Letting Go: Why Some Cops Stay Longer than they Should

letting go

A job like no other

I remember like it was yesterday.

I was in field training working evening shift. It was busy as all get out when it happened.

My first foot pursuit.

I don’t remember why we were chasing him. I’m sure my young change-the-world-rookie-conquers-all mindset convinced me it was the crime of the century.

We chased the bad guy for what seemed like an eternity, through backyards, over fences. I thought for sure the SWAT team and Police Helicopter (we don’t actually have one) would swoop in any minute and help us catch him.

I didn’t know it then but chasing someone on foot was as regular an occurrence as putting gas in your patrol car.

It’s what cops do.

We chase bad people. We put them in jail.

We save the day.

I eventually caught the guy and was able to put him in handcuffs. We both were exhausted and out of breath. In reality it was at best anti-climactic if not mundane.

But it didn’t matter.

I had drank from the cop adrenaline fountain and I was immediately addicted. A drug like no other. A roller coaster  that they actually pay you to ride on.

I was hooked.

I was a Cop.

Sadly, as I have gotten older, the drug just doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did.

And that’s how it’s supposed to be.

A surprising success

A few months ago I wrote, what I thought at the time, was just another article about the perception of cops through the eyes of your average citizen.

Why Cops Retire at 50″ was written on a Friday afternoon and posted to a couple of sites that I write for.

The article almost immediately blew up.

The tiny little article had touched a nerve and triggered an emotional response that I was not quite prepared for. Within a few days it had gone viral!

I was floored. Overwhelmed.

Not by the numbers but the comments that came flooding in.

Most were supportive of the article and said that they agreed with the points expressed.

The final point made in the article talked about the “unspeakable” suffering that cops witness over their careers. I even went as far as using the example of a rookie seeing their first dead baby.

This illustration set off a wave of comments that were both revealing and shocking.

Here is just one of the almost 200 comments that came pouring in;

From John,

“I recently retired with 26 years of service. I still remember the first death of an infant. Early in my career a two year old drowned in a fish pond and when I arrived the mom was attempting CPR. I took over until fire rescue arrived but the child could not be saved. At the time my daughter was the same age and all I could think of in my mind was that was her dying in my arms. I know it sounds stupid but that was what my mind was trying to tell me. I cried for days, felt like killing myself, but got help from the department for treatment. It took a long time to get over. I don’t share this story often but want to thank all of you who shared in this blog because it helps me reading the stories and knowing I’m not alone.”

This comment, like many of the others from the article, revealed what I and other cops already knew.

Another surprising observation was made while reading the comments. A lot of the cops who commented on the article had been cops far too longer than they should have.

Some of them noted a career lasting 30 or sometimes even 40 years.

This struck me as absurd.

As I read some of the comments aloud to my wife, I would ask out loud “Why in the f%ck would someone do this job for that long?”

I was stumped.

A time to reflect

In the past few months I have pondered why an article so short and relatively strait forward would have such a powerful effect on people.

I even had family members respond on behalf of their police father, husband, or sons and daughters.

My sister-in-law, a former psychologist with the Australian Federal Police, told me that the article may have triggered and allowed traumatic events to creep up in the memories of those cops effected by their experiences.

Some of the comments may have even sounded hard to believe to your casual reader but I knew them to be true.

A common thread that I have taken from all of the comments, to include private messages and emails, has led me to one conclusion.

Cops need help.

See Related Article: “6 Strange and Weird Character Traits of Cops”

Especially once they have left the job. I guess it took one cop expressing these thoughts in a blog article that allowed a lot of them to open up.

The majority of the responses came from retired cops or those who are near retirement like me.

Why letting go is hard

Other than the outpouring of emotion (cops just don’t do this, ever), the thing that struck me was how long a good majority had served. Was it just about the money or putting a kid through college?

A lot of salty cops, the ones that have been on when MTV still played music videos, will use the same old crutch. They will say something like, “only two more years and my house will be paid for, my truck paid off and the last of my credit cards.”

When I hear one of these responses I just shake my head. I know that some have legitimate financial concerns but the majority of the ones who are hanging on are motivated mostly by fear and not money.

A fear of losing their identity as a cop.

A fear of not doing something they have been good at (most) for most of their life.

A fear of losing power.

A fear of losing respect.

A fear of change.

A fear of being weird.

A fear of letting go.

It’s okay. We all go through this change. I’m already feeling it and it’s awkward. Although not retired I have definitely rounded third base in my career. But knowing me and my salty ways, I will most likely be a fool and dive into home plate head-first.

Hopefully I won’t break anything.

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42 Comments

  1. I’m going on year 32 in Law Enforcement. 29 in Seattle and now in a small rural department. I don’t fear losing my identity at all- I fear having to pay $1,800 a month for the same medical coverage that I have now!

    • I’m in an almost identical position. 20 years in Oakland, and the last 12 in a small WA. sheriff’s office. If it were not for the outrageous costs of medical coverage for a family, I’d be outta here…

    • I totally agree. When I started they told me that if I stayed 30 years that they would pay my health insurance when I retired. A lawyer got elected mayor just before I hit 30 years and changed that. The fact of having to pay almost half my monthly pension for health insurance scares the hell out of me. That’s exactly why I am staying at work.

    • That’s ridiculous, your health insurance should be PAID FOR the rest of your retiring years by the department. UGH!!!

      I do agree, ALL cops working and retired should get help. It’s got to bother them, it just has to. No one is immune from it. If you are human, it’s gonna take a toll on you.

      I’m not a cop, but my son-in-law is, and I feel in my heart for you guys, especially now-a-days, how much cop-hating is going on is just unreal and scary and stupid. I don’t understand. I can’t even IMAGINE a world without cops. God bless each and everyone of you and may you stay safe and come home to your families.

  2. 33 YEARS AND TRANSITIONED INTO A ONE-MAN POLICE FUNCTION IN ANOTHER STATE AGENCY….SAVED MY SANITY UNTIL I SAW “TIME TO MOVE”…… “FAMILY” STILL THERE WHEN NEEDED AND WILL ALWAYS BE THERE,,,,,,GOD BLESS THE WARRIORS.

  3. With all due respect to your sister in-law, she is wrong, at least for me. I read the article when it was published the article didn’t bring back the horrors I’ve witnessed as s Cop, they are with me all the time. You never forget, you just learn to live with them, compartmentalizing them. The people you were unable to help are the ones that haunt you. 20 years ago when I was a Rookie I had a suicide call, the man had blown his head off, literally. What haunts me to this day is I had taken him in for mental health evaluations three consecutive days in a row with verified suicide attempts. The Doc’s released him saying he wasn’t a danger to himself. I’ll never get over it, but I can live with it. That’s just one of hundreds of horrific calls I’ve handled and have learned to live with. I officially retire at the end of July 2017 and have to adjust to not being a Cop. It will take time, but I’m patient.

    • Retired in April of 2017 after 24 years in Miami. Still working in a full time position which I’m allowed to do do 8 more years then I have to go but I can leave tomorrow if I want . I don’t know what else I can do. Kept my health coverage with the City which is about 400 a month not bad. Dealing with some health issues after working Mids 20 years. So I don’t know how long I will stay.

  4. all cops come form deferent backgrounds. Some are mentally strong and some aren’t. Some deal with death better then others. Some handle stress better others. Police work isn’t for everyone. If you want to retire with your CCW, you don’t tell the PD you’re stressed out over police work. after retirement risk carrying your gun after retirement

  5. Start my 33rd year overall, next week. Retirement from first job not enough, but will be eligible for “baby” retirement from Sheriff’s Office in 78 days. So, I guess mine’s a case of D) All of the Above. Not sure what happens after that, but you’ve definitely hit the nail on the head.

  6. When I first applied in 1980, I prayed that I would meet the LAPD’s high standards: I retired in 2000 because the LAPD no longer measured up to mine. While I miss “crushing crime” with other blue-suiters, I don’t miss the politicians who were more predatory than the suspects we were expected to arrest. Retiring after only 20 years was the best career move I ever made, and I have never looked back.

    • Clark, It has gotten a lot worse these days, The era of the “Crime Fighter” is over for now. If you use force making an arrest you become the criminal.

  7. I’m starting my 42nd year as a LEO. First retiring from the police force then going into a sheriff’s office. I haven’t moved on for one reason, I still love it as much today as I did the first time I put the uniform on and started my first shift. It keeps me active, gives me the chance to deal with different people daily.

    I can’t count all the different chiefs and sheriff’s I’ve worked for. Some better then others and a couple that were heads above the rest, but admin changes so my belief has always been I serve the citizens of my jurisdiction and those passing through. I haven’t suffered burn out because I don’t let thing become personal. I don’t hide out or avoid calls, the pups have to drive like hell to beat me to a scene.

    Sure I will walk away in the next couple years but it will be my choice and when I’ve decided unless health issues become a facture.

    • I love your attitude! So many allow others to ruin the job for us and that just seems sad to me. I’m only at 17 years, but I still love my job and believe in what we do.

    • Perfectly said
      I feel the same way I too will one day retire and hang up the uniform but until I do my plan is to love it as much today as the first day I walked into the academy. I feel so blessed to be able to be there for others and lend a helping hand.
      Be safe to all those that wear the badge God bless..

    • You sound like my husband. He starts his 40th year ina few months. I fuss at him to retire, his response, I still make a difference. I no longer fuss. When he’s ready, he will go. My heart goes out to your wife.

  8. Been with Chicago for 26 yrs now. 3 more = full pension. If it’s there when I retire. The comments about the politicians hits the nail on the head. They are brutal. Lining their pockets as we have 2-3 k a month health insurance payments. No one owes me anything. I expect nothing. But now with all the cop hating going on they’ve also taken the last iota of respect. I no longer ” love” the job. Now it’s become a job. What used to be a fun career is no more. I will stay the next three for the full pension as I feel I owe that much to my family that endured all my years of shitty hours, missing holidays, birthdays, weddings, funerals etc., because someone thought this job was indispensable and taking a day off would shut the doors to the city. I’m now a boss and do all I can for my guys as I flip a finger to the city.

  9. I responded to the article when it was published. I have some demons, but they do not overpower me. I retired on March 31, 2015. I had a rough time adjusting for about 18 months. When I awoke on April 1st of that year I realized that I was no longer the POLICE, and it stung. Now, not so much. Getting over it, just in time to apply for an investigator job with Adult Protective. Go figure.

  10. 4 years with the U.S. Coast Guard and now 29 years with the LAPD (33 years total LE). I guess I am the OG Salty Dog but still have 6 years to go until retirement. Pension maxs out at 30 years and we have “D.R.O.P.”. Where you retire but continue working in the same job for up to 5 years. This gives you your pension and full pay for the last 5 years. The pension goes into a separate account you can’t touch until you actually leave. I plan on living as long as my great grandfather did (105). When I am actually done, I don’t want to worry about having to find another job as a senior citizen. Don’t give a crap about power, a fear of losing respect, a fear of change, a fear of being weird, or a fear of letting go. Seen many dead babies, teens, fatal car accidents, ect..ect. Never felt the need to cry like a little pansy over it though.

    • Wow, You don’t give a crap about the other cop who does get emotional. Maybe it’s just me but you seem like a dick

      • Mike Horan – agree with you. This guy strikes me as trying way too hard to make himself look like a badass. If you actually are, you don’t have to beat your chest about it.

  11. My health insurance costs in 2017 dollars is $1,700 a month, upon retirement. Insurance with my wife’s employer is currently $1,800 a month. I can retire in June 2019. I am currently 23/25 year retirement. I currently pay $305.00 a month through my department. I will have to work another 20 years minimum to get kids through college. Plus, we need affordable insurance.

  12. I have 39 years LE this September. I’ve worked city, county, state and federal LE. As a woman, I put up with a lot of BS during the early years. What saved me was my height 6-1 and being athletic. I still had to prove myself to others many times. Got passed over for Range Master/Firearms Instructor because I was female. Eventually got the position. Served 30 yrs for the state with 3 different agencies and received full retirement with full medical for me and my hubby at no cost when I retired. Nearly 2 yrs ago I stepped away from enforcement duty and now serve as a non-sworn investigator. I still enjoy doing the job without the enforcement headaches and stress. My department treats me with respect for my experience. Why am I still working? I enjoy the work and the people I work with and I’m building a custom home in a nice neighborhood. I will most likely stay another 6-7 years until my hubby is eligible for retirement. It has been a great ride!

  13. Easy there Sgt not a crybaby. I work for the same department as you and have never cried because of things I have seen or experienced on the job. I don’t feel the need to call officers pansies if they cry over incidents they be experienced on the job though.

  14. I started in 1978. I’m on my 10th agency and 4th state. I joke that on my last day someone will find me in my patrol car, at a stop sign, with my foot on the brake. There are surely demons. This is the most anti-cop sentiment that I’ve experienced since the anti VietNam era. There is less enthusiasm for the career that I have bled for. But I have found a drive, a purpose, that helps me. I’ve been an FTO since the 80’s. I’ve trained a lot of new Cops. They all seemed to have fared well. Maybe I have something to help new cops deal with the issues they will face? There is something to be said, in my opinion, for the “old” ways and integrating some of them into our current world. It’s a lot of work trying to cover your agency and making sure these “kids” get it. It’s a helluva lot of stress. But every time I hand a rook the keys for his/her unit, I get what I have strived for my entire career..a sense that I’ve accomplished something good. It’s the time in my life when I believe I truly have something to offer. Officer safety skills. Nurturing that sixth sense. Sensibility. Ethics and morals. De-escalation vs hands on. And on… and on… I would encourage all you brothers and sisters with the grey hair that you have so earned to make a final stand and deliver your knowledge to the “kids” that are willing to risk their lives in a fucked up anti-Cop world. Be SAFE!

  15. i have 5 yrs left, insurance has always been paid, but when i retire it will cost 350 a month. i think i can deal with that.

  16. I am a retired officer who served over 2 years in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and joined the department upon my return. I was involved in several firefights on the department and shoot some suspects while being shoot myself. This isn’t the most confusing thing I remember from my service!! What i have never understood and can’t logically rationalize is why females on numerous occasions took terrible beatings from males twice their size and then refused to prosecute or take out warrants and even asked us not to arrest them. Some of them died from their wounds and asked us not to hurt the offenders before passing out. We had some locations we answered calls many times after certain suspects had beaten their girlfriend or wife, but the victim wouldn’t do anything or sometimes would and then wouldn’t come to court to testify. I just simply have never been able to understand this and still shake my head when I think about it. Sometimes you wanted these animals to say or do something in your presence so you could arrest them. Just before I left the laws changed so if there was physical evidence visible of abuse we could make an arrest. Should have been done a long time ago.

  17. Funny..Evan after 14 yrs in the retirement world can’t seem to shake that Cop instinct and my guard is always up n stronger than ever….it’s all good…thank you…lol

  18. I agree with the reasons you listed but there is another biggie. As you know, this job is not just a job. It’s a way of life. It defines us. It dictates who we befriend. What we do in our leisure time(if that ever actually existed). It becomes who we are very early in our careers. Throughout the rest of our working lives it becomes our identity. We become comfortable with this identity and the reality is…it’s all we know. I’ve been Patrolman Harris, PFC Harris, Corporal Harris, Sgt. Harris. But now I’m Bob Harris. Who is this person? What is his purpose. What ever his purpose is, it is governed by a completely different set of rules. You are looked at differently by everyone. A new, very unfamiliar experience. In short order you’re cut out of the loop you’ve been involved with for what seems like forever. Many ppl don’t cope well and find themselves working for another law enforcement agency. It’s a difficult transition.

  19. Work for a Tribal Police Dept. We don’t have retirement,received my training from FLETC Artesia and FLETC Georgia and NLETC in KC, Mo. Considered a Federal Officer in the courtroom but that’s it. I don’t get the benefits, but I love where I work and the people I work with. Problem is, there is a running joke that when a Tribal cop retires he’s usually dead within 2 years. Unfortunately, it actually proves true for a lot of guys I knew. I have experienced a lot of horrible things in my career, had a rough patch at my 5 year mark. I was waking up in cold sweats and fighting in my sleep, clearing my house with no memory of it when I woke up. I got help, and got through it.
    I’m in my 16th year now and I have served in several capacities; highway safety (like what highway patrol does only on a reservation), Criminal Investigations, Sgt, Acting Capt, I was tapped for a Chiefs position I turned down. I love the streets, the most miserable time of my career was Acting Capt. I’m just not an office guy, absolutely hated it. Problem is all the fights, foot pursuits, long hours, bad diet, inactivity into explosive action episodes, well I can definitely feel it catching up to me. I’ve been wondering what I’ll do when I “retire”. I’m thinking of training, definitely don’t want a security gig, but it’s been bugging me.
    Seems like all the skills I’ve developed doing presentations, organizing events dealing with people, just seems like a waist of skills to spend sitting around watching the world go by.

  20. Just started my 37th year as a cop. 25 years with Miami PD and 21 of those in homicide. Now the Chief in a much smaller PD in South Fla and I have said, when asked how much longer, that I will stay as long as it’s still fun to wake up and go to work each morning. Not that our jobs are all that much fun, but that I enjoy what I do, especially mentoring the younger troops. I have decided that 40 is my max since one needs to have good health to enjoy retirement. Sure insurance is expensive but when I reach 40 years of service I will coincidentally be eligible for medicare. I guess that makes a big difference in the pocket. Hang in there fellow coppers, but know and prepare yourselves for retirement.

  21. I retired from a small department in NJ after 25 years. Bounced around a couple jobs: a short stint with a large civil comstruction co. and then with an environmental clean up company. I found in both cases thst I had a tough time adjusting. After 25 years of behing honest and having to uphold the highest of integrity, etc… I was used to being lied to and having to deal with it. What I couldn’t stand was having to lie and cheat to keep from being eaten alive in those industries. I also felt that there was a lot of animosity from my co-woorkers because I had a decent pension and have excellent health benefits. So I asked myself what am I good at and have succeeded at for 27 of my 29 adult years? The answer: I found a great retirement gig as a part time deputy at the county courthouse. I’m back with like minded people and still do what I’m accustomed to but on more my terms. No more nights, weekends and holidays!

  22. I retired in July of 2012 after 26 yrs. I loved the job not the internal politics. I worked investigations for 20 of those years and it came a time that seeing what harm can inflict on man affected me to the point of depression. But I loved the thrill of the hunt getting the bad guy and watching him squirm in court as I testified. After 5 years in retirement I still have dreams at night of going back and working. And I can’t over the years the job took a physical toll on my body.
    My advise to the up and coming officers is stay in shape put your family above all, watch one another’s back and seek your senior officers for guidance and when it comes time to retire, leave.

  23. Cancer pushed me out after 31 years. Survived both the career and disease and now teach at the police academy. Great way to slow down, reduce stress and give back to the next generation. I now live vicariously through the stories of my son and daughter. They are both deputies in our county.

  24. I purchased some Military time a while back, so next year I will retire with 30 yeas combined service, but will not get paid insurance. I will still work somewhere and haven’t ruled out staying in LE. I like the job. I might like whatever else I find. Time will tell.

  25. Mounted/k9 Leo
    Will be retiring in Jan ’18 w/29+yrs
    Was a great ride for last 26yrs…worked mounted/k9 for big city…worked 4 yrs in k9 capacity for tsa,that was beginning of the end
    I advise all avoid any police affiliated tsa positions,as a LEO they are the worst to work for.A lot of jealousy w/them because they aren’t sworn or armed…always looking to undermine LEO’s.

  26. I was told by a number of people that I would know when it was time to retire–and the time came. I miss it all a lot, but the body just could not handle it anymore. Fortunately I was in long enough that my retirement is reasonable. Not everyone is that lucky.

  27. I served 40 years! From a young patrol deputy (13 yrs on the streets) to the patrol major over a bureau of almost 700 employees. When I finally retired, I felt liked I’d been kicked in the gut! Kicked out of my family home! Fear of loosing my identity as a cop, change and letting go….you hit the nail on the head. I wonder if I’ll ever get over it. Great article brother!

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