Pulling the Pin: Planning for Your Retirement from Law Enforcement

Here are a few thoughts I've collected over the years of knowing a great many retired officers who are incredibly happy and successful after they've shelved the uniform, returned to civilian ranks, and done amazing things as "regular people" after leaving active-duty.

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You may be a longtime veteran officer. You may be a boot still riding with your FTO. Regardless, please imagine the following: You're approaching the completion of your time as a sworn officer—perhaps for your agency that means 25 years in, maybe it's 30—but considering the fact that you began your professional career at around 24 years of age, you're no older than your late 40s or middle-50s as you approach the day you pull the pin.

The fact of the matter is that at retirement, there's probably going to be plenty of tread left on your tires to continue to have a fulfilling life for a good long time. You may decide to take on an entirely new career. You may decide to simply kick back and relax after serving your community for a good long time.

Regardless, you have to have a vision for what's next.

Here are a few thoughts I've collected over the years of knowing a great many retired officers who are incredibly happy and successful after they've shelved the uniform, returned to civilian ranks, and done amazing things as "regular people" after leaving active duty.

Rule Number One

You have to pursue interests outside your police career well before you actually approach retirement—this is a nearly universal piece of advice I've heard from my many friends who are no longer sworn LEOs.

You love fishing? Great. Start pursuing that hobby well before you leave the job.

You play golf? Fabulous. Get your handicap down to something you can be proud of when you swing the driver in front of all those spectators sipping adult beverages at the clubhouse overlooking the first tee.

The time to begin your new activity is now—not after you're suddenly home every day with no real idea how to get out.

Your spouse has been beside (and behind) you for your entire career—they've grown accustomed to you not being present in the home for four, five, or even more days during the week. Don't put him or her in the position to have to say, "Get the [bleep] out of here and do something because you're driving me crazy!"

Do something you love outside of the job.

Do you.

Build Your Plan

One of my longtime LEO friends—who retired from a Southern California agency a few years ago—started to construct a list of places he wanted to visit around the globe several years before he retired. He began to plan financially for making those goals possible well in advance. He invested wisely as he was still on the job, and has happily reaped the benefits of that long-term vision.

He's now been all over the world—his travelogues are incredible. He's fulfilling a charmed life of seeing all the things he never saw while patrolling his jurisdiction for three decades.

He's one of the happiest and most contented people I know.

Map out your plan.

Policing After Policing

In a couple of weeks, I'll return to the annual conference of the International Law Enforcement Trainers and Educators Association (ILEETA) in St. Louis. ILEETA is a family of police supporters—many of whom are retired cops who now teach young people entering the profession.

A great many of my retired LEO friends are still in law enforcement, serving as trainers and instructors and passing along their well-earned knowledge to the next generation of police officers coming up through the academy. Some are now university professors instructing at local colleges in areas such as criminal justice, literature, or even philosophy.

Get your advanced degree in your area of interest.

Fundamental Financial Questions

As you near the time of retirement, you need to ask and answer—in complete candor—some pretty fundamental questions about your financial life after you hang up your uniform.

You will most likely have a reasonable pension from your agency, but will that be sufficient for the quality of life you want to live?

Can you afford to live in the same place as you do now, or will you need to move to a more affordable home? Do you need all of those bedrooms with all three of your kids out of college and living elsewhere?

Go back in your bank statements for a few months and tally up how you've been spending your money. You'll find a trend. Generally speaking, there will be some pretty consistent numbers—so much for mortgage, insurance, groceries, and so on.

Ask yourself—do those amounts of money make sense?

If not, make adjustments. 

Your True Identity

Finally—and probably most important—is to make peace with the fact that although you've devoted most of your adult life to being a law enforcement officer, that's not really who you are.

Your service to your community has been invaluable—there is simply no way to quantify what you've done to protect the innocent from evil over your long career. But you are you. You are a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a sibling, and a friend to countless individuals. Your commitment to the profession cannot be captured in a letter from your chief or sheriff. Only you know every last detail of your years on the job.

You were once a little kid, riding a bicycle through your neighborhood. You were once the starting pitcher on your little-league baseball team or a pretty decent long-distance runner on your track-and-field team.

You were once that crazy person at the college party, dancing like a wet noodle with that other person who eventually became your loving spouse.

In retirement, be that person. Dance. Love. Live. Remember your many years of duty to your community with fondness, but also look ahead to your many years of service to yourself.

Be well, my friends.


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