Many people outside of law enforcement think that this is a great deal for our retirees, since the general public has to work well into their golden years to be able to start receiving any benefits, such as a retirement plan or social security. What gets lost in the allure of the early retirement is that most law enforcement officers work through their careers for a lower wage than they would had they been in the private sector. That reduction decreases the payout on the pension, typically arriving at a number somewhere around 50% of the annual salary received while working. Another oversight is the statistical analysis wherein a retiring law enforcement is anticipated on average to live only 5-7 years after retirement. For those retiring in their early forties, that is quite an eye-opener. In addition, most law enforcement officers do not have the luxury to be able to truly retire. In the words of former President Bill Clinton, "someone's got to pay our bills". Usually by the time we are nearing retirement age, our children are heading off to college and there are some heavy expenses rolling in that need to be met.
An impending ability to retire, while sounding nice and relaxing on it's face, is an incredible producer of stress on most law enforcement officers. Add that to the fact that they, personally, might want to continue on in their position. Many law enforcement officers consider their career as a calling, rather than just a 'job'. Family stresses can also play into this decision making process. Spouses and children may want the officer (of either gender) to retire so they can reduce the stress borne each and every time the officer leaves to go to work, or when they hear on the news that an officer has been shot, killed or otherwise injured. Compound those stresses with the idea of leaving a 'job' that you have done for 20 or 25 years, which could quite possibly be the only job you know, or the only work that you may believe that you are qualified to perform. Imagine, as a non law enforcement officer, that you are told that you can no longer do the job that you have been performing for 20 years, and that you now have to either switch industries completely, or accept a lower paying position in a similar, yet less responsibility laden field. What would you do?
Law Enforcement officers are trained to deal with stressful situations, they make life and death split second decisions on a regular basis, and they are trained to pull the trigger and defeat a threat when it appears. Antithetically, retirement for law enforcement officers in every state, across the continent and around the world, is an incredibly difficult trigger to pull. The age old question, as posited by The Clash in their eponymous song of the the same title, is 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?'
It is not a decision to be made lightly and without proper analysis, evaluation and input from a number of advisors:
- Financial standing must be evaluated and certain decisions must be made
- A review of the options available for the pension benefits
- Are you prepared to begin a job search
- Have you evaluated what you are qualified to do
- Do you have a professional resume that translates your skills, accomplishments and achievements into language that can be understood by HR Managers in the private sector who do not have law enforcement experience?
- How long can you sustain your lifestyle without securing secondary gainful employment;
- What are your health issues and concerns?
- What benefits are carried on into retirement?
- Does it make better sense, both financially and professionally to remain in your law enforcement capacity and seek advancement there
- Are there concerns relative to previous marriages, children and obligations outside of your current marriage? Alimony; pension distribution agreements; child support?