The Hard Truth--It's Not Easy to Convince Young People to Become Cops Today

The Bexar County Sheriff recently had to rescind an order requiring his deputies and detention officers to take comp time off, because too much overtime is being accrued by his staff. But 1200 WOAI news reports the incident highlights a problem which is certainly not isolated to Bexar County--the difficulty of hiring qualified law enforcement officers today.

"Millennials may want to be a cadet today, but they say, tomorrow I want to be a deputy chief. I'm ready for that," Salazar said of the sometimes unreasonable expectations of young people today.

Law enforcement agencies around the country report the same problem. At a time when unemployment rates are testing new lows nationwide, it is difficult to convince young people to take on stressful jobs in unpleasant situations, especially jobs which can be repetitive and are frequently low paying.

The difficulty in recruiting quality law officers is compounded by a level of opposition to police work, seen, for example, in the recent incident where two young men in New York City dumped buckets of water on passing officers. The 'Black Lives Matter' anti police demonstrations and targeted attacks on police, like happened in Dallas several years ago, also dissuade young people, who have many options today, from choosing police work as a career.

One factor that used to attract young people to police work was the promise of a pension after, in many cases, twenty years on the job, allowing them to collect benefits while they are still young enough to work at new jobs. But the nation's municipal pension systems are more and more in disarray, as contributions fall far below promised benefits, and that is also dissuading young people from risking a law enforcement career for a pension which may not be there when they retire.

Salazar says law enforcement is certainly not the sort of job that lends itself to the 'instant gratification' that many young people who have grown up in a 'right now' world are looking for.

"You just gotta show them that, look, its a lot of hard work, its years of hard work you need to put into that," he said. "You can attain that goal, but you need to put the work in."

Many law enforcement departments are stepping up recruiting among women, and reaching out to groups which have traditionally not been attracted to law enforcement, like LGBTQ individuals and first generation immigrants. Many are revising the qualifications to allow people to become cops even if they have, for example, a marijuana possession conviction on their record, something which until recently was a bar to police work.

Salazar says his office, like many other law enforcement agencies, are moving into more technical fields of law enforcement, because they help catch criminals, but, more importantly, it helps catch tech-savvy Millennials and convince them to join the force.

"We have pioneered in the area of drones and robotics," he said. "We do it because, yes, it helps us with crime fighting, but is also helps us attract those Millennials we are trying to hard to attract."

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