is frustrated and disappointed.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong, but because I don’t want to be a distraction to the police department to the city and to my other colleagues I’m stepping out. But I’m not happy about it.”
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