“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
It bothers me when I hear law enforcement officers and trainers complaining about “the new generation”.
I hear the Millennials (Generation Y) referred to as entitled and selfish, yet the research suggests they are the most service oriented generation in history. It is this generation of young men and women that joined the military in our countries following the events of September 11, 2001 and served heroically in combat, many serving numerous tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Trainers complain about them being the “Why” generation because they are always asking why. Too often we interpret the question, which is driven by the fact they want to understand why, as being insubordinate. Wanting to know why is not a Millennial issue. When I started in 1979 I wanted to know why as well. I was just not allowed, or was too afraid to ask. If I asked why some senior cop would tell me to “shut the f… up” because I had not been around long enough to ask question. Unfortunately that mentality is still pervasive in many law enforcement agencies today.
Cops complain that the new generation does not want to “do their time” on the streets. They want to get promoted right away and want to be the Chief of Police. Interestingly enough I have been hearing this complain for a couple of decades. You need to ask yourself if your agency has created some of this mentality through your recruiting efforts. Many agencies are seeking to hire only people with university degrees and often with hire recruits with advanced degrees, then they wonder why these people are ambitious in their career aspirations. Agencies use units like SWAT and specialty investigative positions in their recruiting campaigns to attract the best and the brightest, and then complain about them when they seek to get those positions early in their careers.
Law enforcement executives complain that the ‘new generation’ are not here for the long haul because they are used to changing jobs every 3 to 5 years. Maybe you need to address that in both recruits and in recruit training. Talk to them about how they can change careers within your agency every 5 years. Talk to them continually about “during the next 25 years of your career” during all aspects of recruit training. Educate them about issues and challenges they may face during their 25 year careers and give them the tools to deal with those so they have a successful career and retire with their physical, financial, emotional and relationship health in tact. Make the “Pre-Retirement Seminar” that many agencies provide to officers in the last few years before retirement part of recruit training. Talk to them about having a small amount of money come off their pay check and go directly into a retirement fund and actually have them fill out the paperwork in recruit training.
It is time to stop the age old habit of complaining about “the new generation”. We have been doing it for decades in law enforcement and centuries in society. One of the reasons is that we tend to compare the new generation with the current version of our generation. Pause to reflect back on your generation when you were 20 and compare it to the current generation at that same age. If you were honest with yourself you would admit that you were not as wise and experienced then as you are now.
Is each generation different? Yes. They have different experiences growing up, different relationships with technology and have been shaped by different world events. That does not make any generation better or worse, only different. Lets start to celebrate those differences. Lets learn from each other, build on the strengths and talents of each generation and grow our profession.
P.S. The Millennials are considered to be the most tolerant generation in history. Many have grown up not judging people based on race, religion or sexual preference. In these challenging times for law enforcement this tolerance is a good thing.
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