Thirty years ago this month (June), I lost one of my best buds. Most of our readers know that I spent a good portion of my days working undercover, initially as a “white” shield patrolman and finally as a “gold” shield detective. One of the guys I worked with was a top notch narc. Ron lived every aspect of the job during our time in deep cover.
Deep cover is different than administrative narcotics (ad narc) or other vice narcotics assignments. Before going deep cover I made my share of “buy/busts,” which is when narcs score during a hand-to-hand exchange followed by the stake-out team swooping in and taking the seller down. But most of my time during UC was in deep cover assignments where we’d live day-to-day on the street, posing as someone we weren’t. At the end of what was often a very long period of time, the tact troops would take down all the folks we bought from in one big raid.
Ron was not an officer with my department. He was part of our task force team, a seasoned detective from a neighboring agency. He was a few years older than me, with a ton of street smarts: instincts honed from years working street narc duties and physical crimes. He led our unit in not only buys, but in weight and quality, always managing to parlay almost every buy into a larger score.
It was after our task force time was over, when we had to “surface” and assimilate back into being cops again, that Ron crashed, emotionally and physically. Simply put, he couldn’t make the adjustment back to the real world. For a few weeks after the UC ops ended, we all kept in touch since the trials and hearings required our presence. And while we didn’t see each other on a daily basis, we all could see what was happening to Ron during those periods we were together. But none of us knew what to do about it. I guess we hoped his boss would notice it and deal with it.
Months later, when I saw Ron at another cop’s retirement party, he had worsened. He had pulled the pin himself a few weeks earlier and had not yet received his first pension check. At the party, Ron was pounding down the shots and smoking up a storm. A few days later, I learned that he died of a massive heart attack—at home, at 43. His widow told me he never got to cash his first pension check. It arrived the day before he passed.
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to make the transition from street narc to general assignment detective. But I had a great boss who helped me make that transition. My boss was never a street narc. But he kept watch over his “black sheep” like the good shepherd he was, always aware of when we were pulling the strings too tight, ordering us home for a weekend, or even finding some “lost time” on the books (even if there wasn’t any) when he saw we needed a break. He made sure our appearance, demeanor and language (that was the hardest part) fit that of a general assignment detective.
Tips for Coping
If you’re pondering retirement from the job, especially from high-stress assignments, you should know that for the first few days or weeks your life is not going to be the same. One of my buds related a story of what happened when he had to dig into his wallet a day or so after he retired and looked at the cut-out in the leather of where his shield used to be. He had not yet received his retired tin. But that visual reminder that he was no longer on the job hit him like a ton of bricks.
Here’s a half-dozen tips from one who’s been there.
1. Accept the fact that there may be “triggers” or reminders that you’re retired. Even when you get that retired shield, realize that it’s not your formal police ID anymore. That replacement tin is really just ceremonial.
2. Try to maintain ties with your department on a social level: through your FOP, PBA, Detectives Benevolent Association, or other fraternal organizations, i.e., BBQs, awards ceremonies, annual dinners, sports events, etc.
3. Lean on family and friends for support. I “hired” my beautiful spouse, Anne, as my copy editor. She does a fantastic job translating cop speak to civilian-ese.
4. Give some thought to a whole new career. One of my buds used to do part-time catering. After pulling the pin, he went full time and ran a very successful business for a long time.
5. Give back to your profession. A few of my fellow trainers went on to teach part-time in the CJ department of our local community college. Even two days a week allows you to share or pass on what you did best.
6. Get some help. If all else fails and you’re still not feeling up to par, take advantage of your department-sponsored mental health services. These folks are use to dealing with cops who are leaving the job. There’s nothing you can’t tell them that they haven’t heard before.
I hope this helps.
Grossi, David M., Principles of Officer Survival: Emotional Survival,
Total Survival, Performance Dimensions Publishing, Inc. (1993).
Kinnaird, Brian A., PhD., Life After Law Enforcement, Psychology
Violanti, John M., PhD., Traumatic Stress in Critical Occupations;
Recognitions, Consequences and Treatment, Charles C. Thomas,