Today I turn 44 years old. An age in which many police officers retire from the job, or begin to think about retirement. But for me, I took that step four years ago and changed careers. This was not as simple as it may sound. Like many police officers, I was hired in my early 20s, and policing was the only real career I had ever known. In fact, I’d say it was destiny that I become a police officer in the NYPD just like my father and his before him.
At 40-years-old with almost 16 years of service (15 years, 11 months, and 8 days to be exact) and with four years to full retirement, I went down to the pension section and took a vested service retirement.
A risk of my own doing.
Like many mid-to-late career police officers, I had had it; the difference for me was I was willing to do something about it. Now, this is not a critique of the noblest of professions, rather it’s about how the struggle with the lack of control, independence, and dissatisfaction that was brewing for years as a police officer became unbearable for me. I think many cops begin to feel this way, some leave early, many will tough it out, others simply accept the hardships that come with being a police officer. Others succumb to despair.
It’s not surprising that most police suicides are men in their 40’s. Perhaps they felt they were trapped in a system where no one cared, no one was willing to help, and they had no other career options at that point in their life. In the law enforcement community, we are finally beginning to discuss the issue of police wellness, both mental and physical, as well as suicide. Way too long in the making.
I refused all those, but I had options.
I was always interested in teaching and was afforded the opportunity to do so as a police officer in the police academy, and did for many years. From that experience I continued my education, when in 2012, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. I knew that higher education was what I wanted after a policing career.
However, as we know in policing, plans change… usually without notice and never when convenient.
It was at the beginning of my 16thyear of service that it happened to me. I was temporarily transferred to the summer all-out program, my days off changed, my hours switched, I had to take a leave from my Ph.D studies. After years of trying to start a family with my wife, we were in luck and things were moving along nicely – and then out of luck, the news of which we received the day after my transfer.
Police organizations can be incredibly impersonal, especially large ones where no one really knows each other. In the NYPD with their 35,000 cops, you’re often treated as a Tax ID # or referred to as a “body”. Not malicious, that’s just the way it is. But it’s also these conditions that create a culture where officers often feel that there’s no one to help them, and no way out.
So, at age 40 I up and left the job and pursued my studies full-time. In a short time I landed a nice little gig working as an instructor for a security company, and one year after leaving the job, I was hired as a full-time college professor. That all happened in 2016.
Today, as I reach my 44thbirthday, I have completed my Ph.D, and have been a full-time professor now for three years. Tonight, I will celebrate my birthday with my wife, and three-year old daughter.
Looking back four years ago when I entered into the unknown, it was a risk no doubt, but I took a leap of faith believing in myself, and knowing that things could be better. It wasn’t the easiest decision to leave the job, but it was the best decision of my life. I’ve never been happier, more fulfilled, freer, or my myself. And for those of you who may feel the way I did, always remember: There is life after THE JOB, and it can be a great one. So, don’t ever give up on yourself.