About two weeks ago, I passed along to you some statistics that I had found interesting. They dealt with the length of service of Washington policemen.
The figures revealed that not one member of the Metropolitan Police Department has 40 years of service. Only six have more than 30 years to their credit.
Marjorie R. Hughes has some pointed comments to make about my report. Marjorie is Mrs. John S. Hughes. John used to be assistant chief of police here.
In the spring of '79, Hughes had served for 38 years and had his heart set on working until retirement became mandatory at age 64. That would have given him 40 years of service.
Unfortunately, Hughes didn't make it. He suffered a heart attack on Sept. 1 and "retired" on Sept. 30, 1979.
If I have conveyed the impression that there is a cuase-and-effect relationship between the heart attack and the retirement, be advised there is more to the story than that.
In the spring of 1979, rumors had begun to circulate that Hughes was about to be forced to retire. That sort of thing undermines a man's morale and interferes with his effectiveness.
Mrs. Hughes says her husband was greatly relieved when Chief Burtell Jefferson called Hughes into his office one day and assured him the rumors were false.
For a few weeks, Hughes was on Cloud 9. He was going to achieve his ambition of completing 40 years of service on his beloved Metropolitan Police Department.
Then on May 1, says Mrs. Hughes, Mayor Marion berry telephoned her husband and asked, "Has the chief told you that you're retiring tomorrow?" A bolt of lightning came down from Cloud 9 and went through John Hughes' body.
Why was he being pushed out? What was his crime? Mrs. Hughes says retirement was forced upon her husband because Barry wanted to promote somebody else, and no vacancy existed. "There is an obsolete regulation in the District Code (that has never been used before) stating that when an officer reaches age 60 he can be 'asked' to retire," Mrs. Hughes told me.
Hughes called his lawyer and asked him what could be done. The lawyer said he'd try to delay the retirement until Sept. 30, so that Hughes could at least collect full pension benefits.
A few days later, a deal was struck. Barry named Hughes "special assistant to the chief" until Sept. 30, and Hughes was assigned to come in and stare out of the window for eight hours each day until his retirement took effect. He had virtually no duties from May 1 to Sept. 30. But that gave the mayor the opportunity to make the promotion he wanted to make.
"Sitting around with nothing to do was highly distasteful to him," Mrs. Mrs. Hughes told me. "I am a nurse, and I could see the tension mounting and his blood pressure rising.
"On the morning of Sept. 1, his heart was racing. I took his blood pressure and it was much too high.But he insisted that on this day of all days he simply had to go to work. 'I am acting chief today,' he said, as if the greatest responsibility in the world was on his shoulders. So off to work he went, and in a few hours I received a call from the hospital. He had suffered a heart attack."
"Resignation" followed routinely on the last day of the month because it had already been in the works. Hughes was denied disability benefits because there had been publicity about so many others who had retired because of "disability" but then been healthy enough to accept other jobs.
Hughes still is not well enough to work, and out of concern for his physical condition I communicated with him through Mrs. Hughes rather than directly.
"The stress and degradation caused by all this practically ruined him, physically and mentaly," Mrs. Hughes said to me. "Here was a truly dedicated police officer, on of the finest, suddenly stripped of any police work and stuck in an office with nothing to do. How can you expect present officers to stay for any length of time when they don't know from one day to the next when they will be 'asked' to leave so that their chief or the mayor can replace them with somebody of their own choice?"
I was never one of Chief Hughes' intimate buddies. I don't know whether he permitted himself the luxury of having cronies or buddies. To me, he always seemed to be an absolutely straight-arrow deadpan police official who operated "by the book" and did the job the taxpayers paid him to do. When I asked a proper question of him, I got a proper answer. No more, no less. No warmth. No chill. No nonsense. He was my kind of cop. Don't do me any favors, don't give me any guff.
Hughes was not my friend. He was not my enemy. I tell his story only because it may help to explain why not one of our thousands of policemen has lasted for 40 years.