Millennials in Law Enforcement

This is a guest post by Sergeants Rich Hinzo and Steve Waldheim, SDPD

The San Diego Police Department takes pride in being innovative, progressive and places a heavy emphasis on training.  Our Department is at the forefront of implementing cutting edge equipment like tasers, body cameras, and any other physical tools we feel may best support our officers.  Additionally, we continue to conduct training on Mental Health, Active Shooter, and Mobile Field Force and Protest Management.

While these skills are important for our officer’s safety and the success of protecting the community, the San Diego Police Department also focuses its training on leadership skills which include, Procedural Justice, Emotional Intelligence, and Community Policing.

The San Diego Police Department constantly looks at law enforcement trends from a local and national perspective and attempts to identify issues and or deficiencies that affect our department.  We consistently review our policies, procedures, and best practices.  We train, evaluate, and make necessary changes and adjustments to fit the need of the officers today and the climate in which they work.

One of the trending topics this year in law enforcement, from a national perspective, was recruiting and retention.

Law enforcement has more generations working together than ever before and the largest group entering the workforce are Millennials.  Millennials are a much maligned group that aren’t understood very well by Generation X’ers or Baby Boomers, whom make up the majority of the San Diego Police Department’s supervisors and command staff.  Millennials have different life experiences, see the world from a different perspective, and their learning environments differ greatly from the two previous mentioned generations.

The San Diego Police Department reached out to Dan Negroni, Founder and CEO of Launchbox.  Dan is a consultant who helps companies solve today’s critical multi-generational issues.  Specifically, the focus is helping to facilitate communication with Generation “Y” which is more commonly referred to as “Millennials.”  Millennials are people born between 1980-1995.  Forty percent of today’s workforce are Millennials and sixty percent of the world’s population today is under the age of thirty.  Within 10 years, 75 percent of law enforcement agencies across the United States will be comprised of Millennials.

Dan came to the San Diego Police Department and gave a presentation about the nuances of the Millennial Generation to our captains and chiefs, including Police Chief Shelly Zimmerman.  What we learned was more than 60 percent of Millennials leave their employers within 3 years.  It costs companies an average of fifteen to twenty thousand dollars to replace each Millennial.  Within law enforcement, this number is much higher due to all the front loaded costs of training involved.  Most companies don’t have a plan in place to deal with this type of turnover and only twenty-two percent of organizations have a plan to engage Millennials and future generations.  Most importantly, Dan gave all of us insight into how to better manage and lead officers from this generation and warned us about the pitfalls of not recognizing the differences in how they see the world and their place in it.

Within the San Diego Police Department, we have annual training for all our sergeants, lieutenants and captains called “Command Training”.  This year, our main focus was on leadership and how to close the generational gap between supervisors and newer officers.  Since our supervisors lead by example, the captains of our Department were tasked this year with presenting our generational class called, “Bridging the Gap” to their own supervisory cadres.  The presentation was based on Dan Negroni’s class as well as teachings from his book, Chasing Relevance.

Perhaps you’ve heard newer officers on your Department expecting to make detective or sergeant in a short amount of time.  How many of us have said, “Back when I first started you would have never asked for that?”  There’s a reason why there’s a big disconnect between generations.  Millennials grew up in a very different world than we did.  Millennials grew up in a generation where everyone gets a trophy just for playing and they were told they could be anything they wanted to be.  They grew up in a technology savvy world where they could have anything instantly.  But there’s two things you can’t get an app on your I-phone for, job satisfaction and building relationships.  These things take time and it’s our job as supervisors within law enforcement to convey that to this generation.  Millennials are well educated, tech savvy and the two top things they desire from the workplace is professional development and work/life balance.

So how do we bridge the gap between generations within law enforcement?  You start by showing up and making it about others.  The single most important life/work skill is always building relationships.  In 2015, Professors from Cornell University conducted a survey in a large city Fire Department which included more than fifty fire houses.  They interviewed and surveyed over 395 supervisors within the department to rate the performance of platoons they were on versus platoons they had formerly served with.  Over this fifteen month study, the results showed that the platoons that ate together frequently had the highest performance ratings.  Conversely, the platoons that did not eat together had the lowest performance ratings.  The study showed that shared meals can serve as a cooperative activity by fostering greater collaboration and stronger social ties.  It’s the shared bonding time that is most important.

The discussions amongst our supervisors during Command Training have been innovative in finding ways to connect with newer officers.  As is the case with any law enforcement agency, the San Diego Police Department wants to retain its Millennial officers, especially after the money spent training them.  This is just a small way of trying to combat the issues today’s law enforcement is facing with recruiting and retention.  Whose job is it to retain your employees in the workplace?  The supervisors, regardless if it’s law enforcement or not.

The San Diego Police Department strides to make our Department as efficient as possible with one of the lowest number of officers per population in major cities across the United States.  Soon, Millennials will make up the majority of the workforce and law enforcement.  The San Diego Police Department wants to ensure that protecting the community continues to be the top priority for future generations and, in today’s world, working with millennials and not against them is the best way to accomplish this.