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Ban on Hearing-Aids Forcing Early Retirement of Seasoned Cops

Ban on Hearing-Aids Forcing Early Retirement of Seasoned Cops

New York Times via YellowBrix [Premium]

June 20, 2011

He said he sought a hearing aid about three years ago when he was given command of the Queens division of the Internal Affairs Bureau. His new office, in Queens Plaza, was next to the elevated tracks, and the noise compounded his hearing difficulties.

When Mr. Carione asked for a hearing aid, the Police Department obliged, sending him to an audiologist and paying for the $3,000 device. As a result, Mr. Carione could hear again on his right side, he said. But a few months later, at a follow-up visit, a department surgeon told him the hearing aid could mean the end of his career.

When he later learned that the police pension fund’s medical board would retire him, he recalled, “I wept and I begged them to put me back to work.”

Mr. Carione and Mr. Phillips both have at least 20 years on the job, a term of service after which many police officers retire because they are entitled to a pension at half-pay. Both, however, are asking the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to seek to have them reinstated. Mr. Carione said he always thought of himself as a “lifer” and had planned to stay in the department until he was 63, the mandatory retirement age.

Mr. Phillips, who was a sergeant in the Bronx, said he began to lose his hearing in October 2008, after he was assigned to police a loud, whistle-blowing protest by hundreds of construction workers.

After complaining of hearing problems, he was fitted in October 2009 with two hearing aids, each with a small clear tube that runs along the outside of his ear. Although he was initially sent back out on the streets with the Bronx Task Force, he was forced to retire in March.

“They told me that a perp can knock your hearing aids out,” said Mr. Phillips, using police slang for a criminal. “But eyeglasses can be knocked off, too. I contend that if you draw your weapon, you’re better off not having hearing aids than not having eyeglasses.”

Thomas Graham, a former deputy chief, wore a hearing aid, and he said he knew of no policy forbidding them during his 37 years on the force.

“If you wanted a hearing aid, as long as it’s not pink and dangling out of your ear, nobody is going to bother you over it.” said Mr. Graham, who retired last year at age 63.

It is unclear exactly what prompted the Police Department’s crackdown on the use of hearing aids. After Mr. Carione was told he would be retired, he lobbied top departmental officials unsuccessfully, trying to persuade them to rethink the policy.

Many officials were briefed on his case, Ms. Meenan said, including the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly. Mr. Kelly himself wears hearing aids, but as a member of the department’s civilian leadership, he is exempt from its physical and age-related requirements.

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