Posts Tagged ‘reinvention’

When it is time to go.

The other day I was visiting a local park, located on the ocean waterfront in Esquimalt adjacent to Victoria harbour. Fort Macauly is the site of a coastal defence battery which has guarded the approaches to the capitol city and it’s adjoining naval dockyard since the 1890’s. It was originally constructed during the Crimean war as protection against Russian invasion, and was subsequently upgraded, along with other fortifications, during the first and second world wars. All that remains now are concrete footings of gun emplacements, and a few brick buildings where artillery militia lodged during their on duty hours. Park benches now dot the area providing comfortable venues of the spectacular Olympic Mountain range in Washington State. With a bit of imagination, one can sense military history prevalent in the area.

As a friend and I were sitting enjoying a late lunch and the view, a pair of Victoria City Police constables, on bicycles, rode into the park. They were conducting patrols following a recent spate of graffiti vandalism on this historic location. We struck up a conversation and eventually my previous career in Policing was unearthed. I mentioned that I’d retired just over twenty years prior. I revealed that early retirement came about when I contracted an auto immune disease, prompted by stress in the work place. This sparked focused interest from the police constables who asked how I managed retirement. Incidentally, both members appeared to be very fit and, from my point of view, quite young. I was somewhat surprised to learn that they were in their early fifties and rapidly considering early retirement. I urged them to have a concrete plan in place, preferably involving some activity or secondary employment, prior to leaving the Police force. Both of them related that they had endured enough of the abuse, lack of support, and very low morale in the City. They obviously held back on seeming too critical, but I could sense their frustration.

Interestingly, the one closest to retirement asked what was the most profound thing I experienced upon retirement. I told them it was loss of identity. By this I meant that my role in society drastically changed with the signature of my release documents. The person I had been for the last twenty six odd years ceased to exist. From that moment, I was either retired or a former such and such. Secondly, I spoke of an immense lifting of responsibility…of never having to be on point again. Being on point is an expression popularized during the Vietnam war. During the war, patrols would move through the jungle in formation with one person leading the way. His role as point man was to scan for threats, booby traps or ambushes. The rest of his patrol relied on him for safe negotiation of their assigned route. Point men are rotated regularly due to high stress each endured. Acknowledgement of what I was trying to say was unspoken, but evident by a flash of recognition on each police member’s face. I know from personal experience that it is hard to shut off this primitive radar which all active front line police officers experience.

I told the pair that initially retirement would bring a huge sense of loss to their self esteem, followed by release of tension. The adjustment would take time. My night time dreams replayed stressful experiences, I’d survived, for many years after leaving the RCMP. I added that for the first few years I was proud of my back ground. However, as criticism of RCMP and Policing in general became more strident in the media, I often chose to avoid the issue if confronted or asked for my opinion of recent incidents. This is why I urged them to have a back up retirement plan in place, so as to not dwell on the past. I mentioned that old habits die hard and they can expect to frequently revert to automatic response, as potential threats arise. In conclusion I urged them to not view overwhelming negative media criticism of police as a personal affront… they knew what I meant. It might surprise some of my readers to hear that often police take heavy criticism of their role in society as a direct assault upon their personal integrity, whether intended or not. I urged them not to do this as it has a corrosive effect upon the soul. I believe it has lead to the suicide of many decent active, or recently retired police officers.

As I watched the pair ride off, I thought back to the night in February 2000 when I radioed off duty, parked my cruiser, and left the back door of my detachment building for the last time.

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