Several months ago, I crested the 25-year mark as a sworn police officer. More recently, I turned 50. I had some thoughts about surviving a law enforcement career for a quarter of a century that I would like to share.
I will get this one out of the way right off. Continue your officer safety training and mindset throughout your whole career, regardless of your job description. Everything else on which I will comment has no bearing if you do not live to fight another day. Always be aware of your surroundings and think tactically on and off duty. What would I do if X, Y, or Z happened right now? Be ready to take active measures. Wear your vest. Always.
In addition, all police officers need to maintain their own best level of martial preparedness, whether it is in defensive tactics, intermediate weapons, or firearms. Take responsibility for your own readiness. If your agency does not provide what you feel is adequate training and practice, then get some for yourself. It is your life. You save it.
Okay, now you are in it for the long haul. I have observed that a commitment to physical fitness over decades takes patience and self-discipline. There is no easy road to keeping your body in good shape. A regimen of stretching, moderate weightlifting, calisthenics, and cardio have done me well since I got this job. Maintenance, I guess, is what I am preaching here.
Stretching will keep you limber and make sure all the parts are moving the way they were designed. Moderate weightlifting, using good technique, builds strength and maintains muscle mass. Calisthenics work the same muscle groups as the weightlifting, just in a different way. For cardio, I have used running, cycling, and elliptical trainers to keep up my fitness over the years.
Although when I was a younger man I could work out six days of the week, I have slowly become more realistic. I currently try for three to four good sessions per week, rotating weightlifting or calisthenics with running. By not burning my self out with workouts, I do not tend to become mentally fatigued with my time in the gym or on roadwork.
Working out can give you the necessary power and endurance to win a physical fight. It can also help you in your battles with stress, both external and self-imposed. You will suffer from both in this line of work. Trust me.
As far as your diet goes, take it easy, especially as you get older. As you age, your metabolism will slow. Those things you could stuff in your gullet with impunity when you were 20 will definitely add weight to your frame when you are 40 and above. Maintenance, again. Eat a balanced diet and think portion control when you are starting to strain the waistband.
Where exercise and diet are concerned, I have seen scores of young guys and girls get on board the latest fitness crazes and strange eating habits. It seems they fade out. Sure, you can do all sorts of jumpy, joint-straining fad classes followed by no-carb-this and low-calorie-that food intakes. When you tire of those things, remember to go back to common sense health measures. And life is short, so do not deny yourself that pizza, key lime pie, or beer when the “need” arises.
You must maintain your skills and stay in good shape as a professional police officer because as you get older, the bad guys don’t. Perps are like sharks teeth: newer, sharper ones always pop up to replace the worn out ones. Stay safe. In Surviving to Twenty-Five Part Two, I’ll discuss a different type of officer survival.