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How About a Little Respect?

To the young cops from the retired cops, we have more sage advice to impart than you realize.

October 17, 2017  |  by Steve Albrecht

You likely look up to seasoned veterans who have shown you the ropes. At least give retired officers the benefit of the doubt. Photo: Getty Images
You likely look up to seasoned veterans who have shown you the ropes. At least give retired officers the benefit of the doubt. Photo: Getty Images

Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three is a pattern, and a thousand times is a problem. There is a scene that gets played out in police stations, which seems like no big deal on its face, but points to a larger issue: the lack of respect some younger officers have when older, retired officers cross their paths. Yes, I'm talking straight to you, Young Copper.

Sometimes we can read your body language—the eye-rolling or the bored sigh—as you think, "What's this old guy doing here? He doesn't work here anymore. I'm not going to stand around here while he trades sea stories with his old partners." Or, "What's she doing here and how come she's sitting behind the front counter at the station, BS-ing with the other about-to-retire cops?" Or, "They let retired cops sit in the back with their old detective pals and talk about current cases? What's up with that?"

This level of disdain is disturbing. And it happens in the field too, when former or retired officers come across old friends and colleagues, either at a scene, or a traffic stop, or a restaurant. Handshakes or hugs are exchanged and we can see the looks on your faces when you're introduced: "Huh. So what? What can I possibly learn from this old-timer?"

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Nowhere does the phrase "out of sight, out of mind" hurt worse than at a police station reception counter, when a rookie officer, a non-sworn community service officer, or a new secretary tells a visiting retired officer, who has shown his or her retired ID and badge, "Well, you'll still have to sign our visitor's log and put on this visitor's badge. Have a seat over there. I'll call Officer/Sergeant/Detective Whozit to have him or her escort you through the building." I get the need for an access control policy, but can we do it without diminishing the retired officer's status to the same level as the guy who fills the soda machine?

Older, retired officers have told me how they have approached younger cops in the field during a radio call, discreetly identified themselves, and passed on a piece of information they observed before the officers arrived. This is often met with some form of "Don't try to tell me how to do my job." The disrespected former officer feels embarrassed and angry, knowing it was not his or her function to disrupt the contact or tell the uniformed cop how to handle it, but just to provide some information or an officer safety warning.

Takes One to Know One
Do you want to know why I know all this, besides hearing my retired pals tell me these stories or have it happen to me? Because I did it when I was around retired cops too! I'm ashamed to admit that I exhibited the same behavior when I saw retired officers at my station or in the detective squad room or out in the field.

When I was young and naive about the job I foolishly believed only working uniformed officers, supervisors, or detectives had anything to tell me or teach me. I rationalized like a lot of current young officers do: "Times are tougher now. The streets are different today. More people are armed and with bigger guns. People respected cops back in your day and that [somehow] made the job easier." I learned that response from watching my FTOs, partners, and colleagues, and how they interacted, or avoided, or bad-mouthed the old salts we came across. It was wrong back then and it's wrong today.

The U.S. Marine Corps has a time-honored and useful tradition, which takes place during the cake-cutting ceremony at its annual birthday ball in November. It's a simple yet powerful sign of respect. There are a few versions of this, but here it is from the USMC website itself:

"Traditionally—regardless of location—Marines pause to observe our birthday by sharing a cake. The first piece of cake is presented to the Guest of Honor. The second piece is presented to the oldest Marine in the command, signifying the honor and respect accorded to experience and seniority. We say, 'The oldest Marine this evening is (rank and name), who was born on ______.' Symbolically, the eldest Marine present passes a piece of cake to the youngest Marine present, just as for years our experienced Marines have nurtured and led young Marines that will fill our ranks and renew our Corps."

In the version I have witnessed, the oldest living Marine in the room—who may have served or retired decades ago—presents the cake to the youngest Marine. These types of symbolic gestures exist for a reason: they mean something, or they should, to every person in the room.

I don't need you to cut me a piece of cake, Young Copper, but can my retired brothers and sisters and I get some respect when we encounter you? We learned from those who came before us and some of us taught your FTOs how to do this job. We may have worked before you got to wear all that cool gear on your belt, which means we had to use our minds and words and bodies instead of TASERs. A little acknowledgement for having done dangerous things around dangerous people is all we ask.

Steve Albrecht worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years. He is the author of five police books, including Contact & Cover; Tactical Perfection for Street Cops; and Patrol Cop. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter

Comments (9)

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

ira Haynes @ 10/20/2017 11:35 PM

Thanks, Steve. No one is so blind as the person who will not see, we old-timers know this and some young coppers actually DO listen. Many of them self-assign to the pool of smart-aleck or smart-asses who don't benefit from getting a FREE lesson vs getting a FREE ASS-KICKING or having a case overturned due to arrogant behavior. Just the same, I'll keep trying to pay it forward. I just have to.

Charles Corum @ 10/22/2017 3:04 PM

I don't understand this mindset; I relish the opportunity to sit with older and/or retired officers and hear the old war stories! And I know that, no matter how much experience I may get on the job, I can always learn more from someone who's lived the life and survived to tell the tale. So, I tip my hat to all of those older and retired officers! God speed, and may the road rise up to meet you!

joe @ 10/29/2017 10:55 AM

Wow I am so with you. Amazing how the young officers look at you or talk to you if they stop you for 5 mph over the limit or if you ask something when they are out patrolling your neighborhood. I was trained when i was young to respect those that have done the job before me. once a cop always a cop retired or not we would jump in to help no matter what the cost to ourselves to help our current brothers and sisters in blue. Treat those the way you wish to be treated, you too will be that retired cop maybe before you want to due to injury!

John Wilson @ 10/29/2017 10:56 AM

I an thankful to the older officers and FTO's that mentored me through the early years of my law enforcement experience. Their experiences helped me avoid many unpleasant situations and enabled me to retire. Passing on the information you have to others goes on all through your career and when you retire you still can mentor young officers and hopefully save their lives and others with your advice. Thanks to all who served and God bless those in harms way today.

Glenn Goe @ 10/30/2017 8:31 AM

I agree with Charles, when I was active I enjoyed learning from the older officers. If you gave it some thought you understood how much you could learn from their experience and make yourself better at your job. I think what is almost as disappointing as what was discussed in the article is how if you are no longer "in the club" how much you are shut out from. After Sandyhook in particular I could not understand how different agencies do not take advantage of those individuals who still live in the community and still can contribute.

Trigger @ 10/30/2017 9:12 AM

This hit a tender spot, for years we as an agency had a Christmas party and invited the retirees and their spouse's and it was always well attended. When some of the younger officers took over the party planning everything changed, it turned into a theme party, loud music, over the top alcohol consumption. The retirees (many in their 70's and 80's) with hearing impartments could not hear anyone talk. This was addressed with the party planners, unfortunately the complaints fell on deaf ears, as such the retirees stopped attending. I stopped attending, this was a sad situation. It was enjoyable to visit with the retiree's, share a few stories, have a few laughs and tears, enjoy a great meal after which many of the retiree's would leave once the music started. With the new party planners the loud music started from the party onset and continued through dinner and the end of the party. Respect was lost and has never turned. It was discussed to stop inviting the retiree's!!!!

Lloyd Gauthier @ 10/30/2017 10:49 AM

Great article. I recently became chief of a department I started my law enforcement career at and found out some retirees didn't feel welcome in the building due to how they were treated by previous chiefs. I held our first HR218 shoot and invited the retirees back to the office for a lunch we provided for them. We gave them a tour of the department and allow them to sit in the new squads with all the new technology. For some, it had been the first time in the building in over 20 years. How sad. Remember these retirees carried the torch prior to our arrival. They bleed, cried, and sacrificed to get the agency where it is today. Remember and honor those who served before us.

Lloyd Gauthier @ 10/30/2017 10:56 AM

I recently became chief of the department I started my career at. I was saddened to hear that many retirees didn't feel welcome in the building based upon how they were treated by previous chiefs. This summer I held our first HR218 shoot and invited the retirees back for lunch. It was a great time. It was the first time some of them had been back in the building in over 20 years. We gave them a tour and let them sit in the new squads with all the technology. I made sure they all knew and felt they were welcome ANY time. These guys bleed, cried, and sacrificed to get the agency where it is today. We need to remember them and honor them. Thank them for their service. we are a family and a retirement doesn't mean divorce.

Kenneth @ 2/19/2018 4:53 AM

Glad I came across this article. I now know I'm not the only retired cop feeling rejected by guys I thought would never leave my side. After 40 years "on the job" it's like I never wore the badge. I had over 20 years just in major case. Since retiring I've offered free services to train, help school security, work cold cases, etc. I'm told "Thanks brother, we'll call you" They never do. It really hurts my feelings but knowing that this seems to be common helps a little. Many times I told young investigators "I don't know do's and don'ts because I'm a genius, it's because I've already screwed all that up". Some listened, some, I guess thought "this old fart doesn't know anything". All I ever wanted to do was be a cop since I was a little boy. The 40 years was sometimes fun, many times sad and it changed the person I am. I've always said I'm glad I chose the job. I'm not so sure anymore. One "old fart" to others, thanks for sharing.

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