by Giuseppe Weller
As a Sergeant for the South Florida ICAC Task Force from 2007 until 2017, I witnessed co-workers, friends, and amazing detectives succumb to health issues, stress, and anxiety. I could see that daily physical stress and anxiety in their faces, as they were just hanging on to reach their 25th year of service or trying to complete their 5 years of the “drop.” This showed me how this work posed a significant risk, both mentally and physically, to my post years if I did not take care of all aspects of my life. Being very cognizant of the toll a law enforcement career can have, I knew that I had to be proactive so that my retirement years would not be burdened with health issues, stress, or other ailments. This made me really think about how I viewed myself, both physically and health wise. I added up the 25 to 30 years from when I first began at the age of 28 and could not imagine myself at 53 or 58 years old running around thinking that I could perform as well as I did when I first began. Many do not realize that towards the later part of their careers, one loses instincts, sharpness, and the ability to perform at demandingly elevated levels.
As we all get older and slower, we end up on desk jobs or positions that are not as dangerous to “ride our time” until we reach retirement. Anyone reading this can go around their department and pick out many of these officers or detectives that are in this position. I could not see myself like that, nor was I going to be labeled an “old timer.” I worked out seven days a week, worked in tactical units, was very athletic, and had a hobby coaching youth soccer after work. I had my outside hobby of coaching, educated myself on mental wellness through participation with SHIFT, and surrounded myself with a network of close friends and family outside of law enforcement. This helped me detach myself from the law enforcement environment when that day would come, making my decision simple and super exciting.
On August 24, 2017, my birthday, I had reached 20.8 years of law enforcement service and it was my last day working for the Broward Sheriff’s office. I self-retired without reaching the mandatory 25 years of service. I did not receive a retirement badge or a pension from the state but fortunately, many years before, I had rolled my state retirement over into the investment plan. My reasoning for this was not to be ever handcuffed to the sheriff’s office or state pension and would allow me to leave or retire whenever I wanted, with whatever money was in my account. Also, it helped that I am a military veteran with nine years of honorable time, so I was able to combine the two careers which allowed me to touch my pension without any penalties. If you are a veteran, I recommend doing some research on this in advance. Another helpful choice I made was I never bought back any time to gain years of service in law enforcement.
Once my retirement plans and official notice was given to the sheriff’s department, some co-workers began telling me that if I did not properly retire with 25 years in, I would not get a retirement badge or be able to carry a gun. While this may be true, there are other aspects that need to be considered. The retirement badge is an accomplishment with little benefit and doesn’t give you any more authority than what a regular civilian has, so get used to it. I have not carried my gun since day-one of retirement, and I do have a CCW and a P.I. license which I had prior to becoming a deputy, but they have not been needed. Once retired, you must learn to live outside of that protective bubble or “the castle” you are in and not be scared to move forward in life if you want to live free and mingle with the community.
I have connected with so many different people in these five years and do not need my guard up daily. The one thing that no one really provides when you leave law enforcement is a formal post-retirement learning system or integration back into civilian life. We are primarily set up for financial retirement, and nothing else, imagine that? When you retire, you do not have to take a course or pass it. Those who are giving you your retirement badge still work themselves, so they have no idea either…how is that possible? What about your daily living, lifestyle, dealing with the community at large without a badge, gun, authority, and helping people purely because now it is just who you are and not what you were once employed to do?
After these first five years of retirement, l can look back and say that I never once doubted my decision back in 2017 to self-retire. I do not miss a day of it and the only thing that draws me back into the law enforcement world are my special friends that are still working there today. I know that once every one of my mates have retired or left on good terms, I will feel good inside that they too have joined me.
I can truthfully tell you that it will take a few years to figure it all out once you are done. Financially, whether the state is paying out, you are managing your own investments, or using an advisor, you need a great deal of planning and assurances you can make it through the next 25 or 40 plus years. I am in a great spot but in the beginning, it took some demanding work to make sure everything was aligned, and it needs time to be in motion to see if it is working. You cannot connect the dots looking forward, they can only connect after you look back.
I honestly think that many who do not retire from law enforcement at the proper time, stay longer than usual, or get rehired, do not really have a plan for when they become older, or they are afraid to step out into the civilian world. You do not know how much time you have, so make a huge effort and think ahead about those things you want to do once you have retired. Fighting crime everyday gives you a false sense that everything out in the civilian world is an issue. As a civilian, you don’t see so much of this daily crime, and it is not as tough as many think. Sure, there are challenges, but my past still protects me. I am still vigilant of my surroundings, I still watch the news every day, and I have even jumped into a few situations to help the vulnerable, even though I no longer carry a badge or a gun.
I have also had the fortune to find great people who have helped me navigate this path. Remember, once you are done, you are the boss of your own future…be wise, have a plan, have a hobby, or do something that makes you feel good about yourself. This will get you through the day when all your friends are still working, and you are at home. I have my pro soccer training with youth, college athletes and professionals, so I stay busy year-round due to the warm south Florida weather.
If you ever need a little advice on how to navigate post career retirement, find those around you who have reached this milestone or don’t be afraid to connect with me as I am always available to help in any way. Be excited to get to the ultimate date to retire and do not be afraid to venture out and away from the badge that you lived under. Be safe.
Giuseppe Weller retired from law enforcement in 2017 where he spent 21 years working as a Detective Sergeant for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. During the last 10 years, he was the Supervisor and Co-Commander for the South Florida Internet Crimes against Children/Human Trafficking Smuggling Task Force. He was also a sworn Federal Task Force Officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (F.B.I.) Child Exploitation Unit. From 2017 until 2020, he joined the U.S. Center for SafeSport and worked exploitation of US Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and currently is a professional soccer coach with the Miami Football Club and assistant coach at Nova Southeastern University.