NEW ORLEANS – At the afternoon roll call on a recent day at the NOPD’s Second District you could find, sitting among many of his colleagues, who are in their 20s, a 58-year-old rookie officer Robert Hamilton.
At an age when many officers have already retired, he’s just getting started.
“Everybody thinks I’m crazy,” he said.
Hamilton knows exactly what he’s getting in to. That’s because it’s not his first time as a rookie officer. He went through the NOPD academy nearly 40 years ago. At the time, it was a natural fit as his brother was an officer in the midst of a 22-year career. His dad had done 20 years on the force and his dad’s uncle was killed in the line of duty in 1917.
However, after several years on the force, and with a growing family, Hamilton opted for a federal job with U.S. Customs. He spent 23 years fighting the war on drugs. But, while his body was in the jungles of South America, his heart was still in NOPD blue.
“I had to get back on the police department,” he said. “I want my obituary to say retired police officer. It’s important to me.”
Even though he had been an officer before, he had to go back to the full academy. That’s where Second District Commander Paul Noel heard about the new recruit.
“Once I heard how old he was, I said, ‘you got to be crazy. I’m looking for young, hard-working officers here, I don’t need someone who’s almost 60!’”
Noel, who was born the first time Hamilton finished the academy, said he has a much different opinion now.
“Hamilton is the essence of what I’m looking for,” he said. “When you see him out in the street, you know he not only walks the beat and talks to people, but you can tell he genuinely cares.”
At the academy, Hamilton realized he doesn’t run as well as he used to, but he proved he still has what it takes.
“One of the sergeants came up to me and said, ‘Man, you are in better shape than half these kids that are here.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s more important to me.’”
Hamilton said he sees a much different city now, especially when it comes to the age of the suspects and the bullets.
“For about a four-week period we had quite a few shootings up here, and each one of them would be like 18 or 19 casings on the ground,” he said. “(It) just seems like they don’t care as much. (They) just jump out and shoot everybody.”
With his federal pension, Hamilton doesn’t have to be a 58-year-old rookie cop. He could just walk away – only he can’t.
“I really feel back on the police department. I’m so happy,” he said. “I’ve got a tear in my eye.”
Hamilton could lose the uniform one day to become a detective, but he says he’ll never lose the desire to wear the badge.