Leaving the Police


Leaving the police is something that comes to us all eventually. Whether we choose to leave before it’s time to officially retire, or whether we see out our time in ‘the job’, the end is just usually a new beginning as few people completely put up their feet into full blown retirement, at least not straight away.

It’s always good to get differing views and opinions from those who have already left policing, about their experiences of both leaving and the ‘afterlife’. It’s also useful to understand what information is available to you before you leave, in order to provide some solid preparation before stepping into what may be the unknown, especially if policing is all that you have known.

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to, interviewed and swapped emails with a number of current and former police officers and have consolidated their thoughts and experiences into this featured article.

Nigel Quantrell is a former Met officer who completed a full career before retiring from policing and took up a role as Head of Security at the Gherkin in London. I asked Nigel about his thoughts on what preparation the police receive before retirement.

“This is something that’s a pretty well-trodden path in the Met. Retirement seminars are open to all those expecting to retire in the next 2 years. These seminars give advice on CV writing, pensions and give some steer as to progression into the private sector. In addition, the Federation invite in varies financial advice and pension experts which are free to attend.”

“I know many of my ex-colleagues sometimes expect a lot more, but I think it’s important to have realistic expectations – the tax payer has no interest in our external career progressions.”

Nigel makes a fair point about expectations and what is realistic in a world that is very tightly driven by budgets and squeezing more out of less resources, particularly as the funds must come from somewhere for any development or preparation advice for leaving the police. When I help people with their CVs or with their own development needs, I make the point that development is more of a personal responsibility, in that its best to have very few expectations on your employer to provide any more than is required to do your job. Of course, anything else is a bonus, but for me, when it comes to leaving the police service, it’s as much about knowing where to find the information that you need and then taking it upon yourself to investigate further, digest and implement what is discovered.

Nigel goes on to say “I think the best support comes from those who have already left the organisation. No one ‘spoon feeds’ retiring police to be able to seamlessly enter the private sector, and now that I have left, I can see no one spoon feeds the private sector either.”

Nigel went on to talk about his thoughts around leaving what was a lengthy and fulfilling career. “Firstly, I didn’t feel quite ready to leave. I enjoyed my job and I loved the people I worked with. I had also built up a level of expertise and confidence which I feared I would no longer be able to fully employ. I didn’t quite realise how much this was the case, until I left and saw first-hand the flaws in the private sector and realised how good my organisation actually was. I was also quietly proud to serve and knew I was part of a family, so the thought of leaving kept me awake at night.”

It’s understandable when policing has been such a major part of your life that it feels like a lot to be leaving behind. As someone who left in 2012, after admittedly only serving 18 years, I was actually looking forward to leaving, but there have been times, even years later, where I’ve woken up in the morning having dreamt about still being in the job and carryout out my police role. Perhaps you can never fully take policing out of the police, even when you leave!

Nigel said that “My fear was to be leaving the security of an organisation which is unlikely to make any police redundancies, guaranteed a regular income, pension security, generous leave and illness provisions, federation and associations support. As a young joiner, I took these for granted and it was only in the final year or so of my service that I considered I need to prepare myself to lose that security and enter (what I thought at the time) was the ‘real world’.”

As officers and other members of the policing family, we do tend to think of the private sector at the ‘real world’ so I get what Nigel meant by that. It’s also very easy to be critical of our own organisation and think that everywhere else is so much better. Since leaving, I have delivered training to many private (and public) sector organisations and it would appear that they all have similar issues and problems that are shared in policing. Most of those organisations have people who think that other organisations work in a much better way and are led by much more capable people. Ring any bells?

Nigel has an interesting take on that, “Well, I now realise that my 31 years in the Police WAS the real world and that life in the private sector is generally less spontaneous, less demanding and littered with people less talented and less committed. I am frequently approached by employers asking if I know any ex police who would be available for work.”

This is reassuring to hear, and it has also been my experience too. It’s easy to think that because we have worked in the public sector (perhaps for our whole careers to date) and had a lack of exposure to the private sector, that we should be less capable and unprepared to work in the private sector. In truth, I have seen ‘policing’ qualities that are absent from everyday work in the private sector, that I could write whole pages about. 

Nigel goes on to offer his perspective on some basic preparation that anyone should do before leaving the police. “My advice would be to do the basics – a good and adaptable CV, a Linkedin profile and to be ready to apply for advertised positions. But take it a step further and make a point of meeting people in the industry that you choose. Most people are delighted to help and if you allow them to chest-beat a little, you will reap the benefits. If the recruiters like you, you get a seat at the table; if they don’t then you are just another CV waiting to be sifted. Networking is far more valuable outside the job, then it ever was inside.”

So, a great platform then is to get yourself a quality CV as that will be the thing that everyone will want to see when you show interest in a position. LinkedIn is a must these days and whilst it may be unfamiliar to you or you may not know how to fully present yourself on LinkedIn, it’s worth getting any necessary help as 92% of recruiters will check out your profile, according to a recent LinkedIn survey.

Anyone who has worked in policing has probably heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Well to a degree, that applies outside in a more tangible way. Recruiters and managers have more of a free-reign to take on and promote people as there are fewer formal methods than exams and assessment centres deciding who gets on and who doesn’t. If you make a good impression and do actually get some face-time with decision-makers, they could be more swayed by your personality and attitude than someone who simply ticks boxes. Many top business leaders have said that they “Hire for attitude and train for skill”, which is essentially saying that they would rather take on the person with the better attitude as they can train them in the skills they need, whereas trying to adapt someone’s attitude to be a fit for their organisation is more difficult.

Speaking to and hearing from a range of other former police officers and civilians, I asked them all why they decided to leave when they did. Responses received were:

“Reached a glass ceiling – nowhere left to go except out.”

“Lost my mojo for the job. I clearly need a fresh start.”

“Time to do something different while I am young enough – the job is changing in a way I don’t really like.”

“Had an opportunity to do something else that I didn’t want to regret by turning it down – never looked back by the way.”

“The job is becoming impossible with the changes, cuts, outsourcing, bureaucracy – I just didn’t want to remain part of it.”

“Not sour grapes, but I went above and beyond, more in my last 2 years, and realised I was just a number – so I want to take ownership of my future and am now in business.”

“I always wanted to work for myself one day and so we waited until it was financially right for me and my family. Leaving was inevitable.”

I asked them what they think, looking back, are the important considerations once you know you are going.

“Think about what you are good at and what you enjoy. Aim for an industry or role that is likely to tick both boxes so that you are happy going to work and you are not out of your depth. If you are unhappy in your post-police work, you are likely to spend a lot of time dwelling on the past, but probably only remembering the good times.” – sound advice there.

“Set your sights higher rather than lower. I’ve seen too many colleagues aim for a salary which, when added to their pension, gives them the same as what they had in the police. That’s basically taking a pay-cut and not valuing your time in policing. There are lots of organisations out there looking for those of us with the skills and attitude that being a former police officer provides. Don’t race to the bottom in terms of what you earn as it’s hard to recover from that.”

“I think that when you leave the job, you start to shape your own brand and get known as an individual rathe than a number. You have total control over how this works out. I know former constables who are in senior roles now because they believed in themselves and pushed themselves. It’s up to you.”

“Don’t have regrets and don’t spend too much time looking back. There were good and bad times in the job, but they can’t help you much now. Focus on what’s in front on you and remember to stick to your values and do what’s right.”

Michael Bowden left policing in 2014. “I retired after 30 years’ service as a Sgt in 2014, I had been a uniformed cop all my service, and served on the streets for all of it. I have done a variety of jobs since leaving, working in schools and for the council, but have just returned to the job after 4 years, working in Professional Standards as a Complaints Officer. One thing I know is that there are many capable talented people serving in the Police in many different roles. Officers that are retiring do have may many skills that are transferable to the private sector… or stay in the public sector. Suggest that before retirement you have a plan. What, if anything, do you want to do? When do you want to do it? Take a break or start straight away? What further training do you need? But whatever you do, aim to enjoy it.”

Clearly, people who have already left the job ahead of you can be a rich source of useful information. And it’s free too because most will be happy to see a fellow colleague come out of the job and land on their feet. You can save a lot of time and money by speaking to the right people and listening to the experiences. Have a great 2019! 

SCJ Excellentia APCC