FRONTLINE DEBRIEFS: Millennials in Law Enforcement

I entered the LAPD in 1976. During this epoch, the prevailing philosophy was, “If it happened to me, it will most definitely happen to you.” To clarify: If others had been treated like @#*%, then quite logically, you were going to be treated like @#*%! Fair enough.

This meant you sat in the front row at roll call all by your lonesome and endured, no, suffered, the outrageous comments and physical torment inflicted by your predecessors.

You were the ultimate “gopher” for every imaginable task and duty. “Hey, Reitz. There may be a severed head in that dumpster. Check it out.” “Hey, Reitz. Here’re 20 reports for you to finish. I’m end of watch.” “Hey, Reitz. Clean these 40 shotguns and then get some coffee and doughnuts for everyone.”

This was hazing at its finest, solely intended to bring forth one’s true nature and character. There was no whining, no crying, and no sniveling. You gutted it out and in due time, when your mettle had been tested, you were accepted into the ranks.

Enter the millennial officer. True story: An acquaintance of mine, serving as Watch Commander, is confronted by a newly minted, first-day-ever probationer.

“Sir, I need to go home.” “What?” “I need to go home … I’m tired.” “Listen, son, you’re only five hours into a 12-hour shift.” “Yeah, but I’m tired.” “You do know this is your very first day, right?” “Yeah, but I’m really tired.” Holy &%*$#@!

How about this? Similar scenario, different player with just a couple of months under the belt. “Hey, Sarge, I need to extend my vacation here in Hawaii.” “Listen, junior, you’re due in roll call today.” “Yeah, but I’m in Hawaii. Can I just run some sick time too?” “Ahhh, noooo … that would be fraud.” “Okay.”

Guess who called the Watch Commander a short time later? The new officer’s mother! “Hello, I’m the mother of Officer X. May I speak to Sergeant so-and-so, please?” “This is Sergeant so-and-so.” “My son needs a few more days in Hawaii, okay? He really does!” “Are you &%$*@#$ kidding me?”

Now I don’t know precisely from whence this sense of automatic entitlement arose. I really don’t. Was it the abolition of lawn darts? Perhaps the banishment of BB gun wars with your 12-year-old buddies?

Perhaps it was the steady decline of heavy steel vehicles that eschewed seat belts or any restraint device, thereby ensuring, through meticulous design, that one would most assuredly be impaled on one of the many sharp contours and controls within the interior confines. Any four-wheel-locked-skid, on behalf of your father, always ensured stiches somewhere. Any drive was an adventure.

Can’t swear anymore. Nope! Colorful French vernacular is definitely out the window. This is a sure-fire, guaranteed “days-off” caper. I get that. In particular circumstances, under stress, these things may slip out. The millennial officer then “beefs” the offending officer, days off are then issued, and life goes on. I suppose millennials “beef” foul-mouthed suspects as well, but who really knows?

Another millennial phenomenon is that of complaining—about everything. “It’s too hot to train, it’s too cold to train, it’s too wet, too windy, too sunny, too cloudy, the surf’s up (okay, this I’ll buy into), I have a tee time.” At some point, I have to ask, “Is there anything in this career that meets your high expectations and pleases you?”

This phenomenon may be partly due to the fact that millennials, through no fault of their own, were “nerfed” to the max by helicopter parents during their formative years.

I started working at the age of 12. My first job was ball boy at the tennis courts of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Naval Officers threw rackets at me on their bad shots and tried to zing me with balls on even worse shots.

I worked at the Humarock Lodge in Marshfield, Massachusetts, washing dishes and cleaning windows. I used a 40-foot ladder with zero protection to clean some 600+ windows. Fall and you died—it was that simple. I worked for the princely sum of $2.25 per hour to save up for my first 10-foot Velzy surfboard (which I should have kept, dammit all!).

I painted an entire apartment complex during one summer. They even had me strip all the old floor wax of the apartments with gasoline sans gloves. My hands were cracked, calloused, and bleeding. As I recall, this was about a two-week process, which explains in large part why I am the way I am at present. (They’d incarcerate an employer for that nowadays.)

I once hot-tarred an entire Woolworth’s roof in the middle of a blisteringly hot summer in Boston over the course of about two weeks and never even got paid for it, as the guy hiring me took the ladder on the last day and left me stranded on the roof! (If I ever come across that guy, he’s slotted toast!) This was working toward an eight-foot Dewey Weber Ski surfboard, which I still have to this day. In short, you did what you had to do and didn’t complain but rather accepted your fate and simply got on with it.

I grew up when a young man’s word was his word. You worked hard regardless of the job. You didn’t complain and you never asked for favors. You did the best you could and learned from it.

The next time some millennial complains about this or that, ask about his background. That might tell you a lot. If you are of the Jurassic period, explain to him what you endured and maybe—just maybe—he’ll be a little more appreciative of what he’s got.

Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and director of the highly acclaimed International Tactical Training Seminars. Course information and schedules are available at their website at www.internationaltactical.com.

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