At Kent State University’s Police Academy, a class of 24 recruits gathers on a recent evening to train in how to be ready for combative situations. Millennial recruits make up about three-quarters of the class.
Cuyahoga Falls resident Perry Chronister, 25, is clear on why he’s here.
“I enjoy helping people,” he says. “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 Sergeant Wayne Parker of the Kent State Police Department, says that’s a common mindset for today’s 20-something cadets. He hears things like it often when he asks them 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,” Parker says. “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.”
As veteran officers retire from Ohio police departments, millennials are increasingly looked at to fill their jobs. That brings its own slate of challenges, though. A recent Harvard study shows that 49 percent of 18-to-34 year olds don’t trust police.
Richard Clausen, who coordinates the Kent State Police Academy—the largest of 98 police academies in Ohio – says that doesn’t seem to be affecting enrollment.
“You know, we could advertise all the time,” Clausen says. “Don’t need to. Our classes are full.”
As for motivation? He says you can hear something of that at the start of this class’s call each night.
Each night, they close the pledge with a dedication to a fallen officer.
Clausen says this group started the dedications on its own, and most of today’s cadets express some sense of higher purpose – just like past cadets did.
“I think it’s still the same,” he says. “People, they want to help, they want protect. You know? And that’s what this is all about, to protect and serve, and I don’t think that has changed.”
Cuyahoga Falls Police captain 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. And Tabak says recruiters need to use the web too, and social media, to reach good cadet prospects.
“These days with police work though, it’s not… you don’t look for the biggest strongest person,” Tabak says. “You know, you’re not looking for people to go thump people over the head. We want thinkers.”
And Tabak says, they want thinkers who are problem-solvers and doers who what to do this kind of work.
That appeals to cadet Katie Case of Kent. Putting on the practice gloves for hand-to-hand training, she says she’s in her 20s and has been thinking about law enforcement since high school.
“I don’t want a job where I sit behind a desk all the time,” Case says. “And, what also draws me to it is the ability to have an influence in the community, and interact with people.”
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 – and so too is the training in how to recognize and keep that “greater purpose” in mind.