Pulling the Pin (Or: When You’re Done, You’re Done)
Retirement doesn't need to be a leap of faith ...By Dave Grossi | Mar 13, 2017
I’ve been out of operational law enforcement for almost 30 years. I formally pulled the pin in late 1990. Since then, I’ve maintained my professional affiliations through Calibre Press, Inc., as both a Street Survival Seminar instructor and contributor to their online magazine, CalibrePress.com. I also continued my professional contacts as a police instructor, court expert and part-time college C.J. teacher. But for all intents and purposes, my wallet badge has read “retired” since 1990.
Speaking of retired badges, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with one of my retired buds a long time ago. Just prior to my retirement, I was dining with Tommy McGee at a PBA function, and he related the moment he fully realized that he was no longer on the job. He recently had occasion to “interact” with a uniform traffic officer: Shortly after his retirement, he made a right turn on a red light and was pulled over.
As he was removing his operator’s license (which all smart retired cops keep behind their retired badges) he noticed the cut out in his wallet where his tin was formerly kept. He hadn’t received his “retired” shield yet. It takes a few weeks for the PD to cast these “retired” badges. He said it really hit him hard when he saw the opening where his shield used to be. It was just, as he put it, “a blank spot where my shield went.”
Long story short, he didn’t get a ticket that evening. But he did learn a tough lesson. “When you’re out, you’re out.”
And You’re Out
That last line actually came from a retired NYPD cop I know, George Olivet, Ph.D. who was a CJ professor at John Jay College in NYC. George had retired some time before and had occasion to be at the police range where he was getting his old duty snub-nose revolver issued to him. At the time, it was NYPD policy to allow retired officers to keep their old weapons and have the make, model, and serial numbers entered on their carry permits.
George was running late for an appointment in this instance and tried to bump ahead of a few cops who were in line waiting to qualify by flashing his retired detective tin. He tinned two or three coppers, telling them he wasn’t going into the range to shoot, just wanted to get to the range office to pick up his snubby. He almost made it to the front when one old crusty detective looked at George’s “retired” detectives tin, pointed his thumb back over his shoulder and said, “Back of the line, bucko. When you’re out, you’re out.”
Which brings me to the point of this piece: pulling the pin. It’s been said that law enforcement isn’t just a job. It’s more than a career, too. It’s a calling. And anyone who’s spent 20 years or more “on the street” knows that the years take their toll emotionally.
It’s more than a loss of power or not belonging to the brotherhood anymore. It’s way deeper than that. The police psychologists I’ve spoken to agree that the impact adrenaline has on cops can be significant. Years and years of that sudden adrenaline dump when responding to high-stress calls has an almost addictive effect on cops. Is it all that surprising that when they experience that period of adrenaline withdrawal the impact can be devastating?
“Not really,” the experts say.
The transition from “cop” to “civilian” isn’t an easy one, especially when cops have only socialized with other cops during those two or more decades on the job. Change is always stressful, but it can be devastating when it comes in one large dose like it often does after retirement. Time and space don’t permit a total examination or recitation of the reasons or ramifications of pulling the pin, but let me touch on a few helpful tips that made the “pin pull” easier for yours truly.
Lean on family and friends. You’re going to spending a lot more time with both. Learn to rely on them for support and strength.
Make it a transition, not a leap. In my case I was able to transition right from retirement into my new role as an instructor for Calibre Press’ Street Survival Seminars. Consider teaching part-time at a community college or an academy. That keeps you in the culture and aids to that sense of still belonging.
If you’re ready for more of a clean break from cop culture, don’t just retire without a plan for positive social engagement. Get involved in your community in some aspect—volunteering, creating a business, coaching youth, and so forth.
Don’t ignore your old friends in the PD. Police social functions like the occasional PBA dinner are good for you. Networking with other retirees can really be helpful. In fact, there are so many upstate N.Y. police retirees down here in Paradise that we have monthly luncheons attended by 25 or 30 former coppers.
Pick up a worthy hobby. Find a hobby or activity that gives you a strong feeling of satisfaction. It may not be as satisfying as bringing down some street skell, but it will lend to your overall feeling of self-worth. For moi, being a frequent contributor to our outstanding online publication, and being the keynote speaker at our local academy commencement exercises four or five times a year (and for which I’m accompanied by my lovely wife) does it for me. Ask yourself before you retire: What will do it for me?
That’s it, sports fans. I hope this short piece helps you in facing the inevitable end to this wonderful calling we call law enforcement and make the transition back to the civilian world just a tad easier.
Violanti, John, PhD, Police Retirement: The Impact of Change, Charles Thomas, (1992)
Kinnaird, Brian, PhD, “Life After law Enforcement”, Psychology Today (2015)
“Police Retirement-The Final Trauma”, The Badge of Life, www.badgeoflife.com