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Cop Lightning Rods – Down, but not out…

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

In November, 2014 I wrote a guest blog for Pinkerton called: The Corporate Investigations Discipline.  I was asked to give my thoughts on Law Enforcement professionals that wanted to transition to the private sector.

I categorized these transition groups into three buckets:

Law Enforcement Transition Group #1

The first and most common group is comprised of law enforcement officers who are coming up on retirement after putting in 20 to 25 years. They have already completed a full body of work, and are ready to move on. Still relatively young, and not quite ready to retire at some Florida beach house, they are in their prime and desire a new direction in their chosen field. They will probably be receiving a pension, and this subsequent new position will generate additional income.

Many successful corporate security team members are recruited from this contingent, but there are some distinct challenges to those coming from this group. Often, they find it difficult to function within this new hierarchy, one where they now hold complete end-to-end ownership for specific work. They must be able to oversee and accomplish this work individually, as there are fewer layers of responsibility than there were in the governmental hierarchy of rank promotions or pay grades. The buck may start and stop with them, so to speak. Also, many find that they miss the camaraderie with peers that they grew accustomed to in their law enforcement day-to-day work.

Law Enforcement Transition Group #2

This segment is comprised of law enforcement officers who are in the mid-career part of their lives. They are not near retirement, and thus taking a big risk by leaving the security of their current government job and its future benefits. However, they have the burning desire to try something different and may feel that high level skills acquired from experience on major crimes, traffic division, narcotics and SWAT teams are being wasted in law enforcement that is too slow moving for the pace they seek. These individuals often have had to wait for positions to open up in order for advancement in the public sector, and many feel their current assignments are too limited for them to incorporate all their knowledge and skills. These candidates are hungry, motivated and ready for a change.

Law Enforcement Transition Group #3

A very interesting segment, because it is made up of people who entered law enforcement but were unable to meet the requirements or succeed in their public sector roles, they ‘washed out’. On a police force one is initially assigned the duty of being a patrol officer. As a baseline, it takes a certain intellect containing a unique combination of street smarts and common sense and for many, it is just not a good fit. They subsequently get terminated or end up quitting. However, they are often people with unique qualities and skillsets that can be fabulous candidates for private sector corporate investigations and security positions.


In this Cop to Corporate blog, I’d like to focus on LE transition group #3.  My blog in Pinkerton only covered the younger police officers in group #3 that didn’t make the cut.  I didn’t talk about the more senior police officers that for certain reasons have found themselves in a situation that either got them fired, forced to quit, or take an early retirement.

Police work is very dynamic, complex, and demanding.  Police Officers are humans too and sometimes they make mistakes. There are some officers that commit criminal acts in the line of duty or off duty and I’m not talking about those officers.  Cops that break the law should be held accountable for their actions.  We all took an oath to protect and serve and we’re not above the law.

The other night I got pulled over by the state patrol for speeding.  The trooper was very professional and although I thought about it, I didn’t drop the “hey, can you give a break to a former cop?”  He wrote me a ticket, I thanked him and drove off… ten and two on the wheel driving like grandma.  I’ll be going to court to see if I can get a deferral as this was my first traffic ticket. At that moment while pulled over, I thought I had to be going over the limit and I need to be accountable for my actions.  I didn’t make any excuses and just accepted the lapse in judgment by not watching my speed.

There are police officers that screwed up either in a moment of weakness or did something stupid.  Some may have not done anything wrong or something minor and were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Chief needed a lightning rod when the administration is under fire by the press or political pressures.

Since police officers are held to higher standards, some department administrators want to make examples of these officers.  Most police department administrators champion their rank and file.  They believe in due process and follow the collective bargaining agreements between the union and the city.  The problem is many cities have deep pockets for attorney’s and usually hold all the cards.  Officers that are lighting rods usually have to fight an uphill battle and the circumstances are usually detrimental to these officers.

Recently I’ve seen a few police agencies publicly embarrass officers for issues that may seem trivial in any other business that would at least be kept private within the business.  They hold press releases and provide scintillating details of issues that aren’t really newsworthy but the damage is already done for the lightning rod officer.  It’s tantamount to a witch hunt to satisfy political aspirations of administrators at the expense of really good officers who have dedicated their lives to the city, community, and department.

This style of administration is not only detrimental to the police officers, it’s detrimental to the city they protect.  When you have a caustic organization, everybody suffers.

This is where many officers become jaded, disgruntled, and will do only the bare minimum to avoid getting into any situation that may make them the lightning rod.  When I lateraled to work as a police officer in Washington State during one of my first shift briefings our squad lieutenant said “alright, be safe, don’t make any arrests, stay out of trouble, because I have two-years, six-months, and five-days left before I retire and don’t want to mess that up.”  The sad thing was he was serious.

Situations like these is what makes many officers I coach want to quit.  I always caution before they Rage-Quit to think about the circumstances and try to take emotion out of the way.

Now for you lighting rod officers in group #3, you may be down, but you’re not out.  There is life after law enforcement.  The first thing is to regroup and get yourself together.  Whether you seek external counseling, professional help, spiritual guidance or whatever that can get you over the hump, do it.  As difficult the situation may be, do not get caught up in the negativity or what the haters, naysayers, and detractors say.  Remember, you control your destiny.  You control how you feel.  You control if you either get out of bed and take that one step forward or stay in bed throwing a personal pity-party.

My next blog will cover personal branding and how to make yourself marketable in the private sector no matter how dire your current situation may be.  Time heals old wounds.  It may not cure it, but it may soften the pain so you can move on and start living life after law enforcement.

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