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Cover Story

The Afterlife

A police career can offer you a great retirement, but you have to be smart and recognize opportunity.

July 01, 2003  |  by - Also by this author

There are many benefits to pursuing a career in law enforcement. It’s an honorable profession, you join a close-knit family, you get to serve the community, and you have an opportunity to retire at a relatively young age with a pension.

However, unless you really plan well, retirement at 20 or 25 years of service doesn’t mean that you can spend the rest of your life sitting on a beach. At least for part of your retired life you’re going to need a job.

Also, there’s a big secret about retirement that few people will admit: Even if you do have the financial resources to sit on the beach for the rest of your life, it will get old in a hurry. As one of the retirees interviewed for this article says, “You can only play so much golf.”

So the reality is that you’re going to need another job, and you’re probably going to want one. The thing to keep in mind is that your post-police job doesn’t have to be security guard or Wal-Mart greeter (unless you want it to be).

As you’ll see in the following 10 examples, there are retired law enforcement officers working in just about every field of human enterprise. Some of them resumed careers that they shelved when they became police officers, some worked toward their second careers while they served in blue, and others recognized opportunity when it fell in their laps.

But there’s one thing all of these people have in common: They capitalized on the skills, experience, and training from their years as cops to build interesting and rewarding second careers.

The Security Specialist

For a retired detective, Louie Marquez is a really busy guy. The 24-year veteran of the Austin (Texas) Police Department has enough work to exhaust five people but he’s always adding more.

A former SWAT entry team leader, Marquez spent much of his time as a U.S. Army MP and Austin cop training and learning how to train others in defensive tactics. Now, in retirement, he’s a trainer for some of the biggest manufacturers of police equipment, co-owner of the Police Combative Training Academy, head of security for a Phoenix-based research firm, and occasional body guard for the rich and the famous.

The secret to the success of his second career is simple; Marquez augmented his police training with advanced programs. “I took it upon myself to go out and find the training that wasn’t available through the department,” he says.

The Host

More people know the face and voice of Sheriff John Bunnell than know his name. The 27-year veteran of law enforcement retired in 1996 to become one of the most prolific narrators of reality TV shows.

Bunnell never set out to be a TV star. Joining the Multnomah County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Department in 1969, he worked his way up the ranks to lead special enforcement and special investigation units and to be elected sheriff of the county. As the commander of a multijurisdictional narcotics task force, he also attracted local and national attention.

Part of that national attention came in the form of a segment on the ABC news magazine “20/20,” and it led to a friendship with Paul Stojanovich, a field producer on “20/20.” Stojanovich told Bunnell he had an idea for a reality show in which a team of camera people would follow law enforcement officers on duty. Bunnell dismissed the concept as “crazy,” believing that no police agency would ever let their day-to-day activities become the subject of a TV show.

Fortunately for Bunnell, Stojanovich was persistent. He sold the idea to the upstart Fox network in the late ’80s and titled the show “Cops.” At first, Bunnell’s prediction that no agency would want to be part of the show proved true. So Stojanovich called on Bunnell and asked him to approach the Multnomah County sheriff. Bunnell agreed, and fortunately for Stojanovich, Bunnell, and the millions of fans of the show, the sheriff loved the idea.

Over the years, Bunnell became more and more involved with the show. So much so that when Stojanovich produced a new show called “American Detective,” he asked Bunnell to audition as the host. Bunnell is now a common sight on Fox, hosting numerous law enforcement reality series.

Bunnell’s second career has taken him to places that he never could have imagined, but he believes it wouldn’t have been possible without the skills he learned as a deputy. “Police officers, just by the very nature of the job, learn how to communicate,” he says. “The best police officers can talk themselves into or out of any situation. If you have that trait, then I think it’s adaptable to many other ventures outside of law enforcement.”

The Magazine Editor

Roy Huntington has a job that many men would envy. He spends a lot of his time shooting guns and hunting, and he gets paid for it.

It didn’t happen by accident. Huntington spent 20 years on the San Diego Police Department, following a plan that would bring him fruitful retirement. When he joined the force at 25, Huntington was already building a reputation as a writer for gun magazines, and he knew that, by the time he accepted his gold watch, he wanted to be involved in the business.

To achieve his goals, Huntington spent a lot of his free time interviewing gun manufacturers, taking factory tours, and walking the aisles of trade shows. But that wasn’t all. On the job, he tailored his career toward skills and experience that would be marketable to business, working stints in public affairs and moving from the harbor patrol to the training academy for the last few years of his time on the force.

At 45, all that planning paid off. Huntington was approached by holster manufacturer Bianchi International and offered a position as law enforcement sales manager. He has since moved on to serve as editor of POLICE magazine. And he is now editor of American Handgunner, a widely circulated gun magazine.

Huntington says he’s now lived the best of both worlds. He enjoyed his years as a cop and he now enjoys his retirement. “A police career is like having children,” he says. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience, but I probably wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars. But I enjoyed it, and it gave me the skill set to have a successful second career. Without that, I might be working at an auto parts store as a manager trainee or something.”

The Avenger

Growing up in Wyoming, Janet Franson dreamed of being a homicide detective. Only there aren’t many homicides in Wyoming, and, therefore, there aren’t many homicide detectives, especially female homicide detectives.

Franson’s solution was simple. She moved. In 1979, she left Wyoming for central Florida. Problem solved? Not quite; she still had to overcome the obstacles that face women who seek to make a career in law enforcement, obstacles that were even more daunting in 1979.

To make a long story short, Franson paid her dues. She hired on as a dispatcher with the Lakeland Police Department, put herself through the academy, and became a sworn officer. Then she worked uniform patrol and earned a promotion to detective. In 2000, after 20 years on the Lakeland PD, Franson retired and moved back to Wyoming.

But she’s still going after murderers. For the last three years, Franson has been area director of the Doe Network, a volunteer organization of retired law enforcement officers and other interested parties who seek to match missing persons reports with unidentified bodies. “There are a lot of John Does and Jane Does out there in pauper’s graves and morgues, and they all belong to somebody. There’s a lot of people out there wondering what happened to their loved ones,” she says.

All of this activity is Franson’s way of continuing the mission that she started long ago when she joined the Lakeland PD. “There’s something about homicide,” she says. “People shouldn’t get away with murdering people.”

The Expert

One of the most marketable assets a police officer accumulates over the course of his or her career is experience. There are a number of people who will pay you handsomely for your opinion as a veteran law enforcement officer.

Just ask George J. Armbruster who recently retired from the Lafayette Parish (La.) Sheriff’s Department at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Armbruster, who still serves as a reserve officer, has built a successful second career as an expert witness.

The 25-year veteran of law enforcement has been paid to give his opinion in court or in depositions since he was asked to testify on behalf of a fellow deputy in a use-of-force case in 1982.

Since that first case, Armbruster has been hired by attorneys throughout Louisiana and surrounding states for more than 300 cases.

The hardest part of the job, according to Armbruster, is testifying against fellow cops. “But I realized very quickly in this business that you’ve got to work for both sides. If you don’t, you’ll lose your credibility.”

It’s a business reality that Armbruster has to sometimes give testimony against cops, but he says he always tries to say something good about an officer even when he is pointing out a mistake. “If the officer did something right, then I say the officer did it right. I only criticize where criticism is justified.”

Although Armbruster brings to the job both administrative and street experience, any veteran officer, regardless of rank, can take steps to capitalize on his or her career by becoming an expert witness.

According to Armbruster, you can build credentials to show your expertise through hands-on experience, training, certifications, publications, and other professional achievements.

The Private Investigator

Thomas P. Shamshak Sr. was not your everyday cop. So it just follows that in his second career as a private investigator, he’s not your everyday PI.

Shamshak retired four years ago after a law enforcement career that culminated with him heading the police departments of the Massachusetts cities of Spencer and Winthrop. As he climbed through the ranks, Shamshak served as supervisor of a detective unit, and he honed his skills and experience in both investigation and administration.

When he decided to step down as chief of the Winthrop Police Department and put away his shield, Shamshak got a friendly nudge from a fellow retired detective who advised him to secure a PI license and gave him his first cases. Less than five years later, Shamshak is president of Shamshak Investigative Services Inc.

Don’t think that the former chief is some cheap detective stereotype from the pages of pulp novels. Shamshak’s company has offices in Boston and Providence, his clients include some of the top law firms in Massachusetts, and he has no trouble paying the rent.

Such success was not a matter of luck or accident. Shamshak is a savvy businessman who should write books on how to market a PI business. For example, to grow his business, he used two time-honored methods: direct mail and networking. “I developed a brochure that outlined my strengths, and I mailed them to every lawyer in town that I knew, particularly those who had served with the district attorney’s office.” His business boomed.

Shamshak says there’s no reason why any cop with an investigative background can’t follow his plan and build a successful PI business as a second career. Of course, you still have to get a foot in the door as with any career. Shamshak’s advice on how to do that is to use the buddy system. “The private investigator field is very much about relationships,” he says. “I would tell any police officer who is interested in becoming a PI when he or she retires to find a retired cop who has been in the business for five or 10 years and network with him.”

The Reporter

Economic necessity brought veteran newspaper and radio reporter Rod Bernsen to the Los Angeles Police Department. And he stayed for 17 years.

A Chicago native, Bernsen moved to the East Coast until he felt the pull of the Pacific and decided to come to California. He thought it would be easy to get a job. After all, he had experience, he had a solid reporting portfolio, and he had a degree from a Los Angeles-area university. He also had bad timing. The market for journalists was tight.

Frustrated, Bernsen took the advice of his brother, an LA County Sheriff’s deputy, and applied for an appointment to the LAPD academy. He was accepted and graduated in 1974.

Unfortunately, some of his fellow cops didn’t like the idea of a reporter in their midst. On his first patrol, Bernsen was asked a question by his FTO, and his police career almost ended . “As we were pulling away from the gas pumps, my training officer asked me, ‘What did you do before you became a cop?’ I told him I was a reporter. He stopped the car and told me to get out.”

Bernsen’s cop career got off to a rocky start. But it ended up to be productive. He worked the streets, he was a natural for media relations, and he earned the rank of sergeant before an injury forced him to retire in 1992. He even attended the retirement party of the FTO who threw him out of the patrol car.

Today, Bernsen works the other side of the fence as a reporter for Fox 11 TV in Los Angeles, spending much of his time in a helicopter over Southern California’s freeways. He also covered the 1992 riots and the infamous North Hollywood bank robbery.

Bernsen believes his 17 years on the LAPD gives him special insight that other reporters don’t have. “We’ve raised the bar on live coverage of a breaking police incident,” he says.

One of the ways that Bernsen has raised the bar on police coverage is that he doesn’t jump to conclusions. For example, seeing five cops wrestle a single suspect to the ground, some reporters might assume excessive force. “I’ll point out that what the viewers are seeing is called a ‘swarm technique,’ that each officer grabs a limb to control the suspect.”

Some of Bernsen’s fellow journalists have accused him of being a police apologist. But he argues that his police career makes him more objective than most reporters. “People think that I’m pro police,” he says. “That’s not true. I’m neutral. What happened in the past is that reporters haven’t been neutral. I won’t make cops wrong when they are not wrong, but I also won’t make excuses for them when they are.”

The Teacher

Many of the kids in Anthony Mullen’s Connecticut classroom probably never believed that they could like a cop. Most of them come from troubled backgrounds, they’ve had their share of problems with the law, and some of them have even been involved in violence. But by all accounts, Mullen reaches them in ways that no other teacher has managed to do.

Perhaps the reason Mullen is so successful in the classroom is that he’s not intimidated by his charges. A 21-year veteran of the New York Police Department, Mullen has seen his share of tough kids on the streets, and he learned how to handle almost any kind of situation on his rise up the ranks to inspector. Along the way, he also learned that he really liked working with kids, especially kids who were in trouble and needed some help to achieve their potential.

So about six years before he decided to pull the plug on his police career, Mullen started laying the foundation for his second career as an educator. Now retired, he teaches science and history in the alternative program at Greenwich High School.

“Alternative” school in this case usually means discipline problems. But Mullen says discipline is not a problem in his class and not for the reasons that everyone might think. “I have very few discipline problems in my classroom,” says Mullen. “But that’s not because it’s a draconian classroom. It’s because the students are engaged in learning.”

Mullen draws upon his police career to keep his students engaged, especially in science. A former crime scene investigator and detective, Mullen teaches the principles of science using forensics. And he’s been very successful. “I have several students who had no intention of going to college who are now signed up at the local community college and majoring in crime, justice, and forensics.” Mullen is proud that those kids are pursuing criminal justice, but he says the most important thing is that they are going to college.

The Technical Advisor

Randy Walker says the business that’s provided him and a number of his friends with income in their retirement came about as a “fluke.”

The retired veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department was serving on the SWAT team when he was asked by his commander to show some film industry people around the station, demonstrate some equipment, and talk to them about what it’s like to be a tactical officer on the LAPD. Walker turned out to have a talent for teaching Hollywood types some of the finer details of policing. And at the end of the tour, they suggested that he look into becoming a “technical adviser.”

Walker put the idea out of his head. It was for another day; at the time his career focus was 100 percent on the SWAT team.

A few months later, a colleague on the LAPD told him that some independent filmmakers needed a SWAT cop to advise them on how to make a tactical entry scene look more realistic. Walker decided to talk to them, and he found that not only did he have a knack for working with writers, actors, and directors, he enjoyed it and it was a way to bring in some side income.

Walker teamed up with fellow LAPD officer Ed Arneson, and they founded “Call the Cops.” Today, the company is one of the busiest technical adviser firms in the movies, and its work can be seen in such big-budget films as “Speed,” “Seven,” “LA Confidential,” and in the upcoming summer movie, “SWAT.” In fact, Call the Cops has so much work in so many different fields of police experience that Walker and Arneson have enlisted a number of friends and colleagues to work on their projects.

Walker says that being able to share the experience with his friends and fellow cops has made the success of Call the Cops all that much sweeter. “It’s also a great second career because it keeps me in touch with the guys who are still on the job,” he adds.

The Political Activist

Public speaking and political involvement have always come naturally to recently installed NRA president Kayne Robinson. So did a police career.

Robinson served 33 years on the Des Moines Police Department in a career that saw him go from patrol officer to assistant chief of police. He also maintained through that 30 years a deep and abiding love of Republican politics and competitive shooting.

At the end of his police career, Robinson was asked to serve as the chair of the Iowa Republican Party. In that post, he was responsible for organizing the state’s straw poll and the Iowa caucuses. His success at state-level politics led to national recognition and his appointment to his dream job as president of the NRA.

Robinson says he still can’t believe that he’s sitting in the chair recently vacated by Charlton Heston. “I was 16 years old in 1959 when I first became a life member of the NRA, and I was just so proud to be part of the Association. I would have never dreamed that I could be the NRA president.”

About his successful retirement from law enforcement, Robinson says he was fortunate. “I’ve been very, very lucky,” Robinson says. “Retiring as a cop, particularly if you’re in the heat of the action, can be a problem if you just stop. If you just had to stop one day, and go sit on your porch and rock, that would be a problem.”

Tags: Retired Officers, Second Careers


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