Gwinnett County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Trenell Bullock, 33, left, says he considers Capt. Cecil Whiteaker, 62, a mentor who has enriched his understanding of police work.

In the community and the workplace, 50-plus employees of the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department in Lawrenceville, Ga., are teachers and confidants.

Even inmates see their value. “Most inmates are under 30 and recognize that a person 50-plus has a lot of life experience and has been exposed to a lot of life’s problems,” says Chief Deputy Mike Boyd. “That same inmate will not seek out that type of advice and counseling from a much younger deputy.”

Boyd says the suburban Atlanta department, which serves a community of nearly 800,000, has benefited greatly from hiring people in their encore careers.

“Experience in various occupational fields is a huge help to our organization,” explains Boyd. “With the budget issues we face as a local government agency, there is no way we could expend the funds to train existing personnel to equal the years of training and experience workers over 50 bring to the table.”

Encore workers have come to the department from various backgrounds, including information technology, education, construction, retail and manufacturing.

Some who have come from the private sector say “they spent their careers chasing the dollar,” Boyd explains, “and after that career, they came to us wanting to do a job that had importance and meaning to the community.”

The department has built a reputation for hiring and promoting workers 50 and older – 25 percent of its 600-person workforce – through word of mouth and community programs, including Seniors and Law Enforcement Together. That program, in which residents and police address public safety issues affecting seniors, is run by a recently retired deputy now working part time.

Area law enforcement agencies have taken note of the department’s regard for employees over 50. Says Lou Solis, assistant chief of the nearby Braselton Police Department: “I know that the leadership respects all of their employees and that they rely on the 50-plus employees for their historical knowledge and technical expertise as well as their vision for the department.”

And with employees in their late teens to early 70s, mentoring grows organically.

Capt. Cecil Whiteaker, 62, joined the department with years of experience in the U.S. Army, including two tours of duty in Vietnam. “I’ve considered myself a mentor for some time,” he says. “In Vietnam, sometimes you were the ‘old man’ at 21.”

Whiteaker, who coordinates the department’s training programs, says he enjoys that unwritten, informal part of his job.

Deputy Trenell Bullock, 33, says Whiteaker has enriched his understanding of law enforcement with a positive attitude and constructive feedback. “Having a mentor is important in the work that I do,” Bullock says.

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