June 22, 2024

Revisiting our “Chapter 2” publication five years later


PERF members,

Almost every week I speak with some of you about life after a career as a police executive. In many professions, that conversation would inevitably turn to hobbies, travel, and other aspects of a traditional retirement. But many of the people who call me have worked their entire lives, are not burnt out, and want to continue to make a difference. They want to remain relevant and continue working to improve the world. But the transition from a role as a police leader to the next phase of life can be daunting. As Chuck Ramsey told an SMIP class in Boston this week, “We know how to accelerate from 0 to 100, but not how to go from 100 to 0.”

Five years ago, PERF published Chapter 2: How Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Are Finding Meaning and Purpose In the Next Stage of Their Careers to help police leaders figure out what happens next. But I still hear a lot of those anxiety-filled questions, so in today’s column I’m going to reprint part of the introduction to Chapter 2 to entice you to read (or reread) the full publication. I’ve had some people tell me that they will read Chapter 2 when they leave their job. I encourage you to read it earlier in your career, so you have time to develop a plan and explore your options. Read Chapter 2 during Chapter 1!

This book started out as a guide to “retirement” in policing.

Many former police chiefs are happily retired, after decades of service in high-stress jobs in which they were essentially on-call 24/7.

At the same time, many other “retired” police chiefs are not really retired; they’re busy working full-time or part-time as consultants, teaching at universities, running security operations for major corporations, or pursuing other interests.

So we thought we should highlight the success stories of PERF members who have figured out how to continue their working life and do interesting things after leaving their law enforcement agencies. And this book does that.

But along the way, we also realized that we were thinking too small, because the entire concept of retirement is changing in many professions – and especially in policing. The traditional policing model – offering a good pension in exchange for 30 years of loyal service to a single police department – is becoming an historical artifact. It’s completely out of touch with current private-sector employment practices.

And the problem is that the old police model is no longer attractive to some young people, who simply cannot imagine themselves working in the same job all their lives.

So we reframed this book more broadly, as a career guide for the policing profession. This book is largely about providing advice to police executives who are within sight of a full retirement or partial retirement, but it’s also about a new way of thinking about a career in policing.

In short, we found that most of the advice we received for police chiefs contemplating retirement is also good advice for those who are starting their careers in policing. We received tips like:

  • Start thinking early about your long-term career goals.
  • Pursue aspects of your work that interest you.
  • Seek a wide range of assignments.
  • Network all the time.
  • And have a plan.

So this book is intended for everyone in the policing profession, not just experienced chiefs. Our goal is to get people to see their career in stages, and realize their full potential. . . . 

. . . PERF had never done any research or projects about what “retirement” means in policing, so I never felt I could provide much help or advice about it.

However, we have long known a few things:

Retirement in policing is different than in other professions. Generations ago, people became police officers in their twenties, and they expected to retire 30 years later. In fact, police pension programs were built around this 30-year cycle.

But life expectancy is longer today. Statistically, police chiefs retiring in their fifties today will likely live into their eighties, and many of them don’t want to fully retire to a life of leisure. They feel they have another 15 years or more to work and be productive.

In policing and in other professions, most people want to stay active in retirement. In talking with many of you who have left a police agency and are looking for new work, you use words like “making a difference” and “finding meaning” to describe what you’re looking for. You tell me you want to remain relevant.

This is not unusual. As long ago as 2004, a team of researchers writing in the Harvard Business Review noted that “people tend to identify strongly with their work, their disciplines, and their careers. Many wish to learn, grow, try new things, and be productive indefinitely . . . .” These feelings can be especially strong in policing, where officers at all ranks talk about the camaraderie and sense of purpose that they do not see in other professions.

Of course, some law enforcement executives retire and look forward to a traditional retirement – taking time to read, travel, play golf, and spend more time with their family. And no question, that’s a great option, especially considering the long hours and high stress of a career in policing. For some, a nice long relaxing retirement is just what they want and need.

But for those of you who want to continue and take your career to the next level after you leave a police agency, this book is for you. Until now, there hasn’t been a playbook on how to do this. Many police chiefs have told us they were largely unprepared for the next phase of their life. You’ve been so busy with your current job and helping others, you’ve spent little or no time preparing for this next phase of your life. You worked your way up the police ladder and in many cases haven’t needed a resume or job interviews.

This book provides advice, in the words of police executives who have been through it.

Looking at the issue with a wider lens, this book is not just about police chiefs who “retire” from a police department at age 55 and are looking for new work to do – what we call their “Chapter 2.”

The advice and tips in this book are also applicable to the young sergeants, lieutenants, and captains who are in the early or middle stages of their careers and who are not necessarily planning to stay in a police department for the rest of their lives.

We know that young people today are much more open to the idea of having multiple careers, not to mention multiple employers in their lives.

The old model of joining a police department at age 22 and staying with it for 30 years is not attractive to a lot of young people.

The good news is that there are options – both for the chief who leaves a department and for the 33-year-old lieutenant who is open to a change in employment.

I encourage you all to read the full publication and set aside some time for career planning this summer. I’m always available for those calls about what’s next, but I think you’ll find that Chapter 2 will answer many of your questions.

Stay cool this weekend!