If you play World of Warcraft, party on the weekends and keep up with technology, you could be the next poster child for police work in Utah.
Which is good, considering the need for officers in Utah is projected to increase by 20.6 percent by 2016, according to a study released Wednesday by the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Utah: "To Protect and Serve: What Generation Y Brings to Law Enforcement and How Police Agencies Can Benefit," published in the center's journal, Policy Perspectives.
But attracting and retaining Generation Y recruits — those born after 1979, many of whom love gaming and consider work a means to an end — is becoming increasingly difficult, argues West Jordan Police Sgt. Drew Sanders and Angie Stefaniak, program manager at CPPA, the study's authors.
"Traditionally a lifelong career in law enforcement was sought after by many young people," they wrote. "However, ... police agencies nationwide are currently experiencing difficulty with recruiting qualified law enforcement officers to fill new job openings, as well as replace the positions of those who are leaving or retiring. There is evidence that police officers who are members of ... Generation Y may not view law enforcement as a lifelong career."
So, in order to attract and retain the younger generation, superiors must first understand them.
"There is a big difference, we just weren't able to put our finger on it," said Sanders, whose office recently hired 10 Gen-Y officers and has contracts pending for six more. "As we looked into it, to our pleasant surprise, it was not as bad as we thought. In fact it was better than we could have hoped."
With training, the West Jordan Police Department, which has officers in every age category — the Matures, the baby boomers, the Generation X-ers and the Generation Y-ers — learned to appreciate each other's differences.
"This diversity is making us strong," he said. "(The Gen Y officers) are fantastic to work with. Once they catch fire, it's hard to slow these guys down."
Sanders said his Gen Y officers are technologically savvy and are always looking to improve things around them.
But unlike the baby boomers or Generation X-ers, Generation Y-ers aren't concerned about putting in "face time" at work or cranking out 50-hour work weeks.
"Their aim is to be efficient, get the job done and get on to the next part of their lives," according to the report.
That attitude clashes with police work, where crime doesn't follow a 9-to-5 schedule. And while weekend work is unavoidable, Sanders said now that they understand their recruits better, they can help them see that after a few years on patrol, they can move up to a better schedule and that K-9 position they've been craving.
Stefaniak said she had an "aha moment" with the discovery of a book called "Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever," by John Beck and Mitchell Wade.
In the book, the authors explain that those who grow up playing video games learn skills that can benefit them at work: Gen-Y gamers accept constant change and trial and error. Gamers are tough and learn that "the only limiting factor to success is a person's own willingness to keep trying," according to the study.
Understanding these generational differences alone won't ensure a strong police force, but it's definitely a factor, Stefaniak said.
"It's important to keep these differences in mind and to learn about them and be knowledgeable in them," she said. "Not necessarily let them drive what you're doing, but allow them to be a component of planning for recruitment and retention."