27 keys to retiring from police work ‘undefeated’

To retire undefeated, you must work hard to survive physically, legally and emotionally – losing any one of these battles can lead to devastating consequences for officers


“It is better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.” As a police trainer I have always understood the sentiment in this oft-repeated quote, but have strongly felt that it sets the bar too low.

I prefer, “It is better to be applauded by twelve than carried by six.” When you strive daily to look, talk, act, fight and win like a professional, you increase your odds of retiring undefeated. 

Too many officers profess to have the mental determination to win, but do little to secure victory in advance. To retire undefeated, you must work hard to survive physically, legally and emotionally – losing any one of these battles can lead to devastating consequences for officers.

Retiring undefeated means you didn’t let the bad things and people you experienced ever get you down. (Photo/Pixabay)
Retiring undefeated means you didn’t let the bad things and people you experienced ever get you down. (Photo/Pixabay)

Physically

Police work is at times physically life-threatening. In spite of this fact, most golfers spend more time on a driving range than many police officers spend on a firing range. 

Boxers spend much more time training for a scheduled non-life-threatening physical encounter than police officers do preparing for their life-threatening physical encounters that loom large, but hidden in their future.

Few agencies have the funds to give you all the training you need in this arena. It behooves you to take responsibility for your own survival. The schedule I followed for my entire career is below. Consider these the first 10 steps: 

1. Lift, run and stretch a minimum of eight hours a week for life (more is better). 
2. Spend at least two sessions a month in a martial arts studio, gym or mat room training hands-on defense and control tactics.
3. Supplement this with heavy bag, speed bag or shadow fighting as a part of your workouts.
4. Train with your weapons a minimum of twice every month. This can include drawing drills using a training gun, training TASER and baton.
5. Utilize professional communications skills. As Sun Tzu wrote, “To subdue without fighting is the acme of skill.”
6. Practice regularly applying handcuffs from tactically safe positions and being able to maintain control of suspects, while handcuffing. 
7. Practice applying these skills with your partner or teams, so you work like a well-oiled machine.
8. Aggressively pay attention every moment of every call and contact.
9. Call for backup before you need it.
10. Mentally acquire the attitude that you will physically and emotionally, “Never give up!” 

Legally

Knowing the law and operating within the law is imperative to assure success. Here are seven things to remember:

1. Don’t just attend legal update training; ask questions to make certain you understand how new court decisions apply to you on the street.
2. Discover how court decisions are being applied by your judges. Local courts are at times more restrictive than federal courts.
3. Immediately change your way of operating, when policy and court decisions dictate a change as they often do.
4. Acquire the knowledge to make arrests legally.
5. Acquire the skills to overcome resistance legally.
6. Avoid the temptation to sacrifice your career to anger, lust, greed, or peer pressure.
7. Refuse to compromise your honor and integrity for anybody, or anything. 

Emotionally

This is the arena where too many officers lose their struggle. You are on the way to emotional defeat when you find yourself trying to convince everyone around you that the job sucks, and people are Adam Henrys.

It is much healthier to convince yourself that:

1. Being a police officer in the United States of America is one of the most interesting and important careers in the world. American lives and their freedom depend on me.
2. Most people in the community I serve are good people and for them, I need me to be at my best.

This set of these mantras is not only healthier, but they are also true. To survive this career emotionally, you should:

1. Take time to physically work out, as well as physically relax.
2. Discover the benefits of spirituality and recognize the good you do in answering this “calling” that is law enforcement.
3. Learn to be entertained easily; notice the music that is the laughter of your children. Then strive to make your children laugh.
4. Maintain and treasure your key relationships, like your spouse, or a friend. They can be the best emotional back-up you have. Then remember what is important to them is important to you.
5. Alcohol inflicts more emotional pain on the users and their families than is calculable. You do not have to be an alcoholic to discover the benefits of an alcohol-free existence.
6. There is joy in learning. Never stop trying to learn. 
7. Give help when others need it and get help (even professional help) when you need it. There is no shame in this.
8. Choose to stay positive. You are ultimately responsible for your own morale.

Retiring Undefeated

Retiring undefeated does not mean that every criminal you arrested was fined or went to prison. It does not mean that you ran down every person that fled on foot. It does not mean that you never have to be stitched up, or have a cast on a broken bone. 

Retiring undefeated means you didn’t let the bad things and people you experienced ever get you down to the point that you stopped doing your job to the best of your ability. It especially means you never stopped appreciating your family, friends, and this unique career that you have been drawn to.

When you can look back at your career and smile and say, “I’m proud I did that,” and you can tell yourself, “and still the best is yet to come,” you will have retired undefeated.

Whether you have one year on or one year left, I encourage you all to strive to retire undefeated.

This article, originally published 2/12/2015, has been updated.

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