Gossip permeated the briefing room. He was retiring tomorrow. After almost four decades, it was finally happening. Some believe he swore he would stay until his ex-wife died because he’d rather grow cold at his desk than give her a dime of his pension. Others said he was just afraid of what happened after he signed off for the last time. Many officers are choosing an alternative to this scenario. They are pursuing a second career. In response, John Eldridge wrote a book helping officers. Just over 100 pages, Second Careers for Street Cops lays out practical advice for those who don’t want to just sit in a rocking chair on their front porch. He formatted the guidelines in his book like an investigation speaking in familiar terms. He begins by sharing his own personal journey.
From one investigation to another
Eldridge spent twenty-six years with the Vancouver (British Columbia) Police Department retiring from Internal Investigations. During his final year, he started thinking about what he wanted to do next. Instead of packing his fishing box, he took on some challenging assignments to pad his skill sets and sharpened his resume. “When I started senior people who retired just retired,” Eldridge says. “Through the 90s until now more and more are trying second careers.” Eldridge’s second career was with WorkSafeBC (the Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia) where he stayed for 11 years. He started as the Manager of Field Investigations, investigating fraud and misrepresentation and then took over as the Manager of Fatal and Serious Injury Investigations, investigating workplace fatalities and serious accidents. He recognized moving on to a second career takes some thought and specific steps. He didn’t find anything out there geared towards law enforcement officers so he created a manual of advice. Included in his advice is planning.
Assess the situation
Eldridge didn’t start thinking about his second career until he was pretty close to the end of his first. “I was totally wrapped up in being the officer in charge of Internal Investigations,” he explains. “I didn’t have time. Well, I should have made time.” Officers tend to focus only on what they are doing within the department. Eldridge recommends they start thinking about what they want to do after when they are within the last 5 to 10 years on the department. Pick a date, he says. Write that date down on a piece of paper and tuck it in your back pocket. You don’t have to tell anyone what the date is and of course you can change it at anytime. Having this timeframe to work with set him up to have a successful transition to a second career he will love. Part of this planning is self reflection. Ask yourself, “What kind of work do I really want to do?” Along with this, an officer should make a realistic assessment of individual circumstances such as family and financial responsibilities. Eldridge calls this the reality check. Part of planning is recognizing the unique skill sets and the true diversity that exists in policing.
Jim Padar didn’t start out to be an officer. In fact, he began as an electrical engineer. But after lay-offs with his big New York company, he began working for Motorola on the brand new City of Chicago 9-1-1 system in 1965. That’s when he got bored and on a lark took the Chicago Police Department exam. When his results came in the mail, he figured why not. 29 years later, he found himself at another cross-road; one that looped back to his beginning. “I wound up at the training division the last 11 years as the commanding engineer of the production studio because of my engineering background,” explains Padar. The city was once again looking to build a new 9-1-1 center, due to open in 1995. Padar used his skills producing multimedia productions, something quite new at the time, and helped secure the funding. Then Padar discovered they were looking for an operations manager and they wanted him. “I made up my mind to retire and moved over to the civilian sector,” he says. He knew that the skills he had learned while with the police department were unique and valuable. “A lot of officers think they are one-pony acts,” Padar says. “I think if you talk to most of them and dig far enough you’ll find that they aren’t. At one point of their life they have been involved in something else. All of these can be dovetailed into second careers after you leave the police department.” Eldridge agrees that officers tend to underestimate the value of a law enforcement career. Like military members believing all they have ever been was a soldier, officers often think all they’ve ever been is a cop. “It’s important for law enforcement officers to know that their law enforcement experience is a great asset.” It’s also a great platform to start building your connections.
Build your network, Padar advises. “I got into a couple professional organizations while I was a police officer,” he says. “You can never underestimate the importance of networking ... especially outside the police world. You have to keep yourself in contact with civilian people, particularly with the people who are in the positions you want to be in. More people are hired for a position through their networking connections than their resume.” Eldridge agrees but he also explains that officers have a tendency to dislike the word "networking". “Police tend to not like anything that is phony,” he explains. “They think of those cheese and greet meetings which can take on an artificial air and cops don’t like that.” Eldridge reminds officers they network all the time. An officer won’t hesitate to ask another officer for advice on any number of things he explains. Expand on that by searching for individuals and organizations that are in your second career field. “Do a little bit of planning as you’re heading into the final stretch of your police career,” Eldridge explains. “Start making contact with the people who are in the industry you want to go into. Go to conferences. Get connections in the industry.” Although many officers go into similar second careers such as security or investigations, many decide they want out of the criminal justice box.
Outside the box
Like Eldridge, Neil Thompson served with the Vancouver (BC) Police Department. With almost 27 years under his belt, he decided to go see the department’s retirement representative. What he found there made him start thinking about moving on. Due to the department’s pension system, Thompson learned he wasn’t working for as much as he thought. “I found out that I was working for about $300 (more) a month,” he states. “I can go stand on a corner with a hat in my hand and make that.” He decided to retire. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with criminal justice or the police department,” Thompson explains. “I just had enough of it. That was it. I wanted something different.” His wife was a realtor and he began helping her using some of the training he gained while still with the police department. “I used Corel Draw with the police department,” Thompson says. With this applicable knowledge, he started doing his wife’s ads. In 1999, he figured he might as well get his license, too. He and his wife were partners for 15 years before she retired. “If someone would have told me 20 years ago, ‘You’re going to be a realtor,’ I would have said you’re crazy.” Although Thompson didn’t anticipate his police training helping him in his second career, Eldridge recommends officers think about this prior to leaving the department. He also advises officers remain flexible.
Tracey Miiller joined the Phoenix (Ariz.) Police Department right out of college. During her 21 years, she did just a little bit of everything but her main choice was patrol. “That’s my love,” she says. “I’m a beat cop and I love being out on the street.” She spent her last four years as a patrol lieutenant. During this time, she got a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and taught as an adjunct at Rio Salado Community College. “I always knew I wanted to be a 20-year officer,” Miiller says. “I wasn’t going to be like the generation ahead of us, the Boomers, 32 years and drop.” Because of this, on and off throughout her first career, Miiller was thinking about her second. “I probably didn’t look at anything seriously until my 19th or 20th year,” she says. “It was always in the back of my mind but I didn’t act on it.” She knew she loved working out, physical fitness and teaching so she knew she wanted to become a personal trainer. What she didn’t know was that things wouldn’t be as clear as she originally thought.
Two weeks after retirement, she began conventional classes. “My original mindset is I didn’t want to have that break,” she explains. “I didn’t want to get complacent. I had been going going going for 20 years.” But somewhere during her second career plan she realized she was not enjoying herself. “Every time I studied or had to go to class, I didn’t want to go,” she said. “I wasn’t having fun.” She stopped going to class and decided to just enjoy her retirement for a while. At least for a year. “Giving myself that break is what I needed to recharge my batteries, think about things and just enjoy retirement,” Miiller explains. “But now I’m getting that bug.” She’s ready to start again but in a different way. “I don’t think I’ll go back to school,” she says. “You can get the personal trainer certificate on your own.” She is currently working with her personal trainer on some fitness videos and in the next couple of months will start working on her certificate. “I needed that break,” she says. “It was a good eye-opening experience.” She also found that leaving the badge behind was more difficult than she imagined.
Taking off the police hat
Eldridge mentions transitioning from the police world can be tough. “When I went into my new organization I sensed it was not a police organization,” Eldridge says. “They didn’t appreciate the police hat on, square-jawed look. I quickly learned that I had to adapt to my new situation.” He recommends an individual think about their new organization and what image they want from a representative. The most difficult thing about Padar’s transition was the sudden realization he was no longer a cop. “Here I was a manager in a large facility and I had to ask my secretary to run a plate because he was a police officer,” Padar explains. “You take an awful lot of things for granted. There is an awful lot of power and responsibility granted to you as an officer of the law. To have that cut off, like a switch at the end of the day is hard. I missed it.” Miiller admits taking off the police hat has been challenging. “Being in a supervisory position is very authoritarian,” she says. “You’re making decisions for people’s lives. That’s a big deal.” Miiller also kept her connections with the police department. “I stayed on as a volunteer because I wanted to work in employment services and the academy for PT tests,” she explains. “I’m helping some of the females pass the PT test. It keeps me in the loop a little bit.” When she gets her certificate she plans on turning back to her former department. “For me, I think it would be wise to grab my friends and former colleagues and ask if they will be my guinea pigs when I’m up and running,” Miiller says. “That would be a good avenue to start at in the beginning and grow from there.”
As an officer looking towards a second career, Eldridge’s book offers a lot of practical advice. Padar recommends an officer ask, “While you were a police officer what did you do? There are a number of specialties you can accrue. You’re not just a cop. You’re a cop with special talents.” Miiller agrees, but reinforces the idea of dreaming big. “Just try it,” she says “If you think you want to do something, go and try it. Give yourself the opportunity to fail at it. Give yourself the opportunity to succeed at it. There is no pain in trying. Don’t ever say what if. Just do it.”
It’s definitely a better alternative to dying at your desk.