LACROFT - Charles Burgess, chief of the Liverpool Township Police Department since 2000, will work his final shift on Friday evening, clocking out for the last time at 11:59 p.m. Lieutenant Justin Wright has been sworn in as acting chief and will formally take over at midnight on Saturday, just after Burgess clocks out.
Burgess says that the conditions of his departure are not what he had expected when he began his law enforcement career there 27 years ago, but he'll leave with many fond memories. An amusing one concerns his hiring in February 1985 at only 20 years old. He says township trustees at the time had accepted his application and hired him while he was still studying at the academy, not noticing his age.
Noting their mistake, Burgess says trustees began scanning the civil service regulations to see if hiring such a young officer was legal. They found that the statutes read that a person had to be of legal voting age to be hired. Of course, it had been written before the passage of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1971, which lowered the legal voting age from 21 to 18 years old. The statute had never been modified to reflect that change, meaning that Burgess' hiring was legally sound. "The panic was over, and they decided I could go ahead and be hired," he said.
Former Liverpool Township Police Chief Charles Burgess will work his final shift on Friday evening after 27 years at the police department, serving as chief since 2000. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
His youth did have its functional drawbacks, however. At that time, Burgess says Liverpool Township officers had to purchase their own service revolvers. Being only 20, he was too young to legally buy a handgun. He said his parents had to purchase the pistol for him, allowing him to use it until he turned 21.
Burgess was hired part-time at first, working alternating four-day and five day weeks. "In those days, they did everything they could to conserve money," he said. Only the chief and the lieutenant were considered full-time employees. He was hired full time in 1989, gaining benefits, as well as the rank of lieutenant at the tender age of 24. His tenure as chief began 11 years later.
Burgess admitted that recent changes to the state retirement plan for law enforcement officers had convinced him that he should retire before the start of the new year, when the changes take effect. Thus, his abnormally early start has ultimately led to an earlier departure, at age 48, than he had originally anticipated. "That's the bottom line of why I'm going," he said. "I had planned on putting at least 30 years in." While he says he doesn't really want to go, he says he is leaving under good terms with everyone at the township and feels the department has a secure future with the passage of the police levy earlier this month.
Asked to consider of a highlight in his two and a half decades as a police officer, Burgess said that train of thought doesn't really enter the mind of most emergency personnel. "When you're in this position, you get offered a lot of compliments and a lot of thank you's," he said. While such sentiments are very nice to receive, Burgess says police officers take them with a workmanlike attitude. It's not like the civilian who comes upon a burning building and rescues someone from the fire, he said. "We're sitting there saying, 'That's my job.' It was my job to protect that person, it was my job to rescue that person."
Burgess says he feels lucky to have worked in a community where the times when he has helped people have far outnumbered the instances where he had to arrest people. He recalled driving through neighborhoods and chatting with the residents, who have offered him hot coffee during winter patrols and cold water during the summertime. "We have some wonderful residents here," he said. "I enjoyed working here."
Burgess said he has begun to adjust his thinking to the little things that haven't crossed his mind in a long time, such as his wardrobe. As a police officer, he says, "You wear the same thing every day, five days a week, same colored shirt and pants." He's amused that the challenges of police will soon be replaced by the challenges of figuring out what to wear every morning.