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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Police academies prepare officers to be mentally and physically ready for their new career. Communication, defensive tactics, and criminal law are just some of the topics covered in police academies.
However, academies often miss the opportunity to prepare officers for one of the most important aspects of their lives: retirement. The beginning of a police career is when officers should start to consider the end of their career, so that they can be properly prepared emotionally and financially for retirement.
[Related: How to Build a Retirement Game Plan]
Mental Preparation for a Successful Retirement
For some officers, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is enough to help them cope with stress on the job and in retirement. For others, the baggage of police stress always remains with them, even during retirement. Police stress can have a devastating effect on officers’ mental and physical health if it is not properly managed.
[Free Magazine: Understanding and Managing Law Officer Stress]
Studies conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that between 7 and 19 percent of police officers experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). By contrast, only 3.5 percent of the general population experiences PTSD.
To avoid problems in retirement, officers must properly manage the stress they experience throughout their careers. This can be accomplished through peer-support services and critical incident stress management programs following a traumatic event, accepting help from employee assistance programs when necessary, and engaging in off-duty activities that relieve stress.
[Free Magazine: Rebuilding Officer Resiliency: A Treatment Guide]
Probably the most effective strategy to manage police stress and enter a successful retirement is to have a life away from the badge. Ideally, police officers should maintain friendships with those who are not in law enforcement and develop personal and professional goals that are not police-related.
Maintaining Good Health in Retirement
Throughout their career, police officers will commonly experience high levels of cortisol and other brain hormones associated with traumatic events and stress. Empirical research has confirmed the impact of police stress on officers’ bodies that lasts for decades.
It is no wonder that some states such as Florida have enacted legislation like the Heart Bill. Under this legislation, law enforcement officers who suffer heart disease or hypertension resulting in total or partial disability or death are presumed to have developed those medical problems as a result of their time in the line of duty.
Throughout a police career, remaining healthy should be at the forefront of all officers’ minds; the length and quality of their retirement is likely to depend on it. Proper diet and exercise are key to remaining healthy throughout their career and in retirement.
One of the advantages of a police career is the pension that accompanies it. It is important for officers to prepare early in terms of funding their retirement. Speaking with a financial advisor early in a police career can help officers:
- Determine if their pensions will be enough for retirement
- Identify strategies for retirement success such as additional investments
- Develop an individualized plan for financial security in retirement
A good option is to contribute to a deferred compensation retirement plan such as a 457 Plan, which has tax advantages. The officer’s pension and contributions to a 457 Plan and any Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) will substantially assist in securing a successful retirement.
Police officers deserve the best opportunity to enjoy a successful retirement. Following effective strategies and planning ahead can help achieve that goal.
About the Author:Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997 and is eligible to retire. He also has local law enforcement experience in two local law enforcement agencies where he was a member of the agency’s Crime Suppression Squad and was the agency’s Officer of the Year. Currently, he serves as a Sworn Reserve Deputy at a sheriff’s office in Southwest Florida. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Coast Guard Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter