Dear Officer Friendly,
This might be a bit of a different question for CopTalk, but I have an idea percolating in my head for a novel about a newly retired street cop. Was wondering if you could discuss a little about that – what it’s like those first few months, the kinds of things they miss and don’t, the kinds of things you think about, how it might be different from expectations…
“What do I do now? My life’s career is over.”
That is exactly how I felt when I was retired prematurely after 14 years of service, do to an on the job injury. The first thing you miss is the camaraderie. Being in the locker room with your squad getting ready for shift. The verbal banter and joking around that takes place. Talking about the previous shift or how did everyone manage to make it home from the bar. That sense of belonging to something and in the case of law enforcement, belonging to something special, very special.
Not trying to be over dramatic but cops live on the edge. At least the cops that work busy communities do. The next thing I missed was that adrenaline rush. As a football coach I get a bit of a rush game day but it doesn’t compare to a 125 mph chase where the bad guy crashes and you don’t or he bails and you give foot chase, catch him, fight and you win putting the cuffs on him. The whole time you know you are on the edge of something horrible happening to you. One false move, one idiot move by someone else, one faulty tire and it’s all over for you and yet you push it and survive it. It’s not that you’re thinking about it, it’s just something you know, in the back of your head. That’s a rush that is not replaceable and I missed it. I miss it now, five years later, just talking about it.
I was a very proactive cop. I didn’t wait for the radio dispatcher to tell me what to do. I went out and found crime. It’s like being on the hunt. Your senses are heightened, your brain is processing information, your eyes are scanning the street. You are anticipating something happening or making something happen. I loved that part of the job. I felt like Superman when I was working. That was taken away with retirement. So I guess you could say in some way there is a loss of identity with retirement. Being a cop was a part of my self-description and that was now gone. It somewhat defines you. Not completely because you are other things: husband, father, little league coach, handyman, whatever. However, you are no longer that guy who fights crime. Again, we are talking about a loss.
Many cops, the real cops who loved the job, loved going to work, even looked forward to it, find civilian life very difficult. Many commit suicide after retirement or become drunks. You miss so much of the job and in some way want that back. That is where you can get into trouble. You’re retired but you see something going on in your community. You think, somebody should do something about that. You used to be that somebody. In your mind, you still are that somebody. If you act, you could get into trouble with the local cops or you could get hurt. You have no radio to call for back-up. No badge or gun, no authority. All you have is the knowledge of how to handle the situation, the years of handling such situations, and the inclination to do so again. Your heart starts to pump, your senses heighten. It’s that rush all over again and you like it. There is a sense of worth that comes with it.
In many ways it can be and it is depression. It’s a sense of loss, then mourning. It’s not like this for all cops. Many hate the job, hate the public and can’t wait to spend the rest of their lives playing golf. But in my humble opinion, those were never the guys I wanted to work with anyway. They were not the guys I wanted to go into battle with at my side. I didn’t turn to drink through my depression. I turned to food. I got fat. After years of wearing a crew cut hair style I grew my hair, long. My foo-manchu mustache became a biker looking goatee. One day Karin looked at me and said “You look disgusting. You really need to clean up yourself.” That was the switch for me. That was the beginning of the end of my funk.
Many cops are lost in retirement. They just don’t know what to do with themselves. “What am I going to do now?” You have to have a plan. While I had a plan it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. The department set me up in my own swimming pool and spa design business and I was successful for almost three years doing that. However, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do I couldn’t do anymore. That was over. I had been a youth football coach while working a beat on midnights. That shift allowed me daylight time to coach both football and little league for my boy’s. Shortly after retirement, a friend got me an assistant coaching position on a freshmen high school football team. The lowest possible entry point but something clicked, really clicked. Five years later I am a full time college football coach who also is cofounder of two successful football camps. There is life after law enforcement and it can be pretty damn good but you have to look for it and you have to work at it. Still, there are times, driving down the street…
What about you? Were you/are you prepared to deal with a life changing experience?
How will you handle it?