Just hit ENTER

On the Chicago police department, when you want to retire, you have to submit a form online. In the past to retire with certain benefits you had to retire at a specific time of the year and submit your retirement application a prescribed time ahead. Of course, you could retire anytime you’re eligible, but you may not enjoy the same benefits.

In the last six years, this has changed regularly so anyone retiring needs to closely read their contract. I’m sure many of the larger departments have a similar process.

The procedure is usually rather simple. Or at least you would think it might be. In many ways, it’s one of the hardest steps you take as a police officer. Don’t get me wrong, most of you retire when you know you are ready to pull the pin. It’s time to move on to the next part of your life.

You may have a new career already lined up. Perhaps you plan on going fishing for the first six months and not look back. Maybe you plan to move to Arizona or Florida. Maybe you’ll do like me and so many of my retired police friends who have spent the last thirty years writing police reports. We figure that taught us how to write fiction, so we pen the great American novel.

We always worry that keeping busy will be the most difficult part of retirement. As a result, we never realize that submitting our retirement papers is the hardest part. In Chicago, you go online fill out a form and hit enter. That doesn’t seem very hard, does it? But it is.

Yesterday a friend posted how he just submitted his retirement application to leave in 2019. A year away. A small group of fellow police officers gathered as he filled out the form online. He later said it suddenly hit him, the “finality of it all.”


Chicago Police. (Photo courtesy Antoinette Alcazar)

I’ve heard this from many other officers and experienced the same feeling myself. Just hit ENTER and your life in the police department has an end to it. The career choice you made twenty or thirty years ago comes to an end. For most of us, it’s been more than half our lifetime.

There are not that many people who are identified by their occupation. Doctors do, maybe pilots, high ranking military officers, judges for sure and so do police officers. If you are a tool and die maker, it may come up in conversation, but you aren’t often introduced as a tool and die maker even though it is a very honorable occupation.

Notice how all these occupations are positions that can dramatically impact another person’s life. Successfully do your job and you get congratulations. Screw up and lives are often devastated. That’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone’s shoulders and yet, it’s a career these people sought out.

Because of this intense pressure, those who enter these fields tend to bond deeply with others in their field. Once you are retired you are no longer part of the inner circle. It’s not long before procedures change as well as faces. Go back to your old unit after two years and see how few people you know. Listen in on a conversation and notice how the young officers are talking a new language.

Not all of it changes. Catching a burglar hiding in a crawl space and dragging him out will always emote the same adrenaline rush. However, the rest of the job changes. Breaking up a street fight will always leave you feeling pumped. Viewing a ten-second clip of you struggling to pull that uncooperative handcuffed burglar out on YouTube later that night and answering to your department’s internal investigators or the news media is something new.

Regardless, your finger is poised over the ENTER key and your professional career is flashing past you in milliseconds. All the friends you’ve made and all the wakes you’ve gone to. The weddings where you sat with all the other police officers and the night in the tavern after that marriage broke up. It all passes by your mind’s eye in a flash.

That feeling you had when you stepped out of your squad, put on your hat, stood straight and walked up to your call. You’re not going to have that again. At that moment you felt strong, powerful, almost invincible. You had to feel that way or you could never have walked up to ten drunks brawling or a bunch of gangbangers selling dope on the corner. Now you’re older and no longer feel as strong, powerful or as invincible but you will never lose that confidence that you developed.

Finally, after the one second, it took for all these thoughts to race through your head your index finger presses the ENTER key. You sit back in your seat as your friends and co-workers congratulate you. A smile spreads across your face as you realize you just took a step. A simple one, but significant, on the path to your retirement. If you’re married, you might call your spouse and share the good news. Maybe you’ll go out for dinner tonight to celebrate.

As you ride home later in your car you think back with some melancholy. You had some great times and loved your job. It’s time to move on with your life. All it took was for you to just hit ENTER.

Run low and zigzag,

– Robert Weisskopf