Years ago, policing was a career people entered as a cadet around age 18. They’d graduate and soon begin serving as an officer, retiring around the age of 50. A 30-year commitment was expected.
Officers were put through the rigours of basic training and were then assigned to a coach officer for a few weeks, depending on the policing organization. They’d then begin serving the community whenever the organization deemed appropriate. Back then, a police officer was handed their uniform, equipment and sent out to serve. It was an aspired “brotherhood”; a tight knit family. One would often spend more time and emotional energy with their police family than their own home family.
Community policing was central in the delivery of law enforcement services. The relationships formed with the people it served was powerful. The community depended on policing and, in turn, police officers depended on the community to inform them of their needs and of events. Stopping into the various stores, restaurants and parks to chat with the owners and employees while grabbing a coffee was welcomed. This was the true definition of community policing at that time. The powers of police were high, perhaps due to the lack of expected transparency and mutual respect experienced. Sometimes this was good and sometimes this was detrimental. While officers were encouraged to improve and adapt in various law enforcement areas, community policing appeared to be at its peak during this era.
Today, a career in policing may begin at any age. People in their thirties and older are welcomed. The maturity and wisdom they bring to the delivery of service to their communities is considered an asset. Training remains intense but there are observable differences, such as the new focus on police resilience. Mental health is now at the forefront of training and policing. Terminal illnesses, addictions, mental health issues and suicides are prevalent. One observable difference today is the amount of time police officers remain mentally healthy and capable of serving their communities in this capacity. Perhaps it is simply awareness that has taken over the leadership styles and choices that are made organizationally.
Another societal change (also reflected in policing) is people often choose to have more than one career in their lifetime. When we are sworn in as police officers, it may feel like a marriage of sorts but, eventually, we may have the thought, “I need my pension to carry me through” or perhaps you’ve thought you won’t be appreciated or as highly regarded should you choose to leave. We are vital to society, even if we become ill, require time off or desire a complete career change.
Our communities need us, but with cell phones recording our every move, community members and even our own policing families may start to armchair quarter-back our actions. As a result, community policing has changed drastically. Don’t let this change who you are as a person. If you start notice yourself changing, perhaps it’s time to pass on the torch. It may be time to explore the many other outstanding and exciting opportunities life has to offer.
Perhaps policing organizations, due to the intense emotional and physical toll this career takes on the self, should deem members leaving in good order retired, not resigned. Most, if not all of us, give of our heart and souls to keep our communities safe and happy. Whether it is for five years or 30 years, the commitment and emotional energy given is the same. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we valued our members the moment they show interest in a career in policing and long after they transition out of the career? I wonder whether our members would feel freer to follow their hearts desires in what makes them happy. Gone are the days people retire and do nothing more career-wise. Many will actually return to their organization as retirees and provide much needed services to their organizations. Others choose to continue in careers they had previously dreamed of but felt they could not make the time to pursue.
When the thought, “I would like to change careers” comes to mind or “I am no longer happy and/or healthy being police officer/civilian”, consider listening to that very important inner voice. It could mean the difference between being healthy, happy and alive, and not. We only have one life to live. Choose to make it wonderful.
Michelle Vincent is a retired York Regional Police officer and the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at email@example.com.
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