Giving Up the Badge by Bruce Robert Coffin

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 conducting briefings with retired cops who have moved into non-law enforcement careers, and holding training sessions put on by state retirement employees. And the financial reality is this, unless you worked a ridiculous amount of overtime – i.e., 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 experienced 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 I felt obsolete, unneeded. No longer was my phone ringing twenty-four hours a day 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.

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, working out, golfing, hiking, fishing, writing. 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 had hopped off the big blue bus and was no longer sure who I was. My purpose in life, once so clear, had become a mystery. And to think that I retired of my own volition. What about those who don’t? Imagine being forced out of your police family, as many cops are, 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 period, 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.

Like most first responders, cops tend to be their own worst enemies. We are so used to assisting those in need that we are often the last to seek help from others. Most departments have employee assistance programs, critical incident debriefings, 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 fortunate ones who found something I love to do after I left law enforcement. Unfortunately, there are too many still looking.

Have you experienced something similar? Do you know others who have?

37 thoughts on “Giving Up the Badge by Bruce Robert Coffin

  1. I believe you hit on the key to the transition: don’t shut out friends and family who care and find something else that gives you purpose. It is a difficult transition. I find I miss law enforcement the most when something significant occurs and I wish I could play a bigger role in resolving the incident. I suck at being a bystander–it’s a trait you and I will take to the grave, brother.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. No one told us of the quiet grief we might feel. Some lingers, even now, all these years later. There are emotional components to many stages and experiences related to our profession that have not been openly and broadly discussed. Thank you, Bruce, for shining some light on it. Great piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. So very true and well said Bruce. I find myself lying to most when they ask how retirement is. “It’s great” I say with a fake smile. Parts of it are- No Sgt telling you where you have to be, no Roll Calls to make, no listening to complaint after complaint, no mandatory OT, mountains of reports due, or shifts extended, etc. Best part is that I’m my own boss now. However, when that door closes, it slams shut. The agency you gave over half of your life to, could care less about you. You start to realize that you were just a number to them. You are totally on the outside looking for. That big Blue family you belonged to, just got really small. It’s a tough transition to civilian life. I hope agencies start helping with the mental transition to retirement. Thanks for bringing this to light.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Giving up the badge is extremely difficult. When the badge is taken from you (No fault of your own)it is just as difficult.In the 30th year of working in the career I so loved, I was terminated due to a work related injury that left me with cognitive deficits and vision loss. Due to these injuries I was unable to perform my duties and was not suitable for reassignment. Termination became their only desired option.

    The real difficulty came when I was denied disability. You see, when you enter State employment you no longer pay into Social Security. The longer you work the fewer quarters you have in the SS System disqualifying you from didability payments.State Retirement Disability concludes you do not meet their criteria, you get nothing.

    Even seven medical providers cannot even the playing field The only options left are to return to the work force or fight against the system that promises to take care of you. In the first option is a sedentary position and the loss of identity and purpose. In the latter you are left in a legal battle, with little compassion and adversity against the very system of fairness and equity you would have given your life for.

    Thank you Bruce for the thought provoking reality outside of the exceptional Byron novels.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. True words, Bruce. It’s been 13 years since I carried a badge for a living, and I still miss it. I especially miss the people I worked with and the sense of doing something with great meaning and purpose. That was the hardest part of the transition, as you so eloquently wrote. For three decades, I looked forward to going to work, knowing I was making a difference, that today I might be called upon to save a life, remove a murderer from society, or to touch another human being in a way that changes his or her life. Nevertheless, when I left, I knew it was time. I had done everything (and more) than I ever dreamed possible in a career. I’m lucky that I left without too many scars (physical and emotional/psychological) and receive a nice check for my police and army service every month without having to do a darn thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for sharing this, Bruce. Some of my friends who are former law enforcement have shared similar sentiments, one even refuses to watch movies or TV shows about cops because it’s too difficult to bear.

    I’ve never been a cop, but the part that resonates with me is the sense of no longer having that purpose in life. There was a time in my career when I was much more directly engaged in crisis moments in people’s lives. That work was often difficult, but also hugely rewarding. Leaving that was a complicated transition that I hadn’t fully anticipated. It was humbling, and a bit disconcerting, to have to search for a new purpose. What was my value in life? What is a man worth? These are big, existential questions. I think you captured this beautifully.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great article. Started in Law Enforcement as a Deputy Sheriff in 1989 and ended my Law Enforcement career as a Maine Game Warden in June of 2017. Most of my career was as a K-9 handler and in the middle of it all. Several weeks in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina doing cadaver recovery. Most of my career was adrenaline rush after adrenaline rush. Went out after being thrown from my snowmobile while investigating a burglary. Failed surgery on my left shoulder with severe nerve damage in shoulder and neck. Couldn’t believe I couldn’t come back. Went back for short time but realized I was a risk after re injuring neck and shoulder. What I would do to go back. Still doesn’t seem real. I still see myself on the North Woods Law show re-runs. My kids are in Law Enforcement and I wish I was right there beside them working.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post, Bruce. Nothing is more powerful than the truth coming from someone with experience behind their words, and you’ve said some things that can’t be said enough. Praying that this finds its way to as many who need to see this as possible.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Well said, the struggle gets less as the time goes on but hardly a day passes that I don’t think about who I “was”. The job was part of me and now I need to find a way to let it go and fill the void. Better yet find a way to be something without the badge. I often said to new officers to remember that it is not the badge but the person behind it, I guess it is time to practice what I preached.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The same thing can be said about leaving the military. It can be a tremendous adjustment because it fills all areas of your life. When my husband and I left the Navy, he was wise enough to remind me that we were going on to the next chapter of our lives. Thank you, Bruce, for reaching out to others living the force.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Best thing that ever happened to me was having surgery that kept me out of work for the better part of a year. I was able to see what I have been missing the last couple of decades. when i went back to work I had a different outlook on a lot of stuff. I realized I was needed but not “necessary” for the agency to run, and it made me feel good to know I had trained the guys under me sufficiently so that they could do my job in my place.
    I mean I have a COMPLETELY different outlook on life and work now. I can’t wait to retire and get that back.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think everyone should be required to have major surgery about 6-8 years prior to retirement so they can get a glimpse of what life outside the job is like. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Bruce… your message is well said. We, all of us in blue do a lousy job caring for each other. Why is the serious emotion of retirement such a mystery? Why is stress, adversity and trauma related to our profession a silent issue? We must better understand these and other job related issues that surround this profession we all love? Time for a reality check. Simple… we care for others and are too focused, strong and close minded to pay attention to our needs. It’s time administrators take the lead on this and bring it to the table. Take it from a person who has tried… it falls on deaf ears!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Mr. Coffin,
    Thank you for writing about this. As much as I may have complained or griped about it when I was working, I truly loved my job. I served proudly and 29 years flew by. Before I knew it I was the “old man”. Overall, despite my gripes, it was pretty great until I got injured at work which reluctantly forced my retirement. Initially, I embraced it believing I earned my break from it all. But everything you say is so true. The reality is that leaving our line of work is unlike most others. It can take a real toll on you that I didnt expect. Getting beyond the adjustment takes time, and it would be great if there was some form of preparation for this part of it.
    Others who have added their comments to your article have also highlighted additional experiences which I find so true. I am grateful for your article and your readers comments.
    Warm regards,
    Doug Scott

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow, Bruce, I had no idea. I would have bet you’d be last to feel without a purpose because of all your side gigs/interests. But I totally get it now, from your perspective as a cop, the work is so intense and a real family, and of course nothing else would quite fir the bill after that. I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better now and your writing never suffered a bit! I’m passing this along to my nephew who is going into law enforcement 💙👮🏻‍♂️ Thank you for your many years of service Bruce. Portland was lucky to have you. 💙

    Liked by 1 person

  15. So well articulated. No one really prepares you for retirement; however retiring from law enforcement has so many additional factors. As we approach the second year of our LEOs retirement there are so many adjustments which are still a work in progress. So grateful to have our LEO retired but you cannot erase all that he did, saw and had to process in that thirty years of service. The transition is real and thank you for starting this discussion. It is a discussion for the individual, the spouses and the families to engage because it is important and life changing.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I wish I would have had the resources available for me to prepare myself. With 24 year in, I retired and felt all the same emotions. It got the best of me and I returned to law enforcement. In May of this year I made 31 years on the job. I don’t regret my decision, but I am starting to consider life after law enforcement again. I will need the support of family and friends, I am certain. Thank you for the article.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s