Surviving a Lay Off as a Police Officer
In these turbulent and troublesome economic times, the possibility of being laid off or downsized is a concern for many police officers. Currently, I am about to be laid off for the second time since 2010. Having been through this excruciating and painful ordeal once before, I thought I’d share some tips on how to deal with being laid off, and what to expect if/when it should happen to you.
Many of us have heard of the stages of grief, which are most closely associated with a person suffering from a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one. These stages apply to losing your job as well. Pioneered by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, the 5 stages of grief outline the emotional stages one is likely to experience when faced with devastating news. These stages do not necessarily occur in any prescribed order, nor does every individual experience all five. When told of my second lay off, I skipped the first stage and went directly to the second stage… but we’ll get to that later.
Stage I: Denial
“This can’t be happening!” “There must be some mistake!” These are common thoughts in the first stage of grief. Depending on your seniority, you may have never expected nor even dreamed that there was a possibility you could be laid off. One day, you’re cruising along happily in your career, the next day you’re being asked to turn in your gun and badge. For many of us, police work has been our lifelong dream, and now it is being stripped away. It can have a numbing effect, and when I was first told I was in shock. “How can something I worked so hard for be taken away so quickly?” These are completely normal reactions.
Stage II: Anger
Yes, I skipped directly to the anger stage the second time I was told I’d be laid off. It’s easy to become angry; after all, you risk your life every day, you have to deal with man’s inhumanity to man, you have to work weekends and holidays and rotating shifts for an ever-decreasing paycheck, and this is the thanks you get? Unfortunately, it is. It’s OK to be angry, most likely you did not deserve this. Along with anger comes stress, and stress usually leads to more anger when other obstacles reveal themselves. DO NOT TAKE YOUR ANGER OUT ON YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS! This is a hard one; most of them will not understand what you are going through unless they have been a cop. They will not understand that being a cop becomes a part of your identity, and now you feel like a hole has been torn out of your chest. For me, I got the angriest at the constant deluge of “Keep your head up” and “Things will get better”.
Stage III: Bargaining
“Maybe they won’t get to me”, “Maybe if I write a lot of tickets the city will have enough revenue to keep me”, “Maybe some Obama-money will save our department”… The bargaining stage was the shortest stage for me; I wasn’t naïve enough to think that any of the above could actually happen, even though a small percentage of me wished it would. Remember, it’s ok to hope for the best, but always plan for the worst.
Stage IV: Depression
This can be the hardest stage for a laid off cop to go through. We’re not used to feeling weak; we’re not used to feeling defenseless. I bawled like a baby the first time I was laid off. Everywhere you look there will be happy people who have never had to worry about losing their jobs, have never needed money or have never faced any other problem bigger than “What color shoes should I wear today.” Yup, it’s probably one of the worst feelings you will ever experience. Do not make any major life changes during this stage; YOU ARE NOT THINKING CLEARLY. Remember, you are police officer; you were chosen to do this job because you are tougher than the average person, and you will survive this. If the depression seems excessive, there is nothing wrong with reaching out to a friend, loved one, or even a mental health professional. This can be a hard thing for many cops to do, but it really does help. Find someone you trust and talk to them; it helps.
Stage V: Acceptance
This is the stage when you finally pick yourself up and begin to move on. Maybe you’ll take some time to return to school, maybe you’ll exercise and get back into shape, and maybe you’ll find a new hobby or even a new career. Remember, acceptance does not mean giving up and losing hope; acceptance means moving forward. While trying to stay positive, there are a few realizations that helped me survive:
(1) This is only temporary, I will eventually come back to work
(2) Maybe another LE opportunity will arise, and I will work elsewhere
(3) Maybe I leave LE permanently because I found a job paying ridiculous amounts of money that I enjoy. (Not likely, I’d probably be a cop for free if I could, but it’s good to keep your options open)
I would also like to add that there is another stage that is common among police officers, and it usually occurs between “Anger” and “Depression”, and that stage is “Drunk.” While a night out with some friends and libations can definitely help relieve some stress, know when to stop. If you end up doing something stupid and find yourself in a jackpot, you may destroy your chances of ever wearing that badge again.
Here are some tips for dealing with unemployment:
-Take a few days to relax and clear your mind. Watch TV all day and lay around in your pajamas, just don’t let this become your every day routine.
-Develop a positive, daily routine: Perhaps begin your day with an hour of exercise, followed by some housework, followed by searching for a job, etc.
-Exercise! Use your free time to build a stronger or leaner you!
-Again, do not make any major life decisions until you are positive you have reached and passed the “Acceptance” stage.
If you have been in a similar situation, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. How did you survive? What did you feel? What have you learned from your experience?
References: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.On Death and Dying. Scribner, 1997. Print.
Written and submitted by Officer Daniel Celis