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Millennials Step Up as Boomers Retire From Police Forces

Police academy training for combative situations
Tim Rudell
Millennial cadets in police academy fight training

As veteran officers retire from Ohio police departments millennials, who now comprise the largest living generation, are increasingly being looked to in order to fill their jobs. The question is, are they really interested in that type of work? 

Millennial cadets
At Kent State University’s Police Academy, a class of 24 recruits gathers on a recent evening to train. Millennial recruits make up about three quarters of the class.

three of the class of 24
Credit Tim Rudell / WKSU
Cadets Chronister, King and Case say serving is key.

Twenty-five-year-old Perry Chronister of Cuyahoga Falls is clear about why he’s here.

“‘I enjoy helping people; I want to make a difference in somebody’s life. Even if it’s one person -- just a way of thinking, a way of going about life differently. That’s what I want to do.” 

The commander for this session is Sgt. Wayne Parker of the Kent State Police Department. He says that’s a common mindset for today’s 20-something cadets.  He hears responses like that often when he asks at the start of a term:

"'Why are you here?'”

And, he says, it presents an important training challenge.

“They’ve been raised in a culture of no-violence. Now, all of a sudden, you’re entering into a world of violence. So you want them not to lose that thought process of why are you here. Being a police officer and being about violence are completely opposite things.”

Training commander for police academy cadets
Credit Tim Rudell / WKSU
Sgt. Wayne Park of the Kent State University Police Department

There’s another potential challenge with millennials: one that could affect recruiting. A recent Harvard study shows that 49 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds don’t trust police.

Richard Clausen coordinates the Kent State Police Academy — the largest of 98 police academies in Ohio. He says distrust doesn’t seem to be affecting enrollment.

“We could advertise all the time (but) don’t need to.  Our classes are full.” 

He says you can hear the motivation at the start of this class’s call each night. The cadets say the Pledge of Allegiance, and then pause to dedicate their training day to a fallen police officer; a different officer each night.

Clausen says this particular class started the dedications on its own; and most of today’s cadets find ways to express a sense of higher purpose. In that respect, he says, the generation of cadets now in training is the same as their predecessors in years gone by. 

“They want to help, they want to protect.  You know?  And that’s what this is all about, to protect and serve, and I don’t think that has changed.”  

Recruiting and the internet
Cuyahoga Falls Police Capt. Perry Tabak has been a training officer for the academy for the last decade. When it comes to recruiting today, he says walk-ins and first inquiries about police work are down but actual sign-ups are up. 

He thinks the way millennials tend to gather information about things of interest by researching them on the web is one reason for that apparent paradox.

Richard Clausen, Perry Tabak.
Credit Tim Rudell / WKSU
Richard Clausen, a coordinator, and Perry Tabak, a training commander, at the KSU Police Academy

And, Tabak says recruiters need to use the web, too, and social media, to reach good cadet prospects.

“These days with police work, ... you don’t look for the biggest strongest person. You’re not looking for people to go thump people over the head. We want thinkers.” 

Tabak says, they want problem solvers, and doers, who what to do this kind of work.

Cadet Katie Case of Kent is in her 20s and says she has been thinking about law enforcement since high school.

“I don’t want a job where I sit behind a desk all the time. What draws me to it is the ability to have an influence in the community, and interact with people.”

A graduate
Amy Daily, a recent academy graduate, stopped by to see how friends in this class are doing. Now a patrol officer in Mogadore, she says the tough training in the realities of the job is a help every day. So, too, is the training on how to recognize and keep a ‘greater purpose’ in mind.

“There was a little boy when we went on a ride along that was just in a really crummy situation. And he was really drawn to me and wanted to show me his toys and wanted to talk to me. And it was kind of in that moment that I’m like, ‘This is what I want to do, this is it, I got it.”

It’s a cliché answer, helping people, but that’s really what we do.” 

Academy graduate Amy Daily
Credit TIM RUDELL / WKSU public radio
Amy Daily, Mogadore police officer

Many of the cadets in this class will likely be joining Amy Daily in uniform. The Kent State Police Academy says 89 percent of graduates end up with jobs in law enforcement.

And they’re going to be needed. Data from the Ohio Attorney General’s office suggests that of the approximately 26,000 sworn police officers currently in Ohio, 40 percent are expected to retire or change jobs in the next 10 years.