I know where Hell is. I lived there once. I can do something positive because I understand what it’s like to be injured, and I understand what it’s like to be retired.
This is one retired NYPD
detective’s explanation for volunteering to participate in POPPA’s first group of retired Peer Support
Officers. These trained PSOs ensure that retired NYPD officers who call the retirees HelpLine, at
any time on any day of the year, will have access to assistance for problems related to their work as
cops or to their retirement from the job.
POPPA launched its retiree program in April 2006, following a year of planning, volunteer
recruitment, and training. Designed along the lines of POPPA’s HelpLine for active officers, the
new program offers confidential, peer-based support free of charge for callers to 800.599.1085
(1085 is the police code for “officer needs assistance”). POPPA considers the extension of its
support to retired cops as a moral imperative. Some 45,000 retired NYPD officers are now living
throughout the United States, with 800 to 3,000 having retired each year over the last decade. The
POPPA Retirees program benefits active cops as well as retirees by reinforcing the ethos of cops
taking care of cops, regardless of their circumstances.
Volunteer retirees are trained as PSOs to answer the 24-hour Retiree Help-Line covering the New York Metropolitan area and other states throughout the country. The state of Florida has 25 Peers trained to assist retirees that call the line. Using skills in listening without
judging and in maintaining strict confidentiality, PSOs talk with HelpLine callers, meet with them
if requested, and assist them, as appropriate, in finding professional help. From early May through
early September 2006, some 120 retired officers utilized the HelpLine, with half of them receiving
referrals to mental health professionals who are experienced in working with police officers.
Like active officers, retired officers experience a wide range of stress-related conditions.
Alcohol and substance abuse, family problems, and depression are among the most common
problems reported. About one-third of police officers involved in a traumatic incident suffer
significant post-traumatic stress disorder. Untreated PTSD can be debilitating long after retirement.
In addition to conditions shared with active officers, retirees may suffer from physical problems
related to injuries or aging or from stress arising from the loss of police duties and colleagues.
“I’ve talked to a retired cop who’s 87, and he still misses the job,” said a PSO. HelpLine callers
with similar problems may be in their 30s, having retired after becoming disabled.
When POPPA first spread the word that it was looking for retirees interested in assisting fellow
retirees, the agency received four times the number of applications it was seeking. Although the
applicants chosen for training are pursuing widely diverse vocations and avocations, they have one
characteristic in common: enormous enthusiasm for channeling caring into helping. Their comments
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- I am willing to help any cop who needs help.
- I’ve had real life experiences, and I am not afraid to talk about any of them.
- I want to help the younger generation of police officers (of which my son is one) by sharing what I have learned. Many times in my career, I suffered alone because no one offered help.