Supporting police officers after retirement: Best practices in developing tailored workshops
Pre-retirement workshops can be a helpful tool in preventing adverse outcomes during retirement
Many retiring law enforcement officers struggle with a loss of identity and loss of purpose as they transition from figures of institutional authority to everyday civilians.
Retiring officers face challenges beyond not knowing where to go to collect pension checks, maintain health insurance for their families and resume writing.
Reconnecting with and establishing a role within their families, dealing with and processing the trauma they have seen during their careers, accepting that they are no longer in an authoritative role, interacting with their community or a community they have patrolled, and recovering from long-term states of hypervigilance and high anxiety, are just some of the issues retired police officers face.
What we can do
Reentry programs are widely used in the criminal justice system to re-acclimate incarcerated and institutionalized individuals back into mainstream society. However, we rarely see programs designed to address the unique experiences and challenges associated with retiring law enforcement officers and how they adjust to civilian life. Creating and implementing pre-separation/pre-retirement courses or workshops can be a helpful tool in preventing adverse outcomes during retirement.
Workshops can be adapted from correctional and military reentry and re-acclimation best practices. Preliminary courses and workshops can be developed by surveying retired officers and those who are planning to retire about what they feel is most essential and what would be (or would have been) most helpful to them to navigate both foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges.
Lectures and resources on mental wellness assistance, transferrable skills and family relationships can be offered, along with guest speakers (LEOs who have been retired for at least one year) and honest Q&A sessions with said retirees. It may be mutually beneficial for retired academy instructors to serve as workshop instructors, as they could find new purposes for using their skills.
Five steps to creating a preliminary retirement workshop:
Here are five steps to developing a pre-retirement workshop:
1. Survey uniformed members of service
Surveys should include current retirees, officers nearing retirement and those still in active service. They should cover demographic information like age, years of service, rank and department affiliation. Questions should delve into retirement plans, officers’ perspectives on retirement, experiences during the transition from active duty to retirement, including any challenges faced and the support provided by the department.
Additionally, officers should be allowed to offer suggestions for improvement in resocialization processes, retirement programs and post-retirement support services. Confidentiality and anonymity should be ensured to collect the most accurate information.
2. Research best practices in military and incarceration reentry programs
Researching military and incarceration reentry programs provides valuable insights for enhancing the resocialization and retirement experiences of police officers. Reentry programs offer comprehensive support, including career counseling, job placement assistance, education, mental health services and community resources that can be replicated for police environments.
3. Create preliminary training or workshop
Survey results will play a vital role in identifying the specific focus areas and the needs of retiring officers and will determine which best practices to extract from reentry research. For example, if the survey reveals a significant need for mental wellness support, the training can prioritize strategies and resources for addressing mental health challenges during the transition. Similarly, if career planning is a crucial concern, the training can emphasize guidance and resources for exploring post-retirement career options. This approach ensures that the training can address any identified gaps in what is currently offered.
4. Pilot the program
Once the preliminary training or workshop for retiring police officers is developed, piloting the program to ensure its effectiveness is crucial. During the pilot phase, it is essential to actively seek specific and detailed feedback from participants. This feedback will provide valuable insights into the strengths of the workshop and areas that may require improvement.
Constructive feedback can be gathered by creating structured evaluation forms that prompt participants to provide specific details about their experience. Ask participants to share their thoughts on the relevance and applicability of the training content, the clarity and effectiveness of the guidance provided, and the overall impact on their preparedness for retirement. Also, ask participants to highlight areas requiring further attention or additional resources.
Conducting individual or group feedback sessions where participants can openly express their opinions, suggestions and concerns creates a safe and supportive environment for officers to provide more nuanced feedback and share their personal experiences. It is a great way to gather feedback with more context and can encourage participants to provide concrete examples and actionable recommendations to enhance the training program.
5. Revise and repeat
Using the valuable feedback gathered during the pilot phase, carefully consider and evaluate participants’ suggestions to incorporate them into a new and improved training program. Start by analyzing the feedback in depth, identifying common themes and areas of improvement that emerged from the participants’ input. Take note of specific suggestions and recommendations provided by the participants and assess their feasibility and potential impact on the training program. Consider how these suggestions align with the goals and objectives of the workshop and how they can enhance the overall learning experience for retiring officers. Look for opportunities to integrate practical examples, case studies, or interactive activities that can enhance engagement and application of the training material.
Finally, consider creating a feedback loop with participants by sharing the proposed changes or updates based on their suggestions. Seek their input and validation on these modifications to ensure the new training program reflects their needs and expectations.