Winning the war of attrition in your law enforcement career

Five tips that can help you maintain a positive, successful career as a cop for many years

One definition of attrition is “the gradual wearing down or weakening by friction, or a gradual diminution in strength due to constant stress.”

Over the course of your law enforcement career, one of your biggest battles is going to be fighting this mental and physical giant we call attrition. Whether you’re in year one or year 15 of your career, it is vitally important that you decide today to maintain your psyche and fitness levels over the long haul.

Below are five tips that can help you maintain a positive, successful career as a cop for many years, so that you reach the ultimate goal of retirement.

Adapt to Change
If there is one thing I have noticed in my 20 years in law enforcement, it has been the observance that successful officers have always been able to adapt to change and the not as successful ones have not. Change will happen in many different aspects during the course of your career, some of it will be positive and some not so positive. Change in your shift assignment hours, change in your days off, change in your duty assignment, change in policies and procedures, changes in technology, vehicles, laws and in the court systems. Changes in administration within your department, changes in your pay and benefits. The list goes on and on.

If you can constantly adapt to these changes you will continue on your path toward retirement. The officers that fight change only ends up only hurting themselves.

Education and Training
“Wisdom is often not the product of schooling, but of the life long attempt to acquire it.”

The law enforcement profession, much like the rest of society, is constantly moving forward. Things will be different 10 years from now than they are today. Training and education that you received now may be obsolete then. You must continue to learn. Most good cops never stop learning. It’s essential to the job, and it’s essential for forward thinking officers to help mold the future of our profession.

Physical Fitness
Fact of life, you have to exercise to maintain good health. Your body will be subject to unimaginable stress over you career, and if you only bottle it up, with no means of releasing it, then it could lead to major health problems, especially cardio health. Three 20-minute workouts a week will vastly increase you ability to let go of some of the stressors you face on a weekly basis, both from within and outside of your agency.

Interests Outside of Law Enforcement
Learn to function as a human being without the sole identity of “cop.” Having interests when you are off duty other than guns, tactical gear, cop shows, cop movies, and cop news will help you maintain a balance in your life and will keep you fresh. After your days off, you’ll have the energy and zest to go back to work on “Monday.”

Having friends that are not in law enforcement—and having friends that don’t constantly ask you things about being a cop—will be a much needed break from the day-to-day job assignment. So often we think that there are only criminals and cops in our community, and that simply isn’t true. Joining a softball team, church, or getting some other hobby gives you interaction with good people in society.

Strategically Plan Your Career
Finally, I recommend having a 5-, 10-, and even 20-year plan for your career. Sure it may change, but having goals set at certain milestones is never a bad idea. When I say strategic plan I mean more than writing down “I want to be a sergeant.” You should be specific as to how you plan on achieving the goal of becoming a sergeant, including your plans for education and training, what division you would like to be in, how you are going to make yourself the best candidate you can be, and what you can do to be competitive. If you take your career in small incremented goals, not only will it go by quickly but each time you reach a certain milestone, you will see the benefits of having had some type of plan, and continue on to your next objective.

Following these tips will not provide all the answers you will need over the course of 20 years (or more) of pinning that badge to your chest, but it will keep you pointed in the right direction. When those obstacles do arise, and believe me they will, both personally and professionally, they won’t hit you like a Mac truck without any headlights on.

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