Military and Police

Once a Cop, Always a Cop

As a police retiree, I meet with other active-duty and retired law enforcement officers with whom I worked the city streets. Who is doing what nowadays? is the point of gathering, besides consuming coffee and a meal. Meal breaks do not cease and, as a retired cop, I no longer have to ask dispatch for permission to chow. Invariably, the “good ole days” paves the conversational pathway. Remember when…? is as common as oxygen. Good ole days never really get old for a cop. Some move away and seek solitude in the mountains while others maintain a homestead in/near the jurisdictional locale.

Some police retirees start a business, typically a hobby or trade they did on the side while an active-duty police official. Cops make excellent carpenters, painters, computer gurus, HVAC techs, pool refinishers, auto mechanics, you name it. After police retirement, some stay attuned to the cop shop by (ahem) writing about all-things law enforcement.

No matter the police retirement status, locale, or special-unit experiences, cops retain camaraderie and connections with pretty much every facet of The Job.

For many among our society, retirement is a gleeful achievement. In cop culture, it is a plateau which tastes kinda bittersweet. The depth of psychology involved with “saving the world” —if even just a tiny plot of it— and doing so with some phenomenal warrior-like humans that epitomize having someone’s back is not easy to walk away from.

The decommissioning and deconditioning process is no easy feat. I floundered for the longest time, exacerbated by recurrent cancer yet I wanted for nothing…thanks to police colleagues. The law enforcement rituals just do…not…wane. But I would never want them too, either. Being a cop was/is an identity I adore. Notwithstanding the current ebb-and-flow climate regarding public/police relations, I could never turn a shoulder to filling human voids or addressing those devoid of humanity.

Currently in my neck of the woods is recently-retired NYPD police Commissioner Bill Bratton, visiting the Orlando PD and scoping out the Disney-area style of policing. The joys of retirement are quite synonymous with when one is on active-duty. Delving into the latest technology (which former-NYPD Commissioner Bratton heralded often) and rubbing elbows with various outstanding police leaders is a thrill, I’m sure.

Some cops retire and fashion themselves (suits/ties included) as police union reps, standing-in for police personnel while upholding the policeman’s bill of rights in matters pertaining to internal affairs and state certifications. Others retire from policing culture and do the next most-equivalent thing to being a cop: practice law. Studying law in the police academy, although endemic, doesn’t touch the breadth of rigorous legal studies in Law schools around the nation.

Albeit rare, some police retirees return to service. Those I know who’ve done so conceded slicing the pie with a structure favorable to family, home life, and having fewer demands: Reserve officers (aka auxiliary police officers) enjoy less-rigorous schedules and can cherry-pick when they wish to report for duty outside of a minimum allotment of dedicated time. Generally, reserves are only required to work roughly 16 hours per month.

A good buddy of mine with whom I interned many moons ago recently retired. What did he do? He found a plot and opened a used-car dealership. He is doing quite well and customers are driving off his lot knowing they have a dealer who not only knows how to navigate the Department of Motor Vehicles but also offers straight-up integrity in salesmanship. One retired cop I know cages pools while another cuts grass for a post-police career living. Some work at home while others prefer field work.

Quite a few joined motorcycle clubs such as the Defenders or Warriors of Justice or Blue Steel, touring the states in a group of informal protectors.


Cutting the Cake and Eating it Too

Cops also celebrate their last day by going off-the-grid out of introspection and into that certain What am I gonna do now? feeling. No one says retirees must do anything thereafter putting in 20, 30, or 40-plusyears. After years of fighting for the lives of others, getting a tremendous euphoria when you start digesting all the good you’ve done is a deserved default mindset during retirement. Lord knows, unlike duty days, the time is appreciably available.

With momentous highlights such as police retirement comes cake. And retirement of any kind is the absolute milestone whereby you get to cut the cake and eat it too.

“We would like to bid farewell to the departments most senior veteran, Officer Tim Meinhardt. Hired alongside Pat Taormina and Robert Heiss on August 3rd 1981, (that’s a full year before I was born) Tim has spent his entire law enforcement career on the streets of South Euclid, proactively enforcing the law and assisting our residents whenever necessary. It’s those same residents Officer Meinhardt says he undoubtedly will miss the most about the job. ’55-506…Out of service.'” (Credit: Facebook/South Euclid Police Department)

On the last day (or thereabouts, depending on the collective surprise from different colleagues on different duty rosters), the squawk of the shoulder mic and the siren blasts and the din of excited delirium give way to good-byes.

Days after the last roll-call, the waisteline starts to signal change; the duty belt festooned with tools of the trade is no longer a required band of gadgets bundled around the core, just a tad below the gut-instinct haven.

I watched a short video posted by a policeman’s son depicting his father going “Out of service” for the final time. This veteran policeman signed-off, then heard his police dispatcher acknowledge and broadcast a fond farewell…followed by a litany of on-duty cops radioing respective retirement wishes. It was nothing shy of endearing, especially as he lowered his head and wept.

Indeed life takes us on a journey…and for cops it is a guaranteed whirlwind like no other.

Nevertheless, no uniform and no duty belt and no requisite response to calls for service do not backseat when bad ju-ju presents. A cop’s hypervigilance does not flicker-out like a windswept candle flame. It stays alive. It practices otherwise perishable skills. It sits away from doors. It watches the public in the supermarket. It gawks at vehicular traffic in bank parking lots. It does not hesitate to come detect trouble and harkens to the aid of whoever needs help.

Retirement comes in grand finales at times. The cover photograph of the article you are reading was accompanied by the following salutation: “Lieutenant Anthony DiPalma walked out of Staten Island’s 123rd Precinct last week to a grand round of applause as he retired from the NYPD after serving nearly 44 years. Lieutenant DiPalma was taken home in a vintage 1974 police car, similar to the one he used to patrol Crown Heights where he began his career,” said the NYPF farewell message.

“I love it. I love what I do. I loved my job. I loved every day. Every day was interesting,” Lt. DiPalma reminisced. Notice he used present and past tense while acclaiming his affinity for police work.

As a cop, can you imagine walking outside for the last day and stepping into a vintage police cruiser in which you patrolled in the first day? Go big or go home! Or, just go home and be big with the remainder of life…albeit in civilian capacity.

By and large, cops no longer on The Job somehow gravitate back to the thin blue line and are steady stewards of  service in myriad ways. For example, the Blue Steel motorcycle club reports, “The Blue Steel Motorcycle Club supports other Law Enforcement and Civilian Motorcycle Clubs and Associations that support the Law Enforcement Motorcycle Community. We share the love for motorcycling, and for what’s right in life. As a Club we assist fallen officers and Children Charities in their time of need, and as a Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club we will conduct ourselves accordingly.”

Whether on- or off- or post-duty…always do what’s right in life. Now, let’s eat cake!

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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