Life After Law Enforcement: Career and Retirement Options

Those who work in state and local law enforcement start their careers with optimism and a drive to make our communities a safer place. With these honorable goals on the frontline, moving on from the job can be a difficult transition – but a necessary one.

In addition to serving our communities, we must always be thinking of how we support our families, which means we can’t lose sight of what we plan to do after the job. In this post, I’ll discuss various career and retirement options, so you can move forward with your life.

Planning Your Law Enforcement Career

Planning for life after law enforcement starts with planning your entire career from the beginning.

As soon as you complete training and your first year on probation as a rookie, you should start considering the various units within your department and weigh the different directions you can take. See what grabs your interest, what excites you and, most importantly, what makes you happy. As Mark Twain once said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Do your due diligence. Understand all the requirements, training and certifications, the work schedule and the commitment that is required for each career track. Make sure whatever you choose you are being realistic about yourself, your capabilities, the impact on your family and the impact on your future.

#1 Choose a Career Track

There are usually several career tracks one can make in state and local law enforcement, including:

  • Patrol
  • Supervisory/Management
  • Investigative
  • Specialty

Don’t be shortsighted when making your choice. Think about how the track you wish to follow can not only help your future in the department but also your future after you retire, especially if you are contemplating a second career.

#2 Plan Ahead for Retirement

Planning is the key when choosing a career track. And while your retirement may be 25 to 30 years away, it’s never too early to think about life post-job.

Speak to the senior members of the units you are interested in. Make a list of questions to ask them. If there are members about to retire from these units, speak to them, too.

What are they planning to do after they retire? Ask if members who retired from this unit have entered second careers and, if so, what fields?

Check the want ads for careers seeking retired law enforcement. See what’s available and what skill sets they are looking for. Think about the evolution of law enforcement, what changes there may be in policing and investigations in the future. Stay current on these topics.

#3 Seek Training and Certifications

Once you decide what track you wish to take or what unit you wish to become a member of, make yourself an attractive candidate for that assignment.

In House Training

A Supervisory/Management track typically requires passing civil service and promotion exams. You must put the time and effort into studying and preparing for all aspects of these exams in order to be promoted to a higher-level management role in your department.

For other units, including the specialty units, understand the skill sets and certifications that these units are looking for.

Seek out the right training and certifications. If your agency offers you the opportunity to get these trainings and certifications in-house, do so. Take advantage of all in-house training, certifications and licenses your agency offers.

Free Training

If your agency doesn’t offer the trainings and certifications you require, do some research and try to identify where you can obtain these things free of charge.

There are plenty of free law enforcement training courses available. Search the internet for training sponsored by various agencies, including:

  • US Department of Justice (US DOJ) National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)
  • National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC)
  • US Department of Homeland Security (US DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute (EMI)
  • National Fire Academy (NFA)

In most cases, these trainings are totally free, and all that is required is that your agency gives you permission to go on agency time. If your agency bulks at this, and you are inclined to use your own vacation time, do so with the support of your family.

Other Training Options

If you can’t find it for free, I know firsthand that there is always some agency or private company providing what you are looking for, for a fee. Do the research, find what you are looking for and make an official request for your agency to spring for it. If they say no, now you must decide on whether you have the time, money and support of your family to obtain this training on your own.

To note, all of the expenses for these job-related trainings are typically tax-deductible.

#4 Join Professional Associations

Next, look for professional associations related to the law enforcement discipline you are looking to be a part of.

Join these associations – the fees are tax-deductible, and they offer training conferences with great networking opportunities and discipline-specific certifications.

Also, for additional professional associations, check out LinkedIn. There are numerous professional law enforcement associations for various law enforcement disciplines on LinkedIn. These are free to join and allow you to stay current with what’s happening in your field.

#5 Build Your Resume and Apply for the Assignment

Build that resume up. When you have all your ducks in a row and you feel you did all you can do to make yourself an attractive candidate for the position, apply for the assignment.

If initially you don’t get what you’re looking for, don’t give up. Find out where you were deficient and take corrective action, then go for it again.

Once you get what you’re looking for, strive to be the best at what you do and never stop seeking to improve yourself. Always seek continued education in your field. If you have certifications, you will be mandated to do this anyway in order to keep your certifications.

Ready for Retirement

If you are looking to start a second career after you retire, you have set yourself up nicely by following the steps above. Between your training, certifications, licenses and field experiences, you will be highly marketable post-retirement.

If your plan is to do your time, retire with your pension and never work again, that’s a great option, too.

Regardless of the choices you make in your law enforcement career and your post-retirement plans, stay safe and healthy – and enjoy that well-earned retirement.

The first rule of law enforcement is to go home after your shift. The first rule of retirees is to live longer than you were on the job and collect every penny of your pension – and then some. Good luck and be safe.

Ed Wallace is a retired First Grade Detective from the NYPD, certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst and senior instructor and lead course developer at Louisiana State University.

As a Software Consultant at CrimeCenter, Ed works directly with law enforcement to assist in the training and implementation of CrimeCenter Software. Connect with Ed on LinkedIn.

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