I’m writing a teen disabled female police officer who is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair. Is the strain of fighting or shooting a gun too unrealistic? If so, what are her options for combat? Thank you!

As a quick forward: this one’s been in our backlog for a little while, so it’s not another response to the recent FBI posts.

The part where she’s a teenage, paraplegic, police officer is a problem. Handling a gun isn’t the issue. While some police agencies will accept cadets who are 18, it’s rare to see one that will allow a cadet under 21 to graduate.

That said, as I mentioned yesterday, there are Explorer programs, which focus on getting teens involved in Law Enforcement as a career. Depending on the agency, their history with an explorer program, and the presence of a sponsor it’s possible you might see a 19 year old serving in a probationary capacity in some local agencies.

It’s worth mentioning, that standard operating procedure for training officers to use breathalyzers is to take half the class, get them completely soused, and then have the other half of the class administer the tests on them. Then, the next week, they reverse roles. The ones who were three sheets to the wind, get revenge to administer the test to their classmates. Obviously, if you’re not old enough to drink… this could raise some minor issues.

The paraplegic part is the other major problem. For a police officer, an injury that paralyzes them is a career ender. They may be able to find a new place in their agency in a support role, such as dispatch, public relations, analysis, possibly even in forensics. Depending on their education, they may even be able to transition into a new career in the DA’s office. If they’re a detective, they could well find work in the private sector as a Private Investigator. But, their days as a patrol officer or detective are over.

This isn’t because they can’t fight. There are quite a few fantastic paraplegic martial artists. Some martial arts are less suitable than others, but nothing about being confined to a wheelchair means you cannot fight.

The same is true of firearms. There are plenty of talented wheelchair bound shooters. If you’ve got a character who is a competitive sport shooter, then being in a wheelchair is something they can work with. Actually, having a character who is in a chair, and carries a gun for self defense isn’t unrealistic. There are people who do exactly that.

Having a teenager who carries a gun, on the other hand, is a bit of a problem. Most states require that you’re 21 before they’ll issue a concealed carry permit. There are a few, like California, Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, who will issue a CC permit to an 18 year old. But, as far as I can remember, Alaska is the only state willing to issue a CC permit below that (they still require that you’re 16).

The problem for an officer in a wheelchair is, they can’t actually do their job.

Under US law, your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you based on a disability that can be overcome with reasonable accommodations. In a normal position, partial paralysis may not be a serious issue. A partially paralyzed attorney or forensics expert isn’t going to be any less capable of doing their job. The only accommodations needed would be specialized desks and access that’s already guaranteed under the ADA anyway.

For law enforcement officers, the situation is a little different. Potential candidates have their disability weighed on the risk of sudden incapacitation. This is where a partially paralyzed officer becomes a serious liability. It may strike you as grossly unfair, but the inability to pursue a suspect up a flight of stairs is a real concern, and means they cannot do their job. Also, the difficulty in physically restraining a combative suspect is a real concern. Not just for the officer, but also their partner.

I’ll add, this wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a fictional LEO, who is medically ineligible for their job. The X-Files’ Fox Mulder comes to mind immediately. He identifies as Red-Green colorblind in an early episode, as a plot point. (It’s the reason a government mind control device doesn’t work on him. Yes, this is The X-Files after all.) As you might have guessed, being colorblind is a disqualifying condition for the FBI.

That said, this is one of those cases where, there’s real logistical concerns, that make your character a serious liability to the people around her. There’s a lot of really solid character material for a police officer who was paralyzed in the line of duty, coming to terms with it, and building a new life for themselves. There’s a lot of potential for a teenager who wanted to become a cop, maybe because it was a family tradition, who just watched their future go up in smoke because of a bad slip on the ice. There may even be someplace to use both of those characters in the same story. But, a teenage cop, is a non-start. A paralyzed cop on the job is a liability.

That doesn’t mean you can’t rework this into something else. The pieces you’re putting on the table here could lead to a compelling story. It’s just, I don’t think it was the one you were expecting.

-Starke

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