The attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. have represented hundreds of police officers and firefighters in Minnesota workers’ compensation and PERA/MSRS disability claims over the years. Unfortunately, there are times when the injury is career-ending and the individual is left wondering what to do next. Oftentimes the police officer or firefighter is too young to retire or does not know what to do once their career in law enforcement and/or firefighting is over. Most have no other experience and the only career path they wanted was to be a cop or firefighter. Our good friend and former client, Chuck Gollop, found himself in that very situation. We recently reached out to Chuck and asked him to share his story with us and how he turned his career-ending injury into the next phase of his life. Here is Chuck’s story:
I am a 25-year veteran of law enforcement. I started at the age of 18 as a Community Service Officer. I applied for and got a police officer position shortly after graduating from college. I worked for that first department for a few years, then moved to a bigger department and stayed there. My resume looks just like every other cop’s resume after 20 years: Detective, traffic officer, FTO, SWAT officer, Sergeant.
It all looks great on my resume, which I wouldn’t need to use since I was going to work until age 55 and then retire comfortably on a fishing boat in Florida or an island in the Caribbean.
I had a couple of severe on-duty injuries. I fought back after the first one (that was only 13 broken bones, a traumatic brain injury, and the loss of much of my hearing). I was only back a while when the second one happened – a debilitating shoulder injury. The doctor told me I would never be the same (I already wasn’t!).
I retired with 21 years in PERA and had a pretty good pension. I spend 13 months working my way through the retirement process, and during that time, started getting my ducks in a row for the next phase of my career, which would supposedly be in the private sector, working a high-buck consulting job, building on my oh-so-impressive resume, which included a BA and MA from a prestigious university.
All I knew was law enforcement. All of my adult life, I walked ONLY in that circle. I was lost. I worked briefly as a college teacher, as a probation officer, and, yes, as a standup comedian. I even drove for Uber.
I woke up one day, now 45 years old, and realized I couldn’t truly retire (or live off the pay from road-comedy gigs) at such a young age.
A friend who had also recently retired had been trying to convince me to be a Realtor. My first thought was, “No way. I’m not a salesman”.
Guess what? I WAS! All those years of law enforcement set me up perfectly for this career. I was #3 in my office of 140 agents during my first two full years in real estate. It turns out that being a Realtor is a lot like being a police officer – search warrants, difficult people, negotiation, mediation, being on-call, and lots of great stories, many of which rival the ones I stumbled across as a cop.
I am my own boss. No one, not even dispatch, gets to tell me when to work, where to go, and what to handle. I get out of this job exactly what I put into it, and I put a lot into it. It’s fun! Why wouldn’t I? I still get to impact people’s lives at one of the most stressful times, and now I truly get paid for it.
Are you retired from law enforcement? You should talk to me… I have a bridge to sell you!
Bright Birch Real Estate
Sergeant (Ret.), Bloomington Police Department
8 Tips for Finding a New Career After Law Enforcement or Firefighting
Now that you’ve heard from one of many former police officers who found success with a new career, here are eight tips to help you navigate the often overwhelming task of finding a new career after law enforcement or firefighting.
Evaluate Your Strengths
As you reflect on your law enforcement or firefighting experience, consider what job responsibilities you excelled in or enjoyed. From there, you can suss out alternative careers for police that capitalize most on your strengths.
For example, if you once aspired to become a crime scene investigator, there’s a good chance your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills are top-notch. Look for strategic roles such as automotive repair, computer programming, or data engineering.
Former police officers and firefighters who boast impressive communication skills might find working as a victim advocate or personal trainer very fulfilling, as they are highly interpersonal.
Research the Additional Teaching/Training Requirements
Many law enforcement officers go directly from their Associate of Criminal Justice program into the police force, which can leave some gaps when applying for other jobs.
If you’re considering joining the civilian workforce, you should brush up on the education and skill requirements beyond police training.
You still have options when continuing your education isn’t financially feasible. Instead, focus on positions that provide on-the-job training or reimburse their employees for continuing their education.
Update Your Resume with Transferable Skills
Resume writing can be frustrating, especially for former police officers and firefighters who have spent their entire careers in the same department.
After updating your job history, you’ll want to focus on the transferable skills that are most likely to catch the eye of hiring managers and recruiters.
Fortunately, former police officers and firefighters have a bevy of in-demand transferable skills that would make them an asset in a vast range of alternative careers, including:
- Leadership skills
- Critical thinking skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Communication skills
- IT skills
- Attention to detail
- Ability to work collaboratively
- Staying calm in crisis situations
- In-depth reporting
Consider Alternative Careers in Public Service
Within Minnesota’s government agencies, there are many opportunities to serve your community that may align better with your current mental or physical capacity.
The public service system relies on a network of administrative professionals to support their police officers and firefighters that don’t require being in the line of fire, a few of which include:
In cases of suspected fraud, a forensic accountant performs audits of financial records, investigates bookkeeping practices, and evaluates relevant legal documents. They often work closely with a fraud investigator to build a more robust, comprehensive case.
For those who want to continue helping crime victims, becoming a victim advocate would put you in a position to provide traumatized citizens with resources, support, and insight. Police work prepares you with many of the soft skills needed for this career, such as interpersonal, communication, and empathy.
As a fire inspector, your responsibilities would center around investigating the evidence behind the cause of a fire, speaking with witnesses, and helping prosecutors build a case when there is suspicion of insurance fraud or arson.
Drug and Alcohol Compliance and Enforcement Officers
Federal agencies often employ former police officers for in-the-field work at drug and alcohol testing facilities. You’ll focus on ensuring they meet industry compliance standards and have necessary security measures in place.
Law Enforcement Transcriptionists
When building a case against a suspect, the spoken word is one of the most crucial pieces. Law enforcement transcriptionists provide the essential service of transcribing the audio from interrogations, body cam footage, and other recorded media for court cases.
Insurance Claims Investigators
Insurance companies prioritize hiring police officers and forensic experts for positions as insurance claims investigators. Their experience with crime scenes and human criminal psychology is invaluable when uncovering fraud and finding the evidence to prove your findings.
You’ll put your research skills to good use as a background investigator. By researching applicants’ histories, they protect businesses, schools, and government agencies from bad actors.
Cyber Security Analyst
Cybercrime cases are on the rise and are predicted to cost $10.5 trillion globally by the end of 2025. To that end, one of the fastest-growing careers for police officers is in cybersecurity.
You can do your part to reduce the impact by working as a cybersecurity analyst. This role requires creativity and problem-solving skills to discover potential gaps in security protocols, contain data breaches, and protect vulnerable systems from hacking.
Seek Advice From Other Police Officers or Firefighters
One of the best resources for finding potential job leads is injured or retired police officers or firefighters who found new careers inside and outside of public service.
Reach out to friends or spend time in an online police officer or firefighter forum. In addition to any valuable insights they can offer, you might find a new employment opportunity from an old acquaintance who successfully opened their own business after leaving a law enforcement agency or fire department.
Educate Aspiring Police Officers and Firefighters
Your time working with law enforcement agencies gave you a vast repertoire of practical knowledge and anecdotal advice worth passing on to a new generation. Use it to educate and inspire future public servants to uphold the integrity of their position and make a difference in their communities.
Many police officers and firefighters return to school for their Bachelor’s or Master’s, then work in academic settings such as a local community college or online university.
For police officers and firefighters seeking a more hands-on approach to education, consider serving as an academy, certification, or skills instructor. You’ll be able to equip aspiring public servants with the technical skills they need to fulfill their duties successfully.
Lead Safety and Community Outreach Programs in Local Schools
School is a child’s first opportunity to learn crucial safety information from experts in the field, like what to do during a house fire, saying no to drugs, or avoiding “stranger danger.”
As such, safety programs catered to these school-aged citizens are one of the most valuable opportunities for police and fire departments to cultivate healthier, safer communities that trust in their public servants.
Speak with your captain or chief about the opportunity to lead volunteer and internship programs in local schools and ask what you can do to get it off the ground. If financials are a concern, public safety grants provide training and funding for these programs.
It might take some convincing, but it’s a worthwhile cause.
Move to the Private Sector
One of the best places to look for a new career after law enforcement or firefighting is in the private sector.
Retail, Campus, and Event Security Guards
If you leave law enforcement due to an injury, you can still be a critical component of the criminal justice system by serving as a security guard.
Security work is one of the most popular alternative careers for police.
As a former police officer, you know the value of authority presence as a crime deterrent. Simply put, people are far less likely to commit a crime if they know someone is watching. Security work allows those with experience as law enforcement officials to continue fulfilling their passion for protecting the public, but more so in a preventative capacity than a reactive one.
You’ll also be a source of information for law enforcement agencies and fire inspectors, as they will seek you out as a crucial witness when investigating a crime scene.
Many former police officers and firefighters decide to pursue a new career as personal trainers, particularly for self-defense courses.
While a personal trainer role wouldn’t be appropriate for former police officers and firefighters with specific physical disabilities, it’s an excellent option for those suffering from mental injuries.
It allows you to continue honing your communication skills through interpersonal engagement and mentorship, and it may also help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Science shows that exercise is a valid component of mental health treatment plans, as it releases “feel good” hormones called endorphins that contribute to a sense of well-being. It can also help you healthily cope with trauma and gain self-confidence.
As a private investigator, you’ll use many of the same skills as law enforcement professionals or fire investigators but don’t face nearly the same risk.
While police officers and firefighters are at the crime scene or the scene of a fire during or in the immediate aftermath of an event, a private investigator focuses on the follow-up. Many clients come to PIs with missing persons cases, so you’ll spend your days speaking with witnesses, looking into suspect backgrounds, conducting surveillance, examining evidence, and following leads.
As a private investigator, you’ll also get to choose which clients you take on, allowing you to mitigate exposure to danger further.
Additional local laws may limit your scope of work, so take time to research the viability of this career in your area.
For example, in Minnesota, you must obtain a private investigator license, which requires a minimum of 6,000 hours of investigative employment experience in a U.S. government investigative service or a city police department/sheriff’s office.
Loss Prevention Managers
Another potential option for analytically-minded former police officers is a loss prevention manager.
You’ll put your problem-solving skills to the test by managing inventory, optimizing security policies, and establishing new security protocols for retail stores. They also work closely with the security guard team to conduct internal investigations.
When applying for these positions, focus on transferable skills in IT or surveillance. Many stores also turn to their loss prevention manager for support with security cameras and the systems they run on.
For those passionate about serving the people of Minnesota, the thought of leaving their firefighting or law enforcement careers can be devastating. It’s not uncommon for former police officers and firefighters to feel hopeless and resentful as they try to rebuild.
While those feelings are understandable and valid, know that there is a path forward for a firefighter or police officer career change.
Many of these are in the field of criminal law or investigations and rely on the law enforcement or firefighting experience skills you already have.
Others offer an opportunity to branch into exciting new industries that still require ex-police officers’ or firefighters’ long list of transferable skills.