Frontline Debriefs: Retirement Events

At some point in time, if you hang in there long enough, you may retire from a career in law enforcement, and hopefully it will be with a sense of satisfaction and a degree of accomplishment.

Now there are retirements and there are retirements. Some individuals are immensely popular with their colleagues, and the event is commensurate with such respect and esteem. Others could be held in a telephone booth with room to spare.

With the really memorable retirements, there is an aspect of hilarity, irreverence, and unexpected revelations that come as a surprise to no one in the law enforcement community but are nothing short of shocking to immediate family members and friends. When a speaker (this occurs at the really, really good ones, where there are many speakers) elicits an audible gasp from the wife or kids or mother and father of the retiree, you know you’re in for a good party.

The events generally start off with cocktails, which in and of itself serve as a social lubricant that in turn tends to make for some rather fascinating revelations. Sobriety muzzles indiscretion, whereas “in vino veritas” or, in wine there is truth, everything comes out—and that’s where the problems begin. Awards, presentations, and the inevitable roast of the honoree almost always follow the dinner, which is accompanied by, you guessed it, more social lubricant. After that, it’s off to the races.

Now I’ve been to some where the “ex” of the retiree is in the room with an associate of the honoree. This can get interesting in a hurry. All you can do as an attendee is sit back and be thankful it’s not you up on the lectern being honored, but rather that poor schmuck.

Naturally there always seems to be that moment when the wife of the retiree begins to wonder just who it is she’s married to when story after story pours forth from any number of storytellers.

By the way, it’s not uncommon to overhear, “Are they talking about our Dad?” Yeah kids, it’s your Dad, alright. It’s pretty much akin to watching the mercury rise in a thermometer.

As an example, at one point during a retirement party, the wife of the retiree was discussing various aspects of life and career with her husband when another wife inadvertently let it slip that those pesky “bi-weekly” paychecks had always been hard to manage the household affairs on.

The retiree’s wife rather incredulously asked, “Bi-weekly … they get bi-weekly paychecks?” She had been under the impression that only a monthly paycheck was in order. Seems this guy had a double life of sorts, and things devolved rather rapidly from there.

The food served at most retirements is comprised of rubber steak, rubber chicken, and some sort of sea creature that to this very day remains a mystery. A basic roll, some generic salad of tossed lawn clippings, and some overly sweetened cake usually tops off the affair.

After that, if the retiree is still surviving, those who feel obliged to remain will do so for many hours uncorking even more salacious anecdotes.

Plaques, city proclamations, and awards are presented by numerous individuals to the honoree. These are always good for the “I love me” wall.

But the real good ones are inventive and one-of-a-kind awards that have never and will never be replicated. I’ve got some of those and they are treasured. Some have language inscribed upon them that is not even fit for a drunken sailor on leave in Hong Kong.

A very special one I received was a stripped-down LAPD black and white vehicle door. On it, everyone who attended was able to inscribe any comment they wished to. The day after, I read the comments and they covered the gamut from respectful to downright offensive—which of course, are always the best ones! The door hangs in my office to this day.

Most retirements in Los Angeles are held at the Police Academy in Elysian Park—the one depicted in Dragnet and Adam-12, among other Hollywood fare. They are almost always on a Friday evening. To put that in context, if someone shows up, they really wanted to be there. I care not from what point of the compass you are arriving, you will most definitely hit traffic. I’m not speaking of that sissy traffic that inconveniences you for a mere 20 minutes. No, sir. This is smog-laden, brain-deadening bumper-to-bumper traffic that adds hours to the commute. If you came, you cared.

My retirement was held at the Staples Center. My wife, Brett, organized it, along with some very good friends on the LAPD. We did not have rubber anything and, as a point of fact, all consumables were readily identifiable. We had an Air Support flyby with sirens and all in addition to an on-air TAC 1, LAPD broadcast of my departure.

As time goes by, there will always be fewer of us around. This is inevitable, as time stand stills for no one. Of the 67 men I worked with during my time in SWAT, almost 20 are gone now. Some of their inscriptions are on that very car door and are a constant reminder to me of a time that once was.

Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and director of the highly acclaimed International Tactical Training Seminars. Course information and schedules are available at their website, Scott also co-hosts the Oxygen channel true-crime series It Takes a Killer.

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