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Retiring from the "thin blue line": a need for formal preretirement training (part two).

Part one of this article highlighted several of the unique challenges that law enforcement officers encounter when they retire. (1) These include losing the strong bonds that have developed between officers who have shared the dangers, successes, and frustrations inherent in the work, along with the symbols of the position that identified them for so many years. In addition, many officers view retirement as abandoning the "thin blue line." Such factors contribute to the specific difficulties that officers face when they retire and point out the need for comprehensive preretirement training programs.


Following extensive study of police retirements, one researcher concluded that officers face a multitude of problems that they are not equipped to handle by themselves. He believed that the solution should come from law enforcement agencies and academia in the form of information and counseling programs that begin the day officers enter the police academy and extend to beyond the day they retire. (2) Other research also has indicated that such programs can provide psychological preparation for the event, (3) foster a supportive retirement environment through decision-making assistance, (4) and benefit retired officers by having them counsel other officers nearing retirement. (5)


Given all of this, the authors argue that the need unequivocally exists for formal, in-house preretirement planning and training to alert, prepare, and assist officers in dealing with the issues that loom ahead. After a lifetime of service protecting others, this seems a small remuneration for officers who no longer report for duty. Certainly, numerous law enforcement retirees will welcome, and flourish during, this period of their lives; however, many also are ill-prepared and will suffer because of this.

In cases where retirement associations, human resources bureaus, or personnel divisions conduct meetings with retiring officers, they typically involve employees who hand out the necessary paperwork and answer questions on anticipated income, insurance and other benefits, and filling out the proper forms. (6) The authors do not suggest that such information lacks value; rather, they believe that research has clearly shown that law enforcement retirees should have a more comprehensive, planned preretirement process.

Moreover, the generation of baby-boomer officers, hired in massive groups 25 to 30 years ago, are rapidly approaching retirement age. This circumstance provides additional rationale for the introduction of preretirement programs into the training curriculums of all law enforcement organizations and, possibly, in recruit academies as well.


Some Key Considerations

Before looking at the specific characteristics of a preretirement program, the authors offer several key aspects that law enforcement agencies should bear in mind. To begin with, they should take into account the longevity- and generation-related differences among officers. They need to approach any program with an understanding of the modern law enforcement officer, both rookie and veteran alike. Officers arc not just working in an era of new technology. Rather, they are the products of a newer society, wherein social changes have likely altered the traditional police image. Such training programs should incorporate information that pertains to the mind-set of today's officers. It would be folly to believe that officers with 20 years yet to work will think the same about financial, health, and life issues as those nearing retirement in 1 or 2 years. Therefore, the curriculum-planning process must account for, and be delivered from, where officers are situated in their careers. Consequently, the authors also recommend that agencies constantly revise and update the preretirement curriculum to account for the changing needs and problems confronting their officers.


Furthermore, law enforcement organizations should work in concert with members of the academic community and other government agencies (e.g., human resources, benefits, and career education and counseling) in creating and establishing their programs. Within this collaborative arena, further study can determine whether the content is worthwhile and the longitudinal impact is beneficial, along with the likelihood of such training reducing the stressors posed by impending retirement.

Possible Program Content

In addition to other topics individual agencies may deem worthwhile or necessary for inclusion in a formal preretirement training program, the authors recommend, at minimum, four primary areas to cover. First of all, departments must commit to the program. Then, they must recognize generational differences, develop a sound curriculum, and keep abreast of officer evolution.

Administrative Commitment

Because law enforcement leaders ultimately share responsibility for the health and well-being of their officers, they must demonstrate a commitment to the program. This can involve addressing the pitfalls of police retirement and providing the necessary resources to promote the development, implementation, and establishment of preretirement training programs with other pertinent government organizations as a policy, not a short-lived project or program. In addition, leaders should ensure that personnel assigned the task of researching, organizing, developing, implementing, overseeing, and evaluating the program understand that a different approach will be necessary. Finally, they should encourage and promote the concept of preretirement training becoming part of the curriculum at the local police academy.

Generational Differences

Law enforcement officers today are highly educated and intellectually cognizant of the world they live in; they are Internet savvy and know how to network and utilize all manner of online resources. For those reasons, preretirement programs no longer need to focus on providing them with information on such topics as job placement and resume writing. Furthermore, agencies should understand that retirement training is not a "one size fits all" venture. Particularly when viewing retirement planning as a longitudinal, career-long undertaking, it also is important to remember that the different generations of officers have unique psychological and social traits; addressing these distinctive qualities will go a long way toward determining the ultimate success or failure of the retirement program. There is a substantial body of literature concerning differences among and between the various generations of workers who are either in or will soon enter today's workplace. This information is not altogether flattering, but it is nonetheless valuable in understanding the nature and qualities of peace officers.

* Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are felt to constitute the last vestiges of one of the most significant-change generations ever to occur in American culture and compose the bulk of officers nearing or in the retirement phase of their careers. As a generation, they are commonly pessimistic concerning issues of finance, health, and their present and future quality of life, including their mortality. Baby boomers often wish to ignore retirement because society views it as one of the last steps in a person's life cycle. As a generational group, they require the most help in dealing with the retirement process because of their lack of preparedness, failure to acknowledge the inevitable, and outlook on life in general. (8)

* Generation X officers (born between 1964 and 1978) are in early to late midlife and not yet undergoing an in-depth contemplation of retirement. As a whole, they often are described as independent thinkers, self-absorbed, prone to wanting things now, and viewing the problems of the world as caused by the previous generation. They also are said to be the forerunners of the "me" generation and founders of technological wonders that have set the standards for generations to come, and they know it. The drawback to Generation Xers is that they are not "savers" but "spenders," often to the degree that they carry excessive debt with little regard to their financial needs for the future. As a generational group, the approach to their training lies in understanding their need for involvement. Researchers feel that these officers will work with their agencies on retirement training, not for them or as idle participants. (9)

* Generation Y (born between 1979 and 1995) includes officers in the youngest cohort, with only about half being old enough to even become police officers. Some authors have disparagingly described this group as being babied, pampered, and inundated with dozens of activities since childhood. Reared in a nonstop environment of multiple social activities, they are both high performance and potentially high maintenance. As laid-back personalities, they challenge the established way, question what they disagree with, and do not accommodate their occupation but expect it to accommodate them. Three words have been used to sum up this generational type of officer: young, smart, and brash. Although seemingly "free spirits," Generation Y people, savvy when it comes to finances, understand that planning for the future is a high priority. After all, they are the era of the future: adept at multitasking, comfortable with exploding technology, and certain of their own self-worth. As a generational group, training them to address potential retirement issues will not be difficult; instead, getting them to remain with the organization enough years to reach retirement age will prove the challenge. (10)

Curriculum Development

The preretirement curriculum should have a base foundation of standardized training on financial considerations; benefit information; and the retirement process, including the dangers of harboring long-term stress. However, each generational category should have additional specific curriculum designed to reflect the age bracket involved. A few examples might involve--

* identifying those officer skills transferable to the private sector, discussing retirement expectations, and providing information on handling free time and coping with change for baby boomers;

* enhancing opportunities for job promotion or special detail assignment, offering options for reentering the educational arena, encouraging their role as departmental mentors, and exploring possible retirement scenarios for Generation Xers; and

* expanding career goals within the agency, exploring outside interests while participating in agencysponsored community events, enhancing academic training and education, and discussing specifics of the relationship between life and job stressors for Generation Y officers.

Law enforcement agencies could include preretirement training as part of their orientation sessions. This training should introduce newly hired officers to available resources, including not only how to set up a financial plan for retirement but also counseling for personal problems and the perils of ignoring retirement planning until the last possible point in time. This would make preretirement training longitudinal in nature by spanning the entire career. Therefore, when retirement becomes a reality, officers will have prepared for the event and can separate from service in the most mentally and physically healthy fashion possible.

Preretirement program instructors should be professionals in the subject they are teaching. When possible, they should have a background in law enforcement but not be actively associated with the host agency. Departmental training personnel could oversee the training and act as organizers and facilitators but not as instructors.


Most agencies are required by state mandate (via Police Officer Standards and Training statutes) to have their officers complete advanced officer training on an annual basis and are responsible for the training content. A preretirement education course might be an ongoing component in such training. Hence, the program would serve as a transitional learning experience as officers pass from one generational module to the next and help them understand that their retirement is not just an event but, rather, a career-long process.

Officer Evolution

What happens when the lead generational group of baby boomers is gone? How will the proposed conceptual method of using specific generational definitions remain applicable? The answers lie in understanding the concept of generational training.

First, following the passing of the lead group, the next generation moves to the forefront, and the following generation progresses to the midlife stage. The one assuming its place at the beginning of the process is determined by its age category as are all subsequent generations.

Future generational groups may have to be determined by age categories, rather than societal labels. Agencies must monitor the generational gaps closely because present-day divisions are drawing closer.

Finally, officers overseeing the preretirement training program cannot just keep up with trends in law enforcement alone. They also must follow-how society is being changed by technology and education and use futurists' projections to determine what the next generations will look like and the adjustments needed in response.


Law enforcement officers confront unique challenges with respect to their retirement. Therefore, the authors assert that this matter should be addressed through a formal, well-designed program during all stages of officers' careers. Such an approach can equip officers to transition smoothly into and flourish during their final tour of duty.


(1) Carl B. Caudill and Kenneth J. Peak, "Retiring from the 'Thin Blue Line': A Need for Formal Preretirement Training," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2009, 1-7.

(2) John M. Violanti, Police Retirement: The Impact of Change (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1992), 112. In this book, Violanti provided insights for developing a formal preretirement training program. He contended that officer retirement is a multifaceted life event involving change in psychological, physical, and stress-related health. Arguing for proactive strategies, he asserted that the necessity for preretirement planning should be a collective effort between the individual officer and the department. To that end, he provided a training model composed of six general objectives aimed at assisting an officer with the retirement process: 1) addressing reasons for mid-career change; 2) understanding the negative consequences incurred in retirement; 3) acquiring information on the impact of the change; 4) cultivating job and education skills; 5) clarifying personal abilities, interests, and characteristics; and 6) finding help with job placement. Revisions to Violanti's model would be necessary to account for changes in law enforcement retirement; however, the book forms the basic foundation of retirement planning and remains applicable for contemporary law enforcement.

(3) Bill Rehm, "Retirement: A New Chapter, Not the End of the Story," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, September 1996,6-11.

(4) Michael J. McCormick, "Resolving Retirement Issues for Police Officers," Criminal Justice Institute, University of Arkansas System, retrieved on December 10, 2008, from for%20Police%20Officers.pdf, 210.

(5) Nnamdi Pole, Madhur Kulkarni, Adam Bernstein, and Gary Kaufmann, "Resilience in Retired Police Officers," Traumatology 12, no. 3 (2006): 209.

(6) Jim Ruiz and Erin Morrow, "Retiring the Old Centurion: Life After a Career in Policing, An Exploratory Study," International Journal of Public Administration 28, no. 13/14(2005): 1170.

(7) Beth Murtagh, "Police Departments Increase Recruiting Efforts," The Daily Northwestern, January 23, 2006, retrieved on March 16, 2009, from http://media. Departments. Increase. Recruiting. Efforts-1920550.shtml.

(8) D'Vera Cohn, "Baby Boomers: The Gloomiest Generation," Pew Research Center Publications, retrieved on December 10, 2008, from; and Monica Hesse, "Baby Boomers Got the Blues," Washington Post, July 10, 2008, retrieved on December 10, 2008, from

(9) Jennifer Alsever, "For Gen X, It's Time to Grow Up and Get a Broker," MSNBC Business and Finance, November 8, 2007, retrieved on December 10, 2008, from; and Diane Thielfoldt and Devon Scheef, "Generation X and the Millennial: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations," American Bar Association, August 2004, retrieved on December 10, 2008, from

(10) Stephanie Armour, "Generation Y: They've Arrived at Work with a New Attitude," USA Today, November 8, 2005, retrieved on December 10, 2008, from


RELATED ARTICLE: An Exemplar Program

In 1982, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department (KCPD) initiated its Preretirement Lecture Series program after determining that simple financial and benefits information proved insufficient in view of the physical and mental problems retiring officers experienced. An exploratory committee composed of representatives from various agencies surveyed current and past employees to pinpoint troublesome areas. The results were overwhelming: officers wanted broader assistance by the department. In response, KCPD offered a 20-hour preretirement lecture series to those officers with 23 or more years of service.

Officers attended the sessions while off duty and with their spouses. Topics covered involved gerontology issues, pension and benefit plans, physical and mental health, second-career analysis, economics management, legal affairs, and investment planning. The lecturers included specialists selected from local area universities, financial institutions, and representatives of the KCPD and city retirement board.

A pre- and postlecture questionnaire revealed that participants experienced an overall 20 percent increase in knowledge concerning retirement planning. Furthermore, 95 percent approved the materials taught, indicated that the program was long overdue, and recommended that it continue. KCPD has encouraged other law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to implement similar programs, not only to help their personnel prepare for retirement but also to demonstrate their concern about the employees' welfare before, during, and after they separate from the organization.

Source: Norman A. Caron and Robert T. Kelly, "The Kansas City Police Department Preretirement Planning Lecture Series," The Police Chief, January 1983, 47-49.
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Author:Caudill, Carl B.; Peak, Kenneth J.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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