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When I retired in March of 2013, I thought I had seen the last of wearing a uniform.  I had spent over twenty-seven years in a professional law enforcement organization.  During my career, I earned many responsibilities and overcame many challenges.  When I retired as a captain overseeing Field Operations, I thought I was done.  Done with the hours.  Done with the calls.  Done with the stresses of the job.  But time has a way of changing perspectives, and my perspective was in fact, changed.

After about eighteen months of recharging my batteries, I found myself feeling restless and once again craving the camaraderie that police work provides.  I missed the hours.  I missed the calls.  I even missed some of the stresses that made the job exciting.  So, after some serious soul searching and contemplation, I accepted a job offer at a nearby police department, whereby I became their Community Services Officer.  

 While I like the people I work with and being an officer again, it has been a significant learning process.  With the new job, in a new environment, with new people who didn’t know much about my former career, I found there were a number of steps important to becoming a successful officer in the new department.  I had to quickly learn the local ways and traditions, how the organization worked and how the new local legal system functioned.  It has been a humbling experience, but one which has helped me become a better law enforcement professional.  

Since I know that many officers change departments, and yes, even some who thought they were retired and then realize they still have the desire to contribute, I thought some of the lessons learned might be helpful to those who are transitioning or restarting their careers with another police organization.  Here are my thoughts. 

You aren’t what you once were

Once you accept a job with another department, you must quickly learn that you are the “new person” and need to establish yourself in the new agency.  Despite what accolades or accomplishments you may have achieved where you once were, you are no longer there.   What you used to do doesn’t matter much to the people in the new organization.  In the new agency, you are what you show them you are, and can be.  Respect with the new agency is earned, not given.  It is earned one day at a time, one interaction at a time.    

When I started with the new department, I had to go through their FTO program.  The last time I was a trainee in a FTO program was about thirty years earlier.  With a new department and the significant amount of time that had passed between FTO programs, I developed a plan of action on how to successfully get through their FTO program.   With each FTO, I explained that I wanted to learn how they did police work and how the department wants things done.  I then politely and quietly did what was expected of me.   I did not really matter what I had done, it simply mattered what I could demonstrate that I could now do for the new organization.  Remember, you aren’t what you once were, just what you are now.

Let your work do the talking

Had I accomplished things over my prior career that I was proud of?  Of course, hasn’t everyone?  Was I going to let me past accomplishments get in the way of learning how to do things the new way?  Not a chance.   What I had done, or not done, meant little to my new fellow officers.  They wanted to see what I could do and I had an obligation to show that I was competent in their environment.  The officers in the new department were proud of where they worked and I needed to respect that and show the respect through my actions and interactions. 

So what did I do?  I simply put my ego in check and worked hard to learn how police work was done in my new place of employment. I focused on details.  I asked questions as to why they did things a certain way.  I then went out of my way to quietly go about my work, being the new officer, doing what was asked and offering to do what I could do to help.  I didn’t worry about what I had done in the past; rather, I focused on what I had to do to be successful in the future with the new department.  In short, I let my work do the talking, not my ego. 

Assimilate and participate

When I started with my new employer, I made it a practice to assimilate into the culture of the new organization.  I embraced their traditions and practices.  It doesn’t mean I left my traditions and my best practices at home.  Not at all.  It means that I found a way to incorporate my traditions and best practices into the new job and fit in with the new organization.  I embraced their traditions, and their practices. 

I made it a point to reach out to people within the organization.  I had lunch and coffee with as many different folks as I could.  I asked them questions about their experiences at my new organization, not only because I wanted to know, but also to help learn with whom I was working.  At times, I found out what they wanted to accomplish and offered suggestions, when appropriate.  I answered questions about my past, but with a humble spirit, and never in a braggadocios fashion.    

It was important to find a way to connect with the people in the new organization.  I participated in outside of work activities and volunteered to work extra events. I made an effort to fit in, as it was my job to fit in to where I was now working, not the department’s job to fit in to what I was used to.   In other words, I made every effort to assimilate and participate in the new department and become part of the fabric of the organization.  

Ignore the slights

In most organizations that I have worked around and with, there are always individuals who believe it is their job to make your life difficult, or at least uncomfortable.  This organization was no different. 

Part way through the FTO program, I had one particular officer explain to me how they had not successfully passed a trainee through their phase of the FTO program.   While I didn’t think this was a particularly successful trait, I also knew that the point behind the comment was that they wanted quality officers at the department.   Or at least I hoped so. 

I had been the FTO Program manager in my prior life for many years.  I knew what I had wanted in my FTO staff and how I had wanted them to educate the new officers.  I also knew in my new job, I was the “new officer” and it was my job to find a way to get through the FTO program and earn the respect of my fellow officers.  So what did I do?  I simply ignored the slight and continued to move forward.  After all, the goal was to successfully pass the FTO program, not to win over each and every officer.   

Work in progress

I’m not professing that I know the best way for you to become successful in your new organization.  Only you know how to do that and what effort you are willing to make to achieve that success.  What I can offer is what has worked for me as I continue to work to become an integral part of the new organization, learning their traditions, their practices.   I will have plenty of time in the future to speak of my exploits and successes, and tell my war stores and adventures.  But this will not take precedent over my desire to prove that I am a capable officer in the new organization.   In other words, I must first earn their respect before they will respect my past.

Maybe I was just lucky with my new place of employment, as I enjoy the people and the organization as a whole.  Or maybe it was because of a humble, “let me show what I can do” work ethic and perspective that allowed the assimilation to take place.  Either way, at least it is something to think about as you start over, or look to continue your career with a new organization. 

Good Luck!

Allen Huggins