In part two, we got you through retirement. But because law enforcement and most public safety careers allow you to retire while you are still young, you still have a great deal to contribute before you stop working. After 25-30+ years doing law enforcement work (reserve officer, 5-8 years police, 20+ working federal), you have skills that are very much in demand in other fields. Experience in leadership, solving problems, dealing with difficult situations, managing complicated situations, performing a multitude of administrative tasks, and perhaps the most important skill – dealing with a wide variety of people in stressful situations.
You have the skills and experience. All you need to do is figure out how you want to market yourself, and what you want to do to utilize and share those skills. You’ve got the retirement income to support you – so you can do the stuff you enjoy part time, as you want to. You should have started planning for this moment years earlier – so you will now be able to implement your plan.
I knew a guy that was a bomb expert with ATF, ran bomb dogs and did security and site management for large sporting and other important events. The last 5-7 years with the feds he worked his way up, until he was the guy who was in charge of all the bomb dogs at these big events (Super-bowl, World Series, visits by foreign heads of state, etc.). He wasn’t in charge of the whole thing, but one of the key guys involved. When he retired he went to work for Disney – his job was is to oversee security, bomb threat procedures, and prevention measures at their theme parks – as you can imagine, he does very well on the salary he gets.
I worked with another guy that worked for the DEA. During the last few years with the agency, he put himself through law school. Because of that, he was the guy we always turned to when it came time to write out the affidavits for getting a search warrant. He studied for a while and then passed the bar with another year or so before he retired. When he retired, he combined all his law enforcement experience and time on the street with his law degree, and opened a law office – ironically, defending drug dealers. They didn’t have the greatest record of paying their bills, so he got into the bread & butter stuff: DUI’s, civil actions, etc. But he had a very nice post retirement career.
I knew a guy who, after rising to a upper administrative position, retired from his large agency and became chief of police for a small department. After doing that for a few years, he too went to law school and became an attorney. He left law enforcement, but applied his street and administrative experience to represent police officers accused of inappropriate actions. The police officer’s union usually pays for his fees – so no billing problems. He partnered with a couple of other guys that did the same thing – and now the three of them are senior partners in his law firm – the firm all the cops go to when in trouble. With a team of younger lawyers working for him, he only needs to go into work two or three days a week.
I knew a guy working in a medium sized FBI office – he had built up all the local connections during that last several years working, and when he left, he started a private investigative firm. As the best detectives from the local police departments retired, he hired them to work for him. They are still knocking on doors, asking questions, and writing reports, but now they are doing it for him. Because of his background, and the quality of the guys he hires (all top notch guys he knew from the police or other retired FBI or fed guys who have been in the area for years), he can pick and choose the clients he accepts, and charge top rates.
In my own case, since retiring I am doing several things that I enjoy, primarily developing training programs and actually doing teaching. After gaining over 30 years of law enforcement, safety and security experience, I do some training classes for a local security company, teach some disaster response training classes for the local sheriff’s department, and have my own small company where I teach a variety of firearms classes and offer consultation about safety and security issues.
In your mid 50’s, and retired, with a career of law enforcement skills, and possibly some specialized talents that are in great demand – you too should plan on launching that next career. Draw your retirement checks (both the police one of ten years: from your 5-7 years plus the years you bought, and the federal retirement from that career), and then do something for another ten to fifteen years or so in the private sector. Put that retirement money in investment accounts, and live off your private sector salary. Then, as you reach your mid to late 60’s, start to slow down, go to part time, or pull the pin entirely and live off your retirement income and your investments.
Some additional thoughts and considerations.
The path above I believe will give you the best chance for long term success. You could apply with a police department at age 21 without having a degree, and without going through the academy – and you’d be competing against several hundred other similar applicants. Then, once working full time, you’d need to go back and get or complete your degree. At the same time you wouldn’t have the life experience you gain from waiting a couple of years.
You could apply for a federal agency right after you get a bachelor’s degree – and you’d again be competing with a bunch of others (literally thousands) just like you. Spend a few years gaining law enforcement experience, and the pool you are competing in is much smaller (other cops, and those with military experience). Apply for a federal position with experience, and a master’s degree, and the pool just got even smaller.
Every time you have training or experience that applies when others don’t have anything similar, you are making yourself more likely of getting the position you are applying for. Having a degree is critical, and a masters degree essential to get the position and pay that you want to have to be successful.
I don’t specifically mention a family – that can still fit into the plan. Remember that at about age 30 you’ll be making the transition into your life career, the years spent before that will have been doing education, training, and getting experience to get you to the career you want to build your life around. If you get married and even have kids, they will be very young, and you won’t miss them growing up. Although you’ll be starting in your career field, you’ll still have weekends and evenings to spend with your family.
A doctor spends most of their life between age 20 and 30 going to medical school and serving in a residency program to gain the experience they need to be good at healing others. This path is similar – a lot of time preparing for your career, and then enjoying the fruits of your labor in a career you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life.
I remember a guy who started with the sheriff’s department in a large community when he was about 18 or 19 years old. Because he wasn’t 21, he was only allowed to work in the jail for the first few years. He took full advantage of his assignment, talking with those he processed, and oversaw while in custody. He realized he was in an institute of criminal higher education, and took every opportunity to talk with prisoners about why and how they would commit crimes. Every moment he did this gave him fantastic returns later when he went to uniformed street patrol, because he knew almost as much about criminal behavior as did the bad guys he was chasing.
He also took advantage of opportunities to work additional shifts and work overtime when staff shortages occurred. He did this so often it was not uncommon when the overtime pay he received equaled or exceeded his regular pay. As he turned 21, he was soon given the chance to get out of the jail and on the street in uniformed patrol. He made sure his training time was put to the best use, and took advantage of every call as an opportunity to learn more about his job and career.
Once off probation, he requested and was granted an assignment to a very busy are of the city. He bought a small travel trailer, not much more than a bed and small living room. With his sub-station commander’s permission, he parked the trailer behind the substation, with a single extension cord running to the building for electricity. The sink, shower and toilet were disconnected – since those were available in the locker room, located only about 20 feet from his trailer.
He continued volunteering for extra shifts and made sure he was available should someone call in sick or a staff shortage occur. He was careful to balance the hours he worked, so he always had enough time to sleep and recharge between shifts. Once again, the amount of overtime pay he made working several extra hours just about every day was substantial.
His uniforms were supplied, and cleaning provided, by the department. Meals he paid for while on shift were generally discounted due to him being an officer in uniform, or sometimes given free by store owners who appreciated the law enforcement presence, and knew the value of a meal was a lot less than the benefit the deputies being there offered. Although he owned a car, he rarely needed to drive anywhere, so vehicle and transportation costs were practical nothing.
His lifestyle was simple, and very economical. On a rare night when he wasn’t working, a movie, or going out to dinner with some other deputies offered entertainment and enough of a break to re-charge for a time. The checks he was getting allowed a comparably small amount kept in a checking account or some cash in his wallet to pay for his few and minimal expenses, while most of the money he earned was placed into investment accounts. Some of his pay was withdrawn to purchase additional retirement credits.
When he got to about 30 years old, he retired from the department. He had worked there for a bit more than 10 years, and as such, had been vested in their retirement program. The additional retirement credits he purchased, and the amount of his yearly income calculated in his retirement program (significantly augmented by the money he made working all those overtime hours), guaranteed him a retirement income that would be the envy of those with 20 or 30 years of full time service with the department.
The money he had invested in various accounts was not only substantial (with very few living expenses or bills, the vast majority of his paycheck was available for investment account deposit), it had grown quite significantly in his decade of working. The amount in his accounts was well into seven figures (that’s over one million dollars – I believe the actual amount was 1.3 or 1.4 million). Having seen enough of the seedy side of the city where he had worked, he moved to a much smaller city in another state.
This was where I came to know him. A significant monthly retirement check, and a large investment portfolio, he purchased a modest house, a car, and continued to live a modest life style. He soon became bored, and took a job working at the local sheriff’s department, assigned to the jail. He no longer works overtime, and the job gives him an opportunity to stay busy.
When I initially heard his story, I thought him the fool. But soon regretted that I had not been as smart as he. A doctor goes to college, then medical school, then a residency program, and finally, at about the age of 30, can begin to practice medicine, and start to make money as a professional. Both he and the doctor had spent about 10 years of their life working long hours and not having much of a social life or activities outside of their career path.
While the doctor will spent most of the rest of their life actually working in their career field, this deputy at a young age has already completed a significant portion of his lifetime career, and now has many options about what to do, where to go, and how to spend the rest of his eligible working years.
The point of this quick side bar was not to encourage anyone to try and duplicate this deputy’s path. Instead, it is to serve as a reminder that everyone should put serious consideration into planning how and where they want their career path to take them. As a young police officer I didn’t do that, and as a result when young people ask my advice, I don’t want them to do what I did – floating from position to position, not being in control when I wanted to be – I instead want them to learn from my mistakes.
Now this “Career Path in Law Enforcement” is all based on my own personal experience. I really wish I would have followed this path (education, police, more education, federal law enforcement, retirement, post retirement career already set up) – I believe in many ways it would have been a lot better for me. I got hired full time with a police department with no real education, only a few months spent as a reserve officer. Later they sent me through the academy, and paid me while I was going. That can be an option, and a very good one – but don’t forgo the ability to get your bachelor’s degree for the chance to go to the academy. And if you can avoid it, don’t take a full time job until you get your degree.
In my situation I did pretty well for a while, but after being there for several years, I ran up against a potential hurdle in my career, and found myself out of options – because I didn’t have a degree. It was the very worst time to try and take classes, and it was quite a hardship and difficult for me to do so. I did what I had to do – mainly because I didn’t have any other choices or options. I got my degree while working graveyard shifts full time and having a family – it was very difficult, and that’s why I encourage other to do things differently. I was headed toward being a bitter old timer, luckily I can look back and see that – I didn’t realize how close I was getting to it at the time.
I’ve known a lot of guys working the street that had dreams of happiness and success – but ended up in a dead end position within their police department, burned out and working graveyard shift up until they could retire. That was where I was headed, and getting a Bachelor’s degree was the way I was able to get out – if I had the degree sooner, I wouldn’t have been in that position. I learned a lot from that and later, with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree, I had a level of security in my position, and when I retired, these degrees – combined with my experience and training – offered many, many options of where I could go and what I could do.
I knew other guys that followed a similar path as I suggest – they went on to promotions and even upper management in agencies and departments where they worked. I also knew some guys that went federal – using the local department only as a training ground and stepping stone to greater opportunities – and their success is why I suggest following their example.
This is not a blueprint, but only a series of suggestions as to how you can have a successful career in law enforcement, get the best opportunities, the best training, the most pay, minimize the risk and danger, and have the least amount of stress and hardship in your career.
There are a lot of exceptions, and the world is changing, but it still is generally true that the more education you have the more you will make – while money won’t bring happiness, education brings more opportunities in where to work and what career field you can be successful in. Those with advanced degrees are also less likely to be unemployed.
For the greatest chance of lifelong happiness the degree is the key. About 90% of people in the United States have a high school diploma. Somewhere around 30% have a bachelor’s degree. Only about 8% have a masters degree. The degree, and especially the advanced degree, give you options – and options allow you to take advantage of opportunities. All of that gives you a better chance at happiness in your life, and within the law enforcement career you are considering.
Good luck to you.