More than two decades with a gun and badge changes you—for better and for worse. After retiring from the force, I found shifting to civilian life somewhat challenging, and discovered that being a cop requires certain behaviors and skills that don’t transition well. Here are a few examples:
Driving fast – After years of what in police parlance is termed “response driving,” I developed the unconscious habit of going everywhere as if I’d been dispatched to a felony in progress. Getting to a dentist appointment, however, is not considered a valid reason for exceeding the posted speed limit. This fact has led to some tickets in the years since I retired, which forced me to slow wayyyy down. Now I drive at a sedate pace. Far safer, but totally lacking any adrenaline rush.
Taking charge – I retired at the rank of Captain, having been in some sort of supervisory role for over ten years. Before that, even as a patrol officer, people looked to me to handle the situation when I arrived at a scene. After all, that’s why people call the police, right? Well, when you’re a regular person—and a woman to boot—such behavior is not always appreciated. I’ve had to learn to bite my tongue and let situations play themselves out rather than offer suggestions.
Investigating – Police are taught to ask a lot of questions. We dig for information from witnesses, suspects, victims, and even passersby. This is good police work. But when your well-honed cop curiosity comes out in regular life, it’s called “being nosy.” I had to shut that down immediately upon leaving the force.
Gallows humor – Constantly witnessing the worst things people do to each other creates a need to blow off steam. One of the best proven ways to do that is with humor. This particular habit is now permanently ingrained, but after getting a few hard looks, I’ve learned to keep the jokes to myself. Kind of a shame. Some of that stuff is hilarious.
Jumping when the phone rings – Years of being on call 24/7 have conditioned me with the Pavlovian response to snatch the phone every time it buzzes. In the shower. On the toilet. In the bathtub. Pushing my cart down the aisle at the supermarket. Yeah, I need a 12-step program for this one.
Constant vigilance – cops incessantly plan for worst case scenarios and imminent attack. This keeps them alive while on the job, but has a weird effect when grocery shopping. A friend of mine (also a retired cop) once dropped into a crouch and reached for his gun when a small child’s balloon popped at a play park. Turns out he wasn’t wearing his duty weapon – because he was no longer on duty – so he ended up patting his empty waist band. I think he would have cleared leather if he’d been wearing a sidearm.
The trick is to have a positive outlook and to forgive yourself for certain lapses. Fortunately, I’m blessed with wonderful friends and a supportive family who truly get me, quirks and all. It’s the price you pay for a life of public service, and if you have a cop in your life, it’s a package deal.