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Columns : In My Sights

Emotional Survival for Retirement

Plan now to find something you can devote yourself to after leaving law enforcement.

January 24, 2011  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

The voice on the phone was pleasant enough but you could tell she was a little preoccupied and probably multitasking as I asked to be put through to my old commander. I had taken retirement a couple of months earlier and was working for the Law Enforcement Television Network in Dallas. I had just filmed a segment that I thought my good friend would get a kick out of.

"This is Lt. Smith. Put me through to Maj. Reutter, please," I asked pleasantly.

"We don't have a Lt. Smith," she answered less pleasantly.

"I was Lt. Smith!" I retorted, perturbed.

"We DON'T have a Lt. Smith," she stated emphatically.

"This is 2394. Put me through to 621!" I almost shouted.

"We don't have a 2394," she coldly snapped.

"I was 2394," I said sadly, but I knew I wasn't anymore. I was not part of her world, not in her family, not in the "Club" that was the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

My friends there are still my friends to this day, but the fraternal part, the team part, was gone. It was in this bizarre exchange that I realized how sad I was to lose that feeling of belonging to a specific group of folks who would sit and complain bitterly about people and things in our agency but defend it vehemently against any comments by "outsiders."

One of the great challenges of turning civilians into crime fighters is developing their sense of being initiated into a unique group of people who will share high-risk adventures and protect not only each other physically, but morally as well, preserving that collective honor we each hold so dear.

The final rite of passage, the FTO weeks, bring the young rookie into the "Club," the "Tribe," the "Team," the "Fraternity," the "whatever you want to call it." It is special and once you're onboard it is an unconscious part of your being. It becomes so much a part of us that when it is yanked away we are stunned to find it had existed at all, since it was so taken for granted it was invisible. This is something I think we need to prepare ourselves for.

I know, I know, you can tell me the exact hour you will walk out the door of your department forever and start receiving that retirement check. But I will tell you, you cannot predict the day that sense of losing a part of yourself will hit you, and that is why we need to start teaching the kids in the academy how to get ready to retire. An academy shouldn't just be training you to be a law enforcement officer, but a healthy and happy retiree as well.

This doesn't mean more than half the class won't get divorced, or that rookies will be able to avoid all the maladies of our profession, but it does mean that by planning your retirement you will keep focused on your future and maybe maintain a balanced life.

I have never stopped working in the law enforcement training field and will probably die on stage explaining Cooper's Color Code (just not right away, I hope). I retired right into a second job which many of you will do and should do. It was the right choice for me.

Find out what you love to do and start planning to do it now. I have a good friend who retired from law enforcement and became a flight attendant, another who became a professor, and one unique fellow who found happiness just being a grandpa full time.

I think the key is in remembering your life is a mission and that the goal of that mission changes as we age. Nothing completely takes away the pain of realizing you're not on the team anymore, but remembering your friends will still be your friends if you keep reaching out, and finding new goals in your life will make the transition less painful.

Finally, just a thought about those among us who don't get to choose to retire but are forced out by illness or injury. They have been plucked from the team. Think a moment about their pain, their loss of that sense of belonging. Please remember, it is our obligation to reach out to them, to ease their transition. After all, we are family.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Morning Eagle @ 1/24/2011 11:49 PM

Excellent points! One thing I remember from when I was in the Academy eons ago is that "retirement" was only a nebulous concept obscured in mists created by striving to learn how to do this new life we were embarking on. The feeling of being a part of an elite fraternity of kindred spirits can last a lifetime and it can be a shock to leave it behind. Yes, we still have the friends we made in that exclusive club and it is important to stay in touch with them for mutual support because you all understand what each one is experiencing to one degree or another. But for the most part, the new kids many of whom weren't even born yet when you went through the Academy then hit the streets or highways and made it through probation twenty-five or thirty years before, are too busy being involved with their own world to have much time for someone from the stone age. So we have to adjust to being a once-upon-a-time or a used-to-be. We've been there and done that and now it is their turn. Someday if things go well for them they will be where we are now. But it can take a while to let go and I guess you never really do completely.

Starrman69 @ 1/25/2011 2:11 AM

You can never go home again. I got that when I moved out of the house when college ended and my career began. Training and experience begin making changes in you. You watch some of the old guys leave and shake your head when they try and come back for a visit. Everyone is busy, has assignments, reports, evidence and heading out on a complaint. Years pass and then you're the old guy, deputy/officer, sergeant maybe even captain. You stay away for a while, but some event comes up and you go. Lots of new fresh faces and you don't know and the old rookies are command officers. They try and give you face time, but there's always somewhere else they have to be...Even if you find a retirement job, it's not the same, security guard, private eye or even driving can never go home again and you miss the action, your friends, your family for 25-30's never the same.

Kam @ 1/25/2011 7:36 AM

I found this to be exactly the case when I retired. The first time I went back to visit my old detachment, it was as if I were a stranger. Everyone was busy with their own caseloads. Nobody had the time to stop and chat. Each was cordial but too busy to stop. When I was still working, I could remember other retirees coming in to visit, I guess it never occurred to me that one day it would be me in their place. The new recruits have no idea who you were. I felt I was as stale as yesterday's newspaper.

David Irvine @ 1/25/2011 12:33 PM

You couldn't have hit the nail on the head any harder, excellent artical. just retired after 27 and I started long before I was 1/4 into my career and am glad I did. No bills and savings were in place and planning fell into place with insurance and investments that will pay for a long time, besides my retirement.

cochisesniper1 @ 1/28/2011 5:18 PM

Greeting's Buck Savage, I am nearing the end of my career and am looking forward to the next job I have lined up, But as you have taught over the last several years, I have watched and learned and passed on several of your courses to include stuff from LETN. I guess even as the end comes near you cant help but be a little sad knowing and looking back at what we all have accomplished and survived! I am a graduate from ALETA and the things I learned then could not even start to prepare me for retirement. God Bless you Buck Savage, and Kevin Gilmartin wherever you may be!!!

Rich Arsenault @ 2/8/2011 11:54 AM

Dave you hit this one out of the park. You are so right about being forgotten once you retire. Yes your friends are still your friends but your not part of the group and you feel a loss of connectedness. I took a job at a police academy so the loss was not as bad because I still hang with cops. But when the call comes in and the boys in blue run I wish I was still with them. As we grow older in our jobs we realize our careers change. So yes, change your career be happy and know that where you walked others now walk after you. As I get ready to retire from my second law enforcement career I can look back with pride knowing there will be many like me to carry on this fine tradition we call POLICE "WORK"

R Mansfield @ 11/25/2013 8:54 AM

I am a retired Police Officer with 37 years on the job. I enjoyed this article, and I could see myself in what was stated. I loved Law Enforcement, even with sustaining bullet wounds and other nasty things. Saving another Officers life who was being held by a bad guy, with a gun to his head, was one of the more memorable events of my carreer. I was getting older, but did not want to retire. I was kind of forced into it after several on duty injuries. I did not enjoy some Officers that I served with, but I did love them for being part of that special Brotherhood. When I look back at the course of my carreer, it seems like I am looking at a ghost. I will always enjoy having served my community as a Police Officer. What a great honor it was.

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