Late Bloomer: Michigan man joins police force after 35-year delay

Photo of Detective Sean Reavie of Phoenix
Blues brother: Well past the normal recruitment age, Sean Reavie became a rookie cop in Phoenix. Now a detective, he investigates crimes against children.
Photo courtesy C.J. Tyler / Phoenix Police

Sean Reavie stared in disbelief at the unexpected email in his inbox. Could he really turn his life around this late in the game? Was this the miracle he’d been wishing for or just another false hope?

He was approaching 40, alone, in debt, financially and emotionally bankrupt. His dream of being a police officer had loomed in front of him, unreachable, for so long. At times, he’d been close, but he’d never quite made it. Was it possible that this time would be different?

It would take a whole lot of faith and a whole lot of hard work to find out.

Sean grew up in tiny St. Ignace, Michigan, with a banker father and a homemaker mother. It was there Sean had an experience that would alter his life. It was a seemingly small thing: His dad’s friend, Paul Sved, a Michigan State Trooper, drove Sean’s father home from work in his police car. Sean was an impressionable 5-year-old, and he was smitten. “The car, the lights, the uniform–it was so exciting to meet this larger-than-life hero in the flesh. Here was a man who was ready to put himself between a total stranger and harm’s way. That very day, I made a pledge to Paul that I would follow in his footsteps.”

Many young boys dream of becoming policemen or firemen or pilots. Then, well, most of them grow up and develop other interests. Sean was different. He held onto his vision for years. Until, that is, a well-intentioned high school English teacher squashed it. The teacher argued that he had natural writing talent and owed it to himself to put it to good use. “Don’t waste your talent being a police officer,” she told Sean.

Swayed by her logic, he put the dream aside. But still, “She broke my heart,” he says. He would ultimately earn a journalism degree from Central Michigan University. Soon after, he would take a job as a reporter and marry. But his heart really wasn’t in the job or the marriage. “Nothing in my life was satisfying me back then,” Sean recalls. “So I just kept looking, hoping eventually something would click.”

He quit that job and took another, but nothing felt right. That’s when he realized he’d never really given up his childhood wish. He still wanted to be a cop.

This time it was his wife who talked him out of it. “She thought it was too dangerous,” Sean explains. “I was trying to make the marriage work, so I agreed not to pursue it. But I was so unhappy. Every time a police car passed, I knew that’s where I belonged. It eventually took its toll on our marriage.”

After the couple split in 1999, Sean was ready to start fresh. There was nothing to stop him now, so he took the test for the Michigan State Police and passed with flying colors. But then, incredibly, just as he was supposed to start his training, a hiring freeze went into effect. “It was so crushing,” Sean reveals. “To be so close and have it disappear.”

A girlfriend convinced him a fortune could be made in the mortgage business. “I thought that would fill this void in my life,” recalls Sean. “But, of course, money can never do that.”