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Cops: Thinking About Retiring? Read This

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

I’ve been getting a lot of requests from law enforcement professionals who are contemplating retirement and going into the private sector. Many feel burnt out and are looking for a change. Some just feel it’s time to pull the plug. They put in 20+ years of service, and are looking forward to doing something outside of law enforcement but don’t know where to begin.

The biggest mistake I see prospective retirees make is they start planning for life after law enforcement a few months or weeks before retirement. Lack of planning restricts your options for that great private sector job. Of course, we all know some cops who scored the ultimate job after leaving law enforcement with little or no planning, but that’s not the norm.

It takes a lot of planning and research to prepare for a new job. If you worked 20 plus years in law enforcement, the cultural change in the private sector might be overwhelming. I’ve seen many retired LEO’s struggle adapting to their new job. Unless their new job is a role with a courthouse security or quasi-law enforcement, they feel like a fish out of water.  

In my 16 years in the private sector, I have observed something that is fairly predictable. The larger the gap in position title, and areas of responsibility when they were in law enforcement to the position they now hold in the private sector, the harder it is to adapt. For example, a former chief of police or high ranking commander takes an investigator job in the private sector. They will convince themselves and their prospective employer that they would have no problem taking a job scope that’s much lower than what they are used to. They will say, I’m retired, and I can do this job in my sleep. I’m just looking for something to do after retirement, and I will have no problem adapting. I have rarely observed a high ranking law enforcement official being able to adapt comfortably to a lower position. The years of being the head-honcho, running the show, being in the “know,” are memories that run through their heads when a millennial developer gets mad at them for not finding their stolen stapler. I had a former chief of police work for me as an investigator. He was an outstanding investigator and extremely competent in the discipline. He openly told me how difficult it was not to be in the “know.” It drove him nuts to see me and the investigations directors meet on sensitive matters where he wasn’t looped in. He knew it was on a need to know basis, but it just killed him inside not being in the know. The chief eventually went back to law enforcement after several years and is happy as a clam. We still keep in touch, and I appreciated his candidness as many LEO executive leaders will hold their angst inside. Unless they are really good at poker, their “chiefness” will eventually ooze out in some way that brings to light their challenge of not being in charge.

I recently presented to police executives at the FBINAA on life after law enforcement. Many reached out to me afterward; one was a high-level police commander who was the chief’s 2IC. He asked for my advice as he was contemplating retiring. I asked him why, and all of his reasons had nothing to do with him wanting to retire. He said he was the oldest officer in the department but still had many years in him. He also said there were several mid-level police commanders that were nipping at his heels looking to take his position. He wanted to know about the private sector, but his options were limited because he didn’t want to relocate. After about 30 minutes of conversation, I convinced him that the best place for him was in his department. He was at the top of his game: A respected public official, with an impeccable body of work, awesome pay, and benefits, and he loved serving his city. Why give up what seemed like the dream job, because he felt he was getting older and needed to retire? 

I recommend to anyone thinking about retiring to really look at your options and be 100% certain it’s time to retire. If you’re uncertain, and you like what you do, then why leave? Remember the old adage “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

I have more insight on life after law enforcement at

*Update: Please take a look at the comments on this blog as there are many examples from former LEO’s that may help with your retirement planning. Thanks to all of the people providing their insight and advice. Keep the comments coming!

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Excellent article and advice!

- Colin Whittington

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