Conventional Wisdom Check: Does the Average Cop Die at Age 59?


The Knoxville News Sentinel says there is meager factual basis for the often-repeated conventional wisdom that the average age of mortality for a police officer is 59. The figure often is attributed to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, but the agency says it never conducted such a study. The issue is a key to police budget and benefit debates across the country. So how long do police officers live? About as long as the average American, according to some studies.

In 2008, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System released a report that concluded the average public safety officer who retires at 55 (about four years earlier than the average worker) lives to be 81 — the same age as the typical government worker. A 2006 report by the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System provided similar results. But some cling to the the age 59 mortality rate, including a Vanderbilt University professor who states, “(The) overall mean age of death for police officers in the United States is 59.” He cites a United States Public Health Service Vital Statistics Special Report published in 1963 that studied causes of death in 1950 among only men ages 20 to 64.

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