As a law enforcement veteran and pastor, I have the unique opportunity to counsel officers through some of life’s many challenges. One of the most common challenges faced by officers that I counsel is confronting the decision to leave the job behind, and pursue other opportunities.
While there are definitely several good reasons to consider for leaving the career behind, there are also several reasons that aren’t. When officers leave for the wrong reasons, I find that a majority of them depart just to discover that life after the badge wasn’t so great after all. Those officers usually end up returning to the force dejected and frustrated.
So, I want to share some of the most common issues I hear from officers who want to leave the force. Ultimately, the goal is to just offer some perspective that you may want to take into consideration if you are thinking about a transition yourself.
Reason #1: The Pay Is Terrible
By far, the most common reason to quit that I hear from officers is the pay. When I first got into law enforcement, I believe my starting salary was $26K. After a decade, that number had gone up to about $39K. That’s not a lot of money to risk your life for.
While desiring more money is a totally reasonable reason for wanting to seek greener pastures, you do have to understand that money is not everything. I’ve seen officers leave the force for higher paying jobs in the private sector, only to become miserable paper pushing zombies stuck behind a desk. “Type A” adventure seekers don’t do well in cages. Make sure you know what you are willing to do, and what you are not willing to do.
Also, I would encourage you to reevaluate your financial situation. It may require you to tighten the belt and make some cuts in the budget, or you may have to pick up the occasional off-duty job for those extras in life. Either way, recognize that the value of being happy at work is worth more than gold. To step out of an enjoyable situation and into a miserable one solely for money is a recipe for unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Reason #2: It’s Dangerous
Well I can’t argue with this logic! The job is dangerous, and it would seem that things are only getting worse as attrition and negative sentiment towards law enforcement are both at an all time high.
That said, make sure you have proper perspective. While this job is dangerous, it’s not a Kamikaze mission. During training, we have a tendency to over-emphasize the possibility of dying at work and we develop a sense of impending death looming around every corner. Yes, the possibility of death is very present, but we’ve been well prepared for most situations to exercise sound judgment to keep ourselves alive and well for our families. Still, we do get hurt and die. It’s a risk to consider.
If you’re feeling a bit more vulnerable than usual, consider requesting some tactical training or some refreshers. I did this a few years back after a young man tried to end my life. It renewed my confidence and sharpened me; I became a better officer because of it.
Reason #3: Not Enough Time With Family
If you stay in law enforcement for any length of time, you’re bound to have entire periods of your life remembered only as a blur. To this day, I can’t remember things about my kids when they were little because I wasn’t always there. Mandatory overtime and off-duty jobs to make ends meet all come at a cost; our families.
Still, this is one of those “meh” reasons for me. Not because it’s not important, but because I see many officers bring this upon themselves. For me personally, I didn’t know how to say no. Every training class that was offered, I signed up for it. I also participated in countless volunteer units like SWAT. Constant call-outs, persistent training on days off, off-duty employment over the late night hours, etc. All of it contributes to time away from home. Then, when we do come home, we crash and disconnect from everyone in a trivial effort to try to relax and clear our minds. We become distant, and seem cold; present but absent. On the other end, some of us love our jobs so much, we don’t even want to go 10-42 at the end of shift....
Here is the reality. Many private sector jobs require you to work just as frequently, if not more than law enforcement. Since leaving full-time law enforcement, there haven’t been many weeks that I’ve worked less than 50 hours. And that is on the low end. The truth is, we have to choose to make our families a priority, regardless of what line of work we are in.
Most of us invest more into our jobs than into our families. What’s worse, we convince ourselves that we have to work endlessly for advancement opportunities. And, in some instances, it’s true. You do have to work more or train more to be considered for that promotion or new unit assignment. But at the end of the day, your purpose for your family is always more important than your profession. Don’t misplace your priorities and blame it on the job.
Reason #4: Lack of Advancement Opportunities
I hear many officers mention that politics and a “good ol’ boy” system are to blame for unfair promotional processes. It prompts some officers to contemplate resigning. When this is brought up, my follow-up question is usually, “So what?”
It can be a long and uncomfortable season when you are waiting to be recognized and acknowledged for your hard work. You may consider throwing in the towel to find an organization that values you for what you bring to the table. Don’t be disillusioned though. If you thought you were just a number in law enforcement, you may just become an expendable source of revenue somewhere else.
Unfair promotional processes, nepotism, and favoritism exist in every working environment. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone touting the completely fair and unbiased promotional processes at their job. It just doesn’t exist.
Here’s the thing. If you’re going to play the game, best you learn the rules. You can’t escape it, so you had better learn to maneuver around it. Whether you stay in law enforcement or transition into the private sector, you’re still going to see unfair practices in this area. It shouldn’t be a reason to quit, but a reason to get better.
Reason #5: I’m Bored and Unfulfilled
Many officers want to do something more challenging (is that even possible?) than law enforcement. I’ve counseled officers who say they are bored and want to be challenged in a new way. Others want to become entrepreneurs and start a new business. Whatever the “thing” is that is missing, they don’t think they can find it where they are.
If you think that the only way you can find fulfillment is by leaving, I won’t try to convince you otherwise. There can be some great benefits to starting a new chapter in life, and it can be a really exciting time. But, I will say that you need to have a plan.
There are too many officers who would love to try something new, but lack the knowledge, skills or network to do it. They never finished school, and the only training they ever pursued was SWAT school, High-Risk Warrant Services and Survival Tactics. There simply aren’t that many opportunities in the marketplace for people with that kind of skill set.
Regardless, if you plan to stay until retirement or leave after a few years in, you need to make sure that you invest in yourself wisely. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a reality that you can’t change for yourself because you’re improperly trained and unequipped for life after the badge.
These are just a few of the reasons I hear, but there are several others. If you are considering leaving for the reasons listed above or some other reason, take a minute to count the cost.
This is what I know. There were times in law enforcement when I was overjoyed, and times when I was over it. Either way, the only thing that changed was my mind, not my circumstances. We have a real, nasty habit of over inflating the negatives of the job, and invalidating the positives. As a consequence, we come to the conclusion that the only reprieve from our frustration is to quit, not knowing that our real relief comes from reevaluating our circumstances and changing how we view the proverbial glass; Half empty or half full. Case in point: There are countless former cops, right now, who have new jobs and are still unhappy.
Just remember. This job is what you make it. Happiness is a state of mind, not a state of being.