Life after retiring from the police department can be a challenge for many as they deal with the transition from law enforcement to civilian occupations. Some officers stay until they reach the maximum age for retirement and return to civilian life having given their all to police service. Many who joined the force in their early twenties accept a pension in their forties and realize that they miss the job so much that they look for employment at another agency with no maximum age requirements. The allure of being a cop is so great, that they simply cannot walk away. For those officers who seek a sworn position in another municipal or federal police agency, and for those who work well past twenty-year anniversary at their current agency, a few health factors need to be understood.
Police work is a young person’s job. Patrolling the streets in a marked sector car and chasing criminals becomes more dangerous with age no matter what kind of shape you’re in. According to an article in Medline Plus, as we get older, our bones become brittle and may break more easily. Inflammation, pain, stiffness, and deformity may result from breakdown of the joint structures. These are just a couple of the physical transformations which take place over time as detailed in the article. Chasing bad guys – many armed with firearms – while suffering from sciatica and arthritic joints is not the safest career decision. You wouldn’t pitch in the major leagues in that condition, let alone wrestle with suspects while attempting to handcuff them.
One of the most harmful aspects of policing is stress. The effects of stress on the human body can be both physical and psychological. Moreover, in older adults also, the consequences of long-term stress can be very damaging. The Yale School of Medicine’s website, Yale Medical Group, cites a number of effects stress has on older adults. Chief among them is that long-term stress can damage brain cells and lead to depression. The WebMd website states that “untreated depression increases the chance of risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol addiction. It also can ruin relationships, cause problems at work, and make it difficult to overcome serious illnesses.” An article in Psychology Today, "Double Trouble: Depression and Heart Disease," reports that “depression and heart disease frequently travel together” and also “clinical depression and heart disease are the two leading causes of disability worldwide.” An officer can complete twenty years of service in one department, and take a position in another, only to risk serious health issues in an already hazardous profession due to the aging process. Meanwhile, another aging officer who refuses early retirement takes greater health risks with lengthy service to the department.
Indeed, law enforcement is a unique an rewarding vocation; but, knowing when to leave the job and look for something both less stressful and less dangerous can be a challenging decision. Considering the psychological and physiological effects of long-term police service may make the disadvantages seem to outweigh the advantages of continuing a law enforcement career. The choice is up to the individual. Changing careers is often the healthy choice.
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. Click Here to buy a copy of Michael J. Kannengieser's new novel "The Daddy Rock."