Criminal Justice News

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beyond the Badge: Life After the Police Department

Back in the early 1990’s when I was a member of the now-defunct, New York City Housing Police Department, I sat with a group of NYPD officers in a routine Borough Based Training class. These are bi-annual meetings where officers are taught new laws and are brought up to date on departmental policy. In one particular session, a sergeant asked the cops in the room if they had any plans for employment after retiring.

Some of the officers stated that prior to joining the force they were carpenters, plumbers, electricians, or licensed in another skilled trade. However, they were in the minority. Most of the men and women in the room couldn’t see that far into the future to consider what life would be like without a gun on their hip and a shield pinned to their uniform. A general uneasiness filled the classroom. Some fidgeted with the papers on their desk and others sank back in their chairs.

The sergeant’s demeanor became serious. He placed his hands behind his back and pursed his lips. “The good news is that when you retire, there will be plenty of jobs waiting for all of you,” he said. “Employers love hiring ex-cops. But, the skills you bring to the table are hard to qualify in the civilian world. You can drive a truck, work as a guard, and become a bartender or a bus driver, but unless you have another skill like the electricians or carpenters in this room, you better get an education.” The sergeant nodded his head, satisfied that he got through to all of us and began talking about the subject matter at hand.

Police officers don’t want to talk about life after “the job.” Once a cop, always a cop, that’s what we’re told. Television shows, movies, and even books portray officers as die-hard civil servants who live police work as opposed to merely performing their duties. Being a cop denotes a certain attitude, an innate suspicion, a dispassionate appearance, and a jaded view of society as seen from its underside. Police are the community’s protectors, yet they’re the first in line to receive complaints for enforcing the very rules society puts in place. A thick skin is necessary to deal with seeing the human tragedy witnessed on a routine basis and for handling the trauma of losing fellow officers in the line of duty. Cops insulate themselves from others outside their vocation to guard against criticism and to commiserate with their colleagues.

When retirement finally comes, it takes a while to shed the habits of a law enforcement officer. The retiree has no authority. Even in the field of private security, the luster of fighting crime has dimmed. Others call you by your first name and the word “officer” no longer applies to you. Any employment you find does not have the same level of excitement and boredom becomes commonplace. A sense of dissatisfaction dulls the accomplishments at a civilian job, except where earning a paycheck is concerned. There are those who will congratulate you on your years of service, and others who will ask you for a good cop story from your experiences on patrol; but, as the years pass, your connection to police work and the honor of wearing the uniform fades. In spite of joining police fraternities and hanging around with your retired cop buddies, no one calls you in the middle of the night to investigate a suspicious noise.

Working as a bartender, a security guard, a truck driver, or any of the professions the sergeant mentioned in his cautionary monologue long ago in the classroom where I sat and listened with alarm, are fine jobs to have. Financially, a retiree should be able to raise a family with the wages earned while working such a job in conjunction with a police pension, but, looking back, I think the sergeant was projecting his own fears on room full of officers before him. Perhaps the message he wanted to get across is that there is no other job in the world like being a police officer.

Wearing a police shield, carrying a gun, donning the uniform, driving a sector car, and being a hero to those who call nine-one-one in an emergency are all positive, tangible aspects of a fine and noble profession. Losing the privilege of being called “officer,” and the respect one is extended while serving is difficult for most. Becoming a civilian after decades of wielding authority is an adjustment that takes a lot of getting used to. An education for another professional position where one is able to earn a lucrative salary or achieve success on a level an ordinary cop cannot aspire to without that education is a lofty goal; yet, after separating from the department, no matter what a retiree decides to do for a living, the title “retired police officer” is an honor well deserved.

About the Author:
Michael J. Kannengieser is a retired New York City police officer who lives on Long Island with his wife and two children. Michael worked as the Managing Editor for Fiction at The View from Here magazine, a U.K. based literary publication. Currently, he is employed at a performing arts college as an Instructional Technology Administrator. He has been published at The View from Here, and in Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. Michael speaks as a guest lecturer on campus.

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