Police Resettlement: From Resettlement To Rediscovery

Jessica Dockstader from the website Policing Through The Pain

We spoke to our friends across the pond, Policing Through The Pain, to share our experiences and ideas about police resettlement and what it actually means. Thanks to Jessica Dockstader for the questions. Enjoy.

Can you describe to me what you define as police resettlement?

In literal terms, it’s the transition from life as a police officer to life as a member of the public—but really, to me, it’s much more than that. It’s moving from being institutionalized to rediscovering individuality and what really matters to each person. It’s proactively equipping officers and staff to be able to answer the question “what happens next” and manage all the professional, personal and psychological dimensions that come with such a huge lifestyle change and loss/change of identity.

What is the typical career choice for an officer when they retire?

I think language is important so I see resettlement as not just for “retirees” but career changers (like me) who might have 5, 10, 15 years of police service—which means the next job can actually be the start of a whole new career. There are still some well-trodden paths, but I’m wary of picking as I truly believe that officers have skills that can be turned to almost anything (and [Mightify’s] previous clients are a testament to this). The reason careers such as train driving, security and project management are often the best-known for officers is that they have the most immediately obvious transfer of skills and ethos: safety-first, attention to detail, managing risk. However, if we delve deeper into the officer’s toolkit, there are almost endless opportunities – and an increasingly broad range of employers now know this too.

What do you see as some of the struggles for officers when they retire?

Most stem from a loss of identity and structure. Often the police assumes the role of family, friends and employer and surrounds the person closely, so once those fundamentals – what you wear, how you speak, how you behave etc – are taken away, it’s a huge adjustment. I often talk about it as being released from a mold: after so long, you’ve taken on the shape of the mold and lost sight of the edges that made you unique. From a wellbeing perspective, this is dangerous as people can be drawn to high-risk behaviors to replace the feelings of involvement, validation and thrill that policing might have given them. For those seeking new careers, it can be hard to see their value to a new audience so many take things that do not challenge them which only fuels a spiral of low self belief and feeling adrift.

Where have we as a world made strides in police resettlement?

There are green shoots of hope – we are rolling out more of our own programs and I know of other great ones in Canada and Australia – but I think we are a long way behind other industries and certainly a long way behind a consistently fit-for-purpose structure. I think we understand the issues well, it’s now about facing up to that. Lots of agencies globally would probably say they’re at a stage of “awareness” of the issues at the moment – but clearly awareness and action are two very different stages and only the latter saves lives, which is the scale of the issue and should demand urgency. To be frank, any chief officer who doesn’t see retention and resettlement as crucial is part of the problem.

On this same topic, where do we need to grow?

In my opinion we need to see a little more vulnerability or humility at Chief Officer level that recognizes the problem and opens the door to new ways of working and new ideas. Similarly in many HR departments which are too wedded to a risk-averse set of processes that don’t allow for individual context. Too often we still come up against the mentality of “we’ve always done it this way”. Well, what we’ve always done clearly doesn’t work – so let’s do something that does. We need to stop doing surveys that tell us what we know and start putting support into action. We also need to see the vulnerability with agencies/forces to invest in their people and treat them well from day one, accepting that they might leave – they inevitably will anyway – but wanting them to be the best they can be while they’re in service, and equipping them for the day their policing chapter ends.

Is there a difference in the physical/mental impact you see in officers when they retire?

Retirement clearly has a big impact both physically and mentally, I would say that so far we just understand the physical dimensions a little better – or perhaps talk about them more. We know that working night shifts is fundamentally unhealthy, so that’s a big win on retiring, as is the chance to have regular meals and more time to exercise. The mental and emotional dimensions take a little longer to come into play – whether it’s the lifting of a weight of stress on the positive side or the feeling of a loss of purpose or identity on the more negative side.

Do officers typically look for new jobs when they retire?

Traditionally post-retirement jobs might have been more out of interest (and often voluntary work) than out of financial need or career ambition. Going back to my earlier point about language, the trend we have seen in recent years is that whether someone has reached 30 years’ service or is embarking on a career change earlier than that, the issues are the same and actually both camps are now looking for a longer-term next chapter. Lifespans are increasing globally as a whole, alongside higher pensionable age points and reduced pension entitlements so people naturally now are continuing to look for work rather than the old stereotype of playing golf or fishing.

Have you seen a difference between the UK/US/other countries in this topic?

I would say that from what I’ve seen, Canada (and perhaps Australia) are a little ahead – certainly in terms of the external support structures available if not within law enforcement agencies. The challenge in the UK (and the US on a far greater scale) is the fractured nature of the sector as much as the ingrained culture. Making something happen in UK policing always involves at least 43 different answers to the same question. The positive perspective on resettlement in the UK is that for the Armed Forces it does exist – so we have a clear case study. My own opinion is that in the UK there is too much interest in surveys, research projects and pseudo-academia and not enough weight on using that knowledge base to take action. My experience is that the North American approach tends to be a little more active in delivery.

Are there other things you’d like to tell me about the topic?

I think it’s key to point out that right now we (in the broadest collective sense) have a great opportunity to actually build a proactive system of support for officers and staff that is fit for purpose and covers the interwoven aspects of careers, physical/mental health and personal development. There is a small and growing network of organizations like mine that can do this, we just need more of the great leaders within agencies that do exist to stand up, be counted and lead a visible change. Policing is already being left behind by other services and industries in this field, which is shameful given the demands we place on officers.

What services do you offer? If people were willing to reach out to you, what could you provide them?

We offer a range of services that help police officers and staff prepare for “what happens next”. This ranges from our flagship 2-day resettlement course (which is externally accredited for CPD) through 1-to-1 career coaching and practical tools like CV, cover letter and job application writing. We have personal experience across the team of going through this resettlement as well as having helped many others since 2015. We always offer a free half-hour consultation with no obligations – we’re here to help!

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