What Now?: An Officer Becomes a Civilian

I began college in the fall of 2002, but by 2004, I was starting over again. After graduating high school and going away to college, I had dreams of becoming a music teacher. As it turns out, I lacked the talent required for such a dream. I sat around, trying to determine what was next. What did I know? What did I like? What made me tick? Human behavior has always interested me. I have always wanted to understand why people do the things they do and what motivates certain behaviors, so I decided to take a criminology class.

It was a fairly short journey from there to where I ended up as a police officer. I grew up in a house of service. My father was a firefighter for almost 40 years, and there was never a time I did not want to be him. I didn’t have an interest in firefighting, but the desire to serve others, combining that with my growing interest in human behavior, and there was only one possible destination.

I took criminal justice classes and attended a local police academy in the spring of 2007. To say I was immediately hooked would be an understatement. When I completed the academy, I began the search for a career in law enforcement, which ultimately led me to a small town in West-Central Missouri. For almost 17 years, being a police officer was my life. I experienced almost everything you could imagine within this field and accomplished more than I would have ever hoped for. So why do I sit here now, 40 years old and “retired” from the force? What do I do now?

Early Career

I will forever remember the day I got the call. I had gone through the process: interviews, writing tests, physical agility, background, and CVSA. The wait was excruciating, but one day, the phone rang, and I heard the words, “We would like to offer you a position with the police department.” I literally jumped up and down on the couch while trying to speak with some sense of composure as I gracefully, no doubt, accepted the offer and received instructions for what came next.

I got my uniform, swore in, and received my badge. Man, that badge meant more to me and carried more weight than anything I had ever held. The honor and responsibility it stood for weighs on me to this day. I wore that uniform and badge with pride, serving our community and always striving to learn and improve. I was very fortunate to have some amazing mentors as I came up.

I spent time on days and swing shifts, but my favorite was the night shift. All the fun happens at night—car pursuits, foot pursuits, fights, you name it! I had the fortune of working with some truly remarkable people, some of whom are still there.

Moving on Up

I eventually found myself being promoted to Corporal on the day shift. That was right about the time my son was born. A lot of experience was packed into a short time because less than a year later, I became a detective. I spent several years doing that, and frankly, I really enjoyed it. I will tell you, the worst part of being a detective is not the crimes or the criminals. It is, by far, dealing with the lawyers and judges, but I won’t dive down that rabbit hole here.

After just under five years of investigations, I had an opportunity to return to patrol. Retirements were approaching, and with that came the chance for promotion. I followed some good advice and, within a year, was fortunate enough to put on that third stripe. Once again, however, that took me back to the day shift. I was able to see my subordinates grow and develop. I even had the honor of seeing a patrolman become my Corporal and eventually leave me altogether when he, too, got his third stripe.

Career Shrine
Mementos are all that remain. (Photo: Carl Staas)

The Beginning of the End

Time went on, and things went well. I loved teaching, mentoring, and leading. Somewhere along the way, my mental health began to wane. There were a lot of factors involved, but thankfully, they were all related to the job. The support I received from my department was overwhelming. I was provided with the time and resources to get right and get back.

I was back on nights at this point and had a crew any leader would be proud to have. Getting back was as much about getting back to them as it was getting back to the job. And that is when I realized it. My heart of service no longer extended to the world. It was just about my department and the men and women I walked the trenches with. It took a long time to accept, but the time had come to call an end to my policing career. I wasn’t mad, bitter, or scorned; I was simply done, and once I came to that realization, panic set in. What the hell am I going to do now?

The Final Decision

I knew I could no longer put the job first. My kids were getting older and starting to realize what my job was. It was no longer just cool cars and flashy lights. Being gone at night was harder for them than I ever could have expected, and surprisingly, it was weighing on me, too. There were a myriad of things that led to this decision, but when it all came down, nothing mattered more than my family. I spoke with my wife and talked to my kids.  I bounced it all off friends and coworkers and eventually made the decision. I drafted the letter of resignation. Man, was that hard to do.

The only thing harder than writing it was giving it to my Lieutenant and greatest mentor of my career. Again, I found nothing but the utmost support from all sides. I have truly been fortunate through this difficult process.

last crew
My last crew. Great officers, better people! (Photo: Carl Staas)

What Now?

I now find myself as a civilian for the first time in my adult life. No calls in the middle of the night. The wife is no longer on pins and needles, wondering if I’ll come home. No more missed bedtimes, birthdays, holidays, date nights, and Dungeons & Dragons events with friends. But also, no more badge, no more responsibility, no more pride, no more honor, no more teaching, no more serving, no more brotherhood, no more comradery… No more identity.

When I became an officer, I was single and fresh out of college. Now, I have a wife and kids who have never known me as anything but an officer. The cut of my hair, the trim of my beard, the socks I buy, the way I eat a meal, and where I have to sit in a restaurant are all determined by a life that is no longer mine. Make no mistake, I have no regrets about my decision and and more than thrilled to have so much more time with my family, but who am I?

If I’m being honest, I don’t have the answers to that just yet. I know I find more things every day I have to work on changing. I was eating dinner with my wife last night, and she commented about the speed of my consumption. She said, “You know you don’t have to hurry and eat before a call comes out.” She laughed, and so did I. The biggest takeaway from that right now is that I had dinner with my wife. So, I’m going to choose to focus on the joys in my life that I’ve been missing and just figure the rest out as I go.

If you have thoughts, suggestions, or insights, please leave a comment below.

Carl Staas is a former Police Sergeant from West Central Missouri. He spent 17 years in law enforcement, performing routine patrol, investigations, evidence management, and finished his career as a patrol Sergeant and field training officer. He's an FBI LEEDA Trilogy recipient and tactical driving instructor. He doesn't know everything about guns, but he's always trying to learn more!

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