In today’s world, it’s very challenging to be in law enforcement. Many Law Enforcement professionals – especially at mid-career – are seriously thinking of a change. This blog is to spark conversation about the pros and cons of changing careers to different law enforcement agencies or leaving all together. A career change is a big decision to make and I hope you take the necessary time and planning to make the best decision for you and your family. Let me tell you my story…
Four years into my police career I experienced my first mid-career crisis. My wife was pregnant with our 2nd son and working about 12 hours a day as an accountant. My work week went well beyond 40 hours as I was on the SWAT team with frequent call outs. I was also going to night class to finish my degree and took whatever off-duty jobs usually directing traffic in the hot sun to make extra cash. Law enforcement pros know how to multi-task but add the stress of just being in law enforcement, you can reach a tipping point that may force you into a career crisis.
Living in paradise also required paying a premium to live there. I was 23 when I started on the police force and couldn’t afford a home in Honolulu (median home prices in 1989 was around $500k). With my $22k salary I had to live with my in-laws whom I respect and love, but that’s not where I wanted to be as the breadwinner for my family.
In a time of crisis, people make rash decisions that they may regret later and I didn’t want to fall into this category. I loved being a cop but I also knew I didn’t like the situation I was in. One night while my wife and son were asleep, I sat at the kitchen table with a pen and paper and wrote down the pros and cons of leaving the police force to find a better paying job. After a few hours, I determined I loved being a cop so much that I couldn’t leave law enforcement. I needed options and a plan to remain in law enforcement but also needed to better my current situation.
Whatever you believe (for you spiritual folks) whether it’s God, Karma, or the universe, I believe there’s a plan for you out there. You just have to look for the signs. Being in crisis mode, your vision is clouded, so you really have to find ways to calm yourself and free your mind to identify the signs. Now for you non spiritual folks don’t get all freaked out as I’m not trying to preach via this blog. I’m only speaking from experience on how opportunities presented itself at the most coincidental times in my life. There’s also another philosophy I subscribe to that you have to make your own luck. Yes, there are people that are lucky like the person than won the mega-millions Powerball lottery. That’s lucky. But you also create luck by being “prepared.” I’m not sure who came up with the phrase “when preparation and opportunity meet at the crossroads, “Luck” is created.” I believe in this.
A few days after putting pen to paper, I participated with the Honolulu Police SWAT team in the Troy Barboza Special Olympics Torch Run to raise awareness and funds for the Hawaii Special Olympics. Troy was a young police officer that was gunned down and killed at his residence in Honolulu. It was a gang-bang assassination hit for a drug arrest Troy made earlier in the year. It took time but Honolulu Police tracked down the killer and he’s rotting in prison for the rest of his life now. The torch run was fabulous and for a very good cause. Of course after any police event we throw a party. In Hawaii, you throw the party at the beach. For those of you that visited Hawaii, you know how beautiful the Islands are. Here I am at the Ala Moana Beach Park with my fellow SWAT team members. The comradery is so strong and special to me. The sun starts to set and a bright red-orange sunset blankets the horizon. Writing this blog now, I literally have tears in my eyes as that was such a beautiful moment in my life. I realize that now, but back in 1992 I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I put up a good face but I was hurting deep down inside because I knew I was not in a good place emotionally. My mind drifted constantly thinking of my wife working 12 hours a day while pregnant with son number-2 and my 3-year old son’s future. We needed the money to save for our own home but was this rat-race really worth it?
I snapped out of my fog when one of the SWAT sr. officers introduced me to Bernard Kaopuiki who was in town visiting family. I heard of Bernard as he was a Honolulu Police Officer, but I had never met him because he left to take a job as a cop in Washington State (City of Kirkland) before I made the team. Being a rookie SWAT member, I was thrilled to meet and chat with Bernard as he had quite a career in the Honolulu Police Department (SWAT, K-9, and Undercover Narcotics Unit). Picture a tall Duke Kahanamoku-looking Hawaiian dude – that’s Bernard. Bernard told me about his decision to leave the Honolulu Police Department which was very similar to my situation to take a lateral job with the Kirkland Police Department. He was now working as a patrol officer in a very small, affluent community just East of Seattle on Lake Washington. I asked him if he felt going back to patrol after years in specialized police units was stimulating enough. I’ll never forget Bernard’s response “bruddah (Hawaiian slang for brother), life is good on the mainland.” Bernard basically said moving to the mainland was the best thing he had ever done for his family and career. The cost of living was way better (although Washingtonians thought it was too expensive), and the quality of life was much better on a police salary. At that very moment, I knew what the solution was for me and my family. The adrenaline rush was immediate and any fog and despair I felt dissipated and I experienced a moment of clarity I’ve never experienced before.
I left the gathering shortly after and went home to talk to my wife who had just got home after another grueling 12 hour shift. She could see the excitement in my eyes and I told her about Bernard and that I wanted to explore law enforcement opportunities in Washington State. Just the promise that we could live on a police salary in Washington, buy a brand new home without her working was more than enough to gain her unconditional support.
After the excitement of visualizing my plan’s end state (with me patrolling the mean-streets of some affluent Washington neighborhood 🙂 ) I knew there was a lot of work to be done. My only trip out of Hawaii was when I was 21 years-old to New York City and Tallahassee, FL for a week. I was 27 years-old when I started planning to look for police work in Washington State. For you older folks, you know back in the day the internet was so new that it was rare to have a home computer with internet. In 1992 I had to go to the local bookstore and buy the Sunday edition of the Seattle Times. I read that paper cover to cover. It was so different and exciting. I started listening to Grunge (Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Sound Garden), followed the Seattle Seahawks, Mariners, and Super Sonics. I visualized being a Seattleite and it was exciting.
A month after meeting Bernard, I made the 2nd long haul plane ride of my life to the mainland. I had a window seat and vividly recall seeing Seattle for the first time as the plane circled the city in preparation for landing. The Space Needle was magnificent and it was actually very clear that day (I heard all the horror stories of all the rain in Seattle) but I didn’t care if it rained 365 days a year, I wanted a new and better life for my family. Even though it was June, the air was definitely different than the humid tropical weather I’ve been used to all my life. I saw firsthand why the call Seattle the Emerald City and Washington State the “Evergreen State.” The area was so green with thousands of tall fir trees and beautiful lakes and the Puget Sound inlet.
My first visit of course was to the Kirkland Police Department where Bernard took me on a ride-along. I felt like an idiot because I brought Bernard a box of Pineapples and he said “bruddah, I can get Hawaiian pineapple at Safeway down the street.” We had a good laugh. The ride-along was spectacular – not because anything exciting happened (a few traffic tickets and warnings, and no hot calls) – but just seeing a fellow Hawaiian brother officer keeping a community safe and successfully transitioning to a new police department made me proud of Bernard. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
The only other department I personally visited was the neighboring city of Redmond, WA. I went on a ride-a-long with Officer Don Baumgartner. Don was awesome and immediately welcomed me as a fellow brother officer after learning of my experience in Honolulu.
When I got back home, I applied for three departments: Seattle, Kirkland, and Redmond. Kirkland and Redmond invited me for an interview panel four months later where I ranked #2, and #1 respectively. Seattle wasn’t hiring at the time. After the polygraph and background checks, Redmond and Kirkland Police Departments both offered me a job as a lateral police officer in December 1992. I chose Redmond because they were a very progressive police department, embraced technology and had a little software company in their backyard as I was a computer geek :-).
Many of you may not believe this but I left Honolulu at the end of January 1993 and started as a patrol officer on February 8th, 1993. My wife, 3-year old son, and our newborn infant son arrived at SeaTac airport on March 20th 1993. I remember like it was yesterday meeting them at the gate (it was allowed back then). My wife was holding my 3-year old’s hand walking down the jet walkway pushing a stroller with our newborn. What a site for sore eyes – I’m tearing up again… My family was with me and we’re starting a new beginning in Seattle. Here’s the unbelievable part, this was their first visit to Washington! My wife trusted me and knew all the planning, visualization of the opportunity that she moved 2777 miles from her home site unseen. The only deal that I had to agree on and still keep today is my house’s internal temperature is set at a balmy 74 degrees year-round.
For those of you who read my blogs figured out I like telling stories. That’s the only way I feel I can effectively communicate the advice I’m trying to give fellow Law Enforcement pros. I’ve lived it, felt it, now I’m blogging it. In my discussions with the hundreds of LE pros I speak to, we all have similar stories and situations. I hope this blog sparks conversation for other LE pros to add their experiences that can help our fellow brother and sister LE pros make informed decisions before making a career transition. Whatever mid-career crisis you’re going through, thoughtful planning, taking pause and clearing your mind will help yourself to think positively and look for signs that will bring solutions to your problems.
Please, stay away from negative people. The saying “misery loves company” is real. If someone in your organization only talks about problems and how bad the department or agency is without any positive solutions, stay clear. Find like minded positive folks to talk about and strategize on future plans. Visualize your perfect end state, keep positive, and you’ll be surprised what happens.
Btw… I hired Bernard and he’s been working on my team as a FTE Corporate Sr. Investigator for past 10 years. Bernard took the necessary steps – some that were difficult choices, but made the cop to corporate move and has found life after law enforcement happiness. I routinely ask Bernard how’s he doing, and his short, simple Hawaiian-style response is always the same “bruddah, life is good.”