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When a cop retires: Tips from those who’ve been there, done that

These tidbits of information were so helpful to me in my journey that I would like to share them with all the rest of my brothers and sisters getting ready to make the jump to retirement

Well, it finally came. The date to go to retirement services and apply for my retirement came on October 12, 2011. As of December 29, 2011 I will be officially enrolled in the ranks of the retired. Although it leaves me three years short of my initial plan to do a full 30 year career in law enforcement, it is the right time for me to go. The decision comes with an array of emotions from sadness and anger to happiness and a sense of calm. It has certainly been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride trying to decide how I really felt going into this.

In order to prepare myself for this new journey, I contacted some friends that have retired and seem to be “getting it right.”

We have all seen these guys and gals. They all look and sound great. They are truly enjoying retirement from the police department. It seems like there are several consistencies with this group. These tidbits of information were so helpful to me in my journey that I would like to share them with all the rest of my brothers and sisters getting ready to make the jump to retirement.

Advice to Those Considering Retirement
Keep Busy. This statement was echoed by every person I spoke to but each had their own spin on it. Some said to keep busy by joining another law enforcement agency, either as a full-time officer/deputy or as a reserve. Others said:

1.) to travel
2.) to go back to school
3.) find a new hobby or career

These were all great pieces of advice because they all worked well for that person. The main point that all were very clear on was simple... keep busy doing something that keeps your mind and body engaged.

Find a New Purpose. This rolls right alongside of keeping busy. The day-to-day operations of the police department were once some of my purposes, but soon they will not be. One friend told me, “You might feel the urge to go back and help, don’t do it unless you are asked and even then proceed with caution.” His point is well taken. The police department operated fine before I came along and it will continue to operate just fine when I leave.

Find something that you can enjoy and gives you a sense of purpose. The new purpose does not have to be law enforcement related. Indeed, it does not even have to have a grand purpose designed to save the world. There is an elderly man in my neighborhood. Every day he walks to an open field where millions (just guessing of course) of ground squirrels reside. When he shows up, the critters come running because they know it is feeding time. This man clearly enjoys his squirrel feedings and gives him a purpose to get something accomplished.

Leave the Department Gracefully. I know we can all think of at least one retired guy that keeps coming back to try to force his opinions on the personnel still on the job...whether they want to hear them or not. There are several ways of doing the same job and each individual will most likely do it differently than the person before. Don’t be the guy who keeps coming back to dictate his will upon the people that are trying to do their job in their own way. I remember reading an adage that was said to have come from the NYPD:

On the job, you’re the best...Off the job, you’re a pest.

Advice to Those Still on the Job
I believe I had a fairly successful career so please indulge me and allow me to give those I leave behind a couple pointers that might help you in your career. This list could go on for several pages (probably causing the PoliceOne editor to have some stern words me) so I will focus on only two themes regarding building self-awareness/enrichment.

Seek Knowledge. This is a very important aspect of a successful career that unfortunately some do not pursue. This knowledge can come from different sources. Go to training courses that are being offered by qualified and experienced trainers. Take the good from these classes and you will be a better operator in the long run. Never become the self-proclaimed prophet that defiantly exclaims, “I am the only one and only my way will work.”

Consider higher education as a possibility. I understand that a higher degree may not make you a better street cop, it is not designed to. Higher education introduces you to critical thinking and the ability to look at problems from several viewpoints.

Seek Experience. Go out there and do different things. Take the knowledge you have acquired and put it into action. Get advice from other experienced street cops that have “been there, done that.”

Find a niche or two and really dig deep to find out how you can become a person that others might seek advice from. In doing this you will become a street smart cop. Knowledge without experience will only go so far in law enforcement. A “book smart” cop might know that a tomato is a fruit, but a street smart cop would know to never put one in a fruit salad.

Overall, it has been a good career. I love my profession and the brave men and women who will continue to carry the torch when I retire. I hope to run into a few of you along the retirement trail in my new adventures.

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