In a recent episode of Blue Line, The Podcast, editor Brittani Schroeder was joined by Ret. Officer David Berez, who has over 30 years of experience working in emergency services, to speak about his career, what he experienced after his retirement from law enforcement, and officer resilience and wellness.
Q: Can you tell me about your time as an officer?
I had a good, fulfilling career for sure. I was a go getter who loved being on the street and working with people in the community. I grew up in a community who gave so much to me, so I felt a need to give back.
As I became more active and involved in the work itself, I became a field training officer, then a traffic safety officer, and then an officer in charge—which is basically like a team leader. Eventually, I became a drug recognition expert (DRE). As a DRE, you are determining the impairment of someone and what substance they might be under the influence of, and which of the seven categories of drugs are associated with that.
My heart was always with the community policing aspect of the job. I loved bike patrol, being a D.A.R.E. officer, among a lot of other community events. I wanted to bridge the gap between the police and the community—I thought that was very important, even if it sounds a little cliché.
Q: What did you go through at the end of your policing career, and in your first few months after retiring?
About 18 months out from my retirement, I was feeling disconnected. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job until the day I retired, and I couldn’t imagine having done something else with my career. But over the course of 20 years, so much of what you see are people’s worst moments. So that builds up after a while, and you kind of lose your way and the ‘why’ you were there to begin with. I think if more people, officers and police leadership alike, realized the importance of taking time off to regroup from the traumas of the job, they would be ready to come back and serve and be in a much better mindset to do so.
I retired in January 2020, and it was an exciting time for me. For the first six to eight weeks, it just felt like the longest vacation I’d ever had. Before that, the longest vacation I’d ever been on was in 2004: 20 days for my honeymoon. The feeling of having this time off was euphoric. But then reality starts to set in, and you’re like, “Crap, what am I going to do now?” But then COVID-19 hit, and everyone was forced to stay home, just like me in my retirement. I hate saying this, but the COVID-19 lockdowns gave me a chance to catch up and regroup, because everything else had stopped around me.
Then, in June 2020, George Floyd was killed, and as a former officer that sparked a whole set of emotions within me. Later that summer, a good friend of mine, Danny, found himself in a place of betrayal by his department, by his community, by those at home. I saw him going down a path that was frightening to me. On July 29, 2020 he died by suicide.
I was devastated, and it was a pivoting point for me. The grief, the hurt, the despair I felt was a call to action for me to not only fix myself but help others if I could. I started writing, and that was a big release for me. For anyone who is struggling with their own emotions, writing allows the crazy scrambled eggs going on inside your head to live somewhere else outside your head, but still somewhere you can reflect on them.
Q: You like to speak about officer resiliency and wellness. Can you tell me how that came to be?
After Danny died, I reached out to a friend of mine, Michael. He was the chief resiliency officer for the county we worked in, and he was also a retired police officer. He suggested I take a resiliency program that the state was offering. I still had feelings of loss and the loss of connection to officers that were still on the job, but I no longer had an outlet to be able to communicate those feelings. I wasn’t able to be a resource for someone else, and I didn’t have a resource myself. So a few other retired officers and I went into this resiliency program. Now as instructors, we are taking this resiliency program throughout the state to other retirees as well.
By 2021, Michael had left his position as the chief resiliency officer for the county, and the state chief resiliency officer had also left his position, and together they created a company called Resilient Minds on the Front Lines. Now they teach resiliency to first responders throughout the country, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be trained as one of their instructors. I took the traumatic incident of my good friend taking his life, and I pivoted to try to never get one of those phone calls ever again. I will spend the rest of my life trying to help out other cops, first responders and veterans find their purpose and their “why”.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. To listen to the full episode, visit blueline.ca/podcasts.
This episode of Blue Line, The Podcast was sponsored by Wilfrid Laurier University.
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