The Impossible Transition

This blog was originally written as “Giving Up The Badge” for the Murder-Books Blog, another site to which I contribute. Given the huge response from readers I’ve decided to repost in order to share with the Maine Crime Writer audience. Thanks for reading.

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Retiring from police work was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Quite a statement, right? But it’s true. Ask any cop who has left the job after twenty or thirty years in search of a “normal” life and they will likely tell you that it was much harder than they ever imagined.

Most departments try to prepare officers for the financial realities of retirement by holding briefings with retired cops who have moved into non-law enforcement careers, and training sessions put on by state retirement employees. And the financial reality is this, unless you worked a ridiculous amount of overtime, ie spent the last several decades away from your family, you’re going to need a job, most likely one that includes benefits like health care coverage. But financial realities aside, the real challenge in retiring from law enforcement is psychological, and on that point, in my opinion, we do a pretty poor job preparing officers.
I have discussed this very issue with enough retired cops to know that it is a real problem. They all wish they had been better prepared for the mental adjustment.

I had never had any issues with depression, suddenly I found myself floundering, on the outside looking in. Retirement wasn’t what I had envisioned. Oh, I had plenty of free time. That wasn’t a problem. The problem was that I felt obsolete, unneeded. No longer was my phone ringing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with calls from someone who needed me to supervise a case, put out a fire, give advice or guidance. No longer did have to crawl out of bed each night and drive to Portland half-awake to start a new investigation. No one was calling. Those things I retired to get away from were the very things I missed. I began to wonder if maybe I’d made a grave mistake.

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My life became a roller coaster of emotion. The good days were full of all the things I enjoyed, spending time with my wife and family, hiking, fishing, writing, woodworking. The bad days, usually accompanied by foul weather, I often found it hard to even get out of bed. At first I told myself that I was just catching up on lost sleep. It was okay to sleep-in, I’d earned it. But the reality was I felt like I no longer mattered. My police family had moved on without me. I was no longer sure who I was. My purpose in life, once so clear, had become a mystery. And to think I retired of my own volition. What about those who don’t? Imagine being forced out of your police family due to a mental or physical impediment.

I am lucky that I had the support of friends and family to get me through the most difficult time, which in my case was the first twelve to eighteen months. I try and reach out to fellow officers as they enter into their own retirement, giving them a heads-up about the feelings they may experience as they transition from their former life to the new. My purpose in reaching out is to lend an ear, and to validate what they may end up feeling. I tell them that there is life after police work, they just have to keep busy until the transition occurs.

As cops, we tend to be our own worst enemies. So programmed to provide help to those in need, we are often the last to seek help from others. Most departments have employee assistance programs and peer support groups for active members. Perhaps the time has come for police departments to focus on those preparing to retire too. I am one of the lucky ones who found something I love to do after leaving the law enforcement profession. Sadly, there are many still searching.

Have you experienced something similar? Do you know someone who has?

About Bruce Robert Coffin

Bruce is a retired detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine's largest city. Bruce also spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, where he earned the Director's Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive. He is the bestselling author of the Detective Byron Mystery Series from HarperCollins. His short stories appear in a number of anthologies including The Best American Mystery Stories 2016. Bruce lives and writes in Maine.
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4 Responses to The Impossible Transition

  1. Gram says:

    It’s almost the same with those in the medical field, and possibly in teaching too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Liz Milliron says:

    My husband spent several years being unexplainably cranky after he retired from the Army (20+ years of service).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. After thirty-five years carrying a badge it took me five years to stop wearing a watch and seven to stop eating donuts (for real!). 😜 Otherwise it was not so bad. My advice (which I often give freely and unsolicited) is for all public employees to start a small payroll deduction into their savings account as early in their careers as they can and then forget about it. Half pay (and the cost of spousal health insurance) can be a shocker. It also helps to have someone to slap your shoulder as a reminder when you start to turn the car around on meeting an ambulance traveling “code three”. 🚑

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Charlene Fox Clemons says:

    Good advice. As someone who retired early and unexpectedly, I can relate. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from my former boss who had retired six years earlier and that was to stop wearing a watch. I did that and it helped me make my own schedule without wondering if I needed to be back at work. On another note, Bruce, I see a character here for you to include in one of your books.

    Liked by 1 person

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