Why Millennials Should Love Law Enforcement Careers

How Jobs in Policing Can Meet the Expectations of the Next Generation

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Police departments around the U.S. have long faced challenges in recruiting well-qualified candidates for vacant law enforcement positions. At the same time, agencies struggle to keep up with attrition as more and more members of the baby boomer generation retire.

The obvious solution is to look to younger generations to fill those holes. But are millennials suited to a career in law enforcement?

Some Statistics

According to the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Census, millennials numbered some 71 million in the U.S. in 2016, the most recent year for which firm statistics are available. Their numbers are expected to exceed those of baby boomers in 2019.

But according to other sources, less than half of this age group trusts the police.

What Millennials Want in a Job

Millennials aren't quick to settle down into a job or career for life. They change jobs an average of four times before age 32. And (unsurprisingly) they worship technology. About 90% regularly use social media and 59% prefer a job that offers state-of-the-art and cutting-edge technology.

Studies indicate that while the vast majority of new graduates research job prospects before choosing a major, and they serve in internships in order to gain relevant experience prior to looking for a job, many feel that they're underemployed. They're earning salaries far below what they expected, and they're not receiving the formal training they think they need to do their jobs well.

Millennials also say that they would prefer to forgo a higher-paying job with a large corporation in favor of a smaller company with a more positive work environment, and with opportunities for continuing education and advancement.

What This Means for Police Departments

These findings might look like bad news for police departments at first glance. Technology? Internships? Continuing education? In fact, law enforcement careers can offer all three. With the right perspective, law enforcement recruiters can use this information to show millennials why they should want to become police officers.

Accentuating the Positive

Survey respondents essentially said they want what most people want in a job: a decent salary, an enjoyable job with supportive bosses and coworkers, and opportunities to learn and to move up the chain.

This is exactly what careers in policing can offer. Although they're often seen as rigid, structured, and stagnant, law enforcement jobs come with a lot of flexibility with regard to working hours and job duties.

Salary Issues

The starting salary of a police officer can't be considered high, but most departments do offer some kind of step-up payment plan where officers earn more based on their years of service. The salaries are also often in line with what many other college graduates earn...and sometimes they're even more.

Education Equals Advancement

While police jobs are one of many paths in criminal justice that don't necessarily require a college degree, college graduates will soon realize how their education can help them find even more success in their careers.

Many departments encourage their officers to go back to school to give them an edge when it comes to available promotions and even pay increases. Degrees in public administration can open doors to management and supervisory positions, and some departments offer education bonuses.

Look into whether any of the credits you earned at the police academy can be applied to an educational degree.

Training Options Abound

Few professions offer the same level of formal training and continuing education given to police officers. Candidates spend six months or more in a police academy, then they move on to an extensive field training program where they put their classroom learning into practice. They're then placed on the job and onto solo patrol. 

Police officers have the opportunity to attend training throughout their careers that can help them advance and specialize after the real job starts.

A Positive Environment

There are a couple of secrets within law enforcement. The first is that policing can be fun sometimes. Dangerous? Yes. Important? Absolutely. Noble? Of course. But it's also rewarding and enjoyable, largely because of the intrinsic rewards that come with helping others. 

The other secret is the camaraderie that comes from being part of the law enforcement community. There are few professions that offer the same sense of "belonging" that a job in policing delivers.

A Clear Path to Success

Finally, careers in law enforcement typically offer clearly defined paths toward advancement. There are rules and policies that usually articulate exactly what officers must do receive promotions, allowing workers to advance at their own pace.

The Right Choice for the Next Generation

The bottom line is that careers in law enforcement actually offer exactly what many new college graduates are looking for. The trick—and the challenge—for police departments is to get the message out there to this new generation of workers.