‘I wanted to protect the weak from the strong’: NYPD’s oldest cop, who joined the force at 48 after suing over age limit, retires
When NYPD Detective Michael Cusumano’s partner was attacked by a drug suspect caught selling to an undercover, Cusumano jumped over a mailbox to knock the assailant to the ground.
His stunned 20-something partner turned to the perpetrator and said, “You just got knocked out by a 55-year-old.”
It wasn’t the first time Cusumano was underestimated because of his age.
After suing the NYPD, he entered their police academy at 48 — 13 years older than the NYPD’s age limit — and retired Thursday at 68 as the oldest cop on the force. The NYPD’s mandatory retirement age is 63.
“They say older people have no place in this job, it’s for young people,” Cusumano said. “But I was able to run after people until I was almost 60. I’d chase guys up four flights of stairs, no problem.”
Cusumano ran his family’s kitchen and bath business for 30 years before he finally decided to pursue his lifelong dream of joining the NYPD.
“It’s the world’s greatest police force,” he said. “I wanted to protect the weak from the strong.”
He passed all the necessary written and physical tests only to be told he couldn’t enter the academy because he was too old. The city had long had an age limit of 35 for new recruits. The rule lapsed shortly before Cusumano’s application but by the time he was ready to enter the academy it was reinstated.
He fought back with a class action lawsuit along with 39 other older recruits. It took over two years before they reached a settlement allowing the recruits to join the academy. At 48, Cusumano was the oldest in the group. Since officers have to work 20 years to earn a pension, the settlement permitted him to work until age 68, five years beyond the department’s mandatory retirement age.
Cusumano was eager to work hard so he asked to be assigned to the 75th precinct in the high-crime area of Brooklyn’s East New York - an assignment colleagues told him he was out of his mind to request, he recalls.
After almost five years, he joined the narcotics squad, first in Brooklyn North and then back at the 75th. He made over 500 arrests, a third of which were felonies. In 20 years, he never took a sick day, he says.
“He was a hard worker with great ethics,” said retired NYPD Emergency Service Unit Detective Mike Rosato, 67, who once served with Cusumano in the 75th Precinct and was also part of the lawsuit by older recruits.
“When we’d get a 10-13 (code for an) officer in distress, he was the first one to help. I saw him run out the door still getting dressed, he responded so fast.”
But Cusumano said colleagues often gave him a good ribbing over his age.
“They’d say, ‘Oh let us do that for you, so you don’t have a heart attack,’” he recalled with a grin. “Meanwhile, guys younger than me went out with heart attacks and I was fine.”
When he got close to 60, he transitioned to less physical work, first at the Organized Crime Investigation Division and then with the Joint Federal Task Force on Homeland Security, the unit he is retiring from.
“There’s a lot older people can do with all the knowledge you learn on the job,” he said. “It’s not all about the physical stuff.”
Even though Cusumano and his colleagues won the suit, the NYPD’s age limits have not changed.
“I don’t think they learned anything, frankly,” he said. “But it wasn’t my battle to open up the age limit. It was to get on the job and live up to what I said I would do.”
The Chicago Police Department accepts recruits until age 40 and also mandates retirement at 63. But many police forces don’t impose such rules. The Los Angeles Police Department has no age limit to join or mandated retirement age.
The NYPD declined to comment on its age restrictions for this story.
Cusumano plans to take on some projects in retirement, possibly helping out other law enforcement agencies in the city.
“I’ve still got a few good years left in me,” he said.