Retirement Blues

Here is guest blogger retired police sergeant and novelist Michael A. Black writing about police retirement.

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Retirement Blues

By

Michael A. Black

When I took my psychological exam and the psychologist asked me why I wanted to become a police officer, I told him the truth: I liked helping people. Of course, there were a lot of perks that went along with that… Good pay, high job security, excitement, and of course, early retirement options…

Early retirement was something a lot of guys talked about. “Do twenty years and you can retire and collect your pension when you hit fifty.” Back then fifty seemed a long way off, but twenty years certainly seemed doable.

Sgt. Black Receiving the Cook County Medal of Merit

Sgt. Black Receiving the Cook County Medal of Merit

I came on the job and loved it. I didn’t think much about retirement until one of the sergeants I worked with decided to pull the pin. I liked and respected the man. We had a party for him, and after eating the cake and wishing him well, we all shook hands with the promise to keep in touch. We didn’t. He came by the station a few years later when another friend of ours retired and I was shocked how badly old sarge had aged. There were so many new people that didn’t know him he seemed like an outsider.

As we watched him go, one of my buddies said, “Once you walk out that door for the last time, it’s like you were never here.” That officer ended up taking his own life on the eve of his retirement.

I began to think about retirement that day, and what my life would be like after I also walked out that door.

As my twenty year mark approached, I briefly considered retiring, but I didn’t have the age and pushed all thoughts of retirement onto the back burner. I was a sergeant and able to do many different assignments: patrol supervisor, team leader on the SWAT team, heading up a plainclothes unit, major crime investigations… Why think about retirement? I had the best job in the world.

Still, I’d always dreamed of being a writer. I’d been published in both fiction and nonfiction and toyed with the idea of launching a writing career as I inexorably moved closer to going out that door for the last time.

I volunteered for a brutal relief shift ostensibly so I could go back to school to get my masters. I’d majored in English as an undergrad. I figured that I could perhaps do some teaching after I retired. I’ve always believed in hedging my bets.

I finished grad school, kept right on publishing stuff, and passed my thirty year mark.pswa-2016_sdcc-045

“When you going to retire?” one of my buddies asked me. I’d gone through several more incarnations including a stint in administration, which I hated. When I transferred back to the street as a patrol supervisor it was like going home again. I got my street legs back and recovered my love of the job.

desert-falcons-cBut still, retirement loomed. I’d declared my intention to pull the pin, but ended up extending my time as the date approached. I did another year. Like I said, I’d gotten my street legs back, I’d honed my squad into a finely tuned machine; I was kicking down doors; I was breaking up bar fights; I was chasing armed robbers; I was at the top of my game.

In other words, it was time to go.

It was finally my turn to stand up in front of the group, cut the retirement cake, shake hands, and walk out that door. Another retired officer slapped me on the back. “You’ll miss some of the players,” he said, “but you won’t miss the circus.”

He was wrong. I miss it all. Every time I hear the wail of a distant siren it brings me back to the old days.

Nothing lasts forever, and staying too long only results in disaster. In Joseph Wambaugh’s novel, Hollywood Station, they end up carrying the old sergeant, known as the Oracle, out on a stretcher.

I continue to hone my writing skills and now have 28 books to my name, and over 100 articles and short stories. I also teach writing courses at a junior college. It’s fulfilling, in its own way, but it ain’t police work.

As a retired officer, I’m still entitled to carry a concealed weapon. I have to go back to qualify on the range once a year. Last July I went in to do so and was introduced to a couple new officers who were about to start the academy. They looked so young…

If they would have asked me for advice, I probably would have said, “Stay safe, enjoy the ride, and remember to leave when you’re at the top of your game.”

Afraid to Retire From Police Work?

A friend of mine is getting ready to retire from the police department. He’s been a police officer for almost thirty years and wonders what retirement will be like. Many thoughts are going through his mind. Should I get another job? What will life be like at home? Should we move to a smaller city? He’s afraid he’ll miss the friendships, the policing challenges, and the occasional adrenalin hit from a hot call. Police work gets in your blood and it can be hard to leave when the time comes.

It’s true there’s a lot to sort out as you approach retirement from policing. But here’s the good part: you get to keep the friendships without the police bureaucracy. Your police friends will retire some day too and it’s easy to stay in touch these days. Lots of police organizations have retirement groups that help you stay connected. Join, even if the last thing you want is to stay connected to your police department and you don’t think you’ll go to the lunches or meetings very much. The benefit of joining is a newsletter or contact list from the retirement group that will keep you up to date and connected as much as you want to be.

A lot of us have found, once we retired, that policing was a big chunk of our life, but it wasn’t our whole life. Yes, we identified as being a police officer but as time went by we found other ways to define our lives. Retirement brings many new possibilities and ways of seeing the world. Think of it as a new stage in life, a new start. As a police officer you faced fear. This is a new kind of fear but once you make the leap to retirement you might just findIMG_1203 it’s the best time of your life.

John Eldridge

Retired police officer (that’s me with my dog on a retired police morning)

Author of Second Careers for Street Cops