Today’s Officer, Tomorrow’s Chief:
Police Recruitment and
the Millennial Generation
In the next 2 decades, 10,000 baby boomers a day will reach retirement age.1 As this baby boom generation begins to retire, police departments are recognizing the need to adjust their recruitment and retention practices in response to the changing workforce. The rise of the Millennials or Generation Y, born roughly between 1980 and 2000 and the largest generation since the baby boom, presents a new challenge to law enforcement recruitment.2 To respond to this challenge, the COPS Office and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice convened a roundtable discussion on October 14 and 15 in Seattle, Washington. Law enforcement executives, leading academics, representatives from private industry, and a number of Millennials currently working in law enforcement met at Seattle’s iconic Space Needle to discuss a number of recruitment and retention issues.
Both business and law enforcement executives noticed that many new hires are technically savvy, enthusiastic, and service-oriented, but they also tend to carry high expectations. As a whole, executives felt that these new officers may be more eager for quick advancement and higher starting salaries. In addition, while police officers have traditionally stayed in the same field and even agency for their entire careers, workers in general are now more likely to switch jobs and employers after just a few years.
The representatives from the Millennial Generation offered a number of suggestions to the roundtable. They emphasized the importance of being offered opportunities for specialization and training. They also expressed a commitment to public service and a desire for mentoring. In addition, both the younger officers and law enforcement executives saw a need for rethinking annual evaluations. More individual, informal, and frequent feedback from supervisors, they suggested, may offer an effective alternative.
Many law enforcement executives shared a number of successful strategies, often borrowed from private industry, to retaining these young officers. These included a compressed work week and job sharing to allow for more flexibility for officers with young families. One agency explained its success with a sabbatical program, which allowed employees to leave the department so they could try a new job or career, with the option to return. A couple of agencies also restructured their discipline policies to be less punitive and more strategic.
The roundtable came to the general consensus that a service-oriented police department with strong mentoring mechanisms, outlets for specialization, and high flexibility will attract the most qualified and successful recruits. Law enforcement recruiters can benefit by appealing to this younger generation’s call to service. Police departments must adapt to stay competitive in recruiting, which is all the more urgent because today’s officer may become tomorrow’s police chief.
For more information on this topic, download the COPS Office CD Innovations in Police Recruitment and Hiring: Hiring in the Spirit of Service, www.cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/ResourceDetail.aspx?RID=390 , or order it by calling the COPS Office Response Center, 800.421.6770.