Why Are Millennials Hating On Police?

The WWII generation was called “The Greatest Generation”.  Their kids were “Baby Boomers”.  Millennials are their own special breed however.  We call them Millennials, but maybe we should call them, “The Entitled ‘Me’ Generation”. While generations have come and gone, each had its’ two cents to put in regarding their horror about “kids today” and how different it was “back then.” When analyzing Millennials, we must consider them as the first generation ever to have experienced such an inundation of technological advances designed to change, alter, and potentially hurt us in an instant. This adds to the interesting nature of how Millennials tend to spend their time, think, play, and connect. It is important to define who Millennial are.

Who Are Millennials?

Generally this group is described as those born between the early 1980's and the early 2000's. There are also certain qualities that tend to describe or make up a “typical Millennial.” Some of these characteristics include the following: 

  • The need for consistent feedback connected with frequent rewards; referred to as the “everyone gets a trophy generation.” 

  • Highly interconnected with technology and an accompanying attitude of taking it for granted as if it’s been there forever. 

  • More likely to be “gigsters” and jump from job to job.

  • Overly connected to parents/family. 

  • Typically self-promotional and overly confident. 

Millennial Attitudes Toward Law Enforcement

This is a brief, yet comprehensive snapshot of a typical Millennial. With the idiosyncrasies of this particular generation it is interesting to explore their overarching attitudes toward law enforcement. In addition to the evolution of generational attitudes, there has been a consistent evolution in today’s law enforcement agencies in both tactics and citizen interactions. More than ever, police departments are being scrutinized to the extreme regarding issues from response times, to racial bias, to police shootings.  It begs the question, are Millennials one of the reasons policing is becoming more and more challenging?

In 2016, YouGov found that these millennials do not tend to have trusting and open feelings about the American justice system, specifically the police. This is in comparison to older Americans who tend to have much more trust in police, but less trust in the court system. Ultimately, however, the only group that reported less trust in police than the under-30 surveyed population were African Americans. Time Magazine supported this statistic reporting that nearly half of Millennial voters do not have any confidence in our general justice system, including police. 

The Huffington Post also reported on research which found younger Americans have a less favorable perception of police and community interactions. More specifically, only one third of Millennials, in comparison to 50% of those over 35, believe that police officers treat citizens courteously in everyday interactions within the community.  Another similar study of Americans aged 18-29 found 66% of young African-Americans do not have any confidence in law enforcement officers. Similarly, a whopping 53% of young Hispanic Americans do not.

More recently, in survey results published just this year and conducted by Harvard University, Millennials were asked about their trust and confidence with those in the public service sectors. When asked about the police department specifically, it was found that 45% either trusted the police department some of the time or never. Nearly half have a fairly low trust level in law enforcement. Even more interesting, in 2015, The Washington Post  reported the growing trend of distrust of local police is something being seen as trend in broader culture.

The Struggle Is Real

When examining the underlying factors for such distrust and skepticism emanating from Millennials, it is helpful to examine the specific characteristics of Millennials in relation to police culture.

Police culture in regards to the officers themselves, is organized around long-held assumptions and beliefs that are not only deeply held, but where challenging those beliefs within the police culture could cost you more than your job. By nature, police officers exist within a culture that makes them socially unacceptable. There is often the “us versus them” attitude that portrays the importance of the thin blue line and leads to an insular group mentality within police departments.

Millennials represent something completely opposite. Millennials are very social online as well as in person, big on empowering each other, networking and connecting to others in ways.  Millennials views on privacy are much more laissez-faire than the generations proceeding them and especially police officers.

Police departments, and thus police officers must work in a world with clear rules, boundaries, and laws. Police officers are authority figures and command a sense of respect. This is also in direct conflict with some of the underlying foundational aspects of your typical Millennial. Millennials are much closer to their families and parents in ways that previous generations are unable to relate to. Families are more apt to make family decisions, discuss things within the family and communicate in a way that promotes two-way conversation and empowerment. Long gone is the idea children should “be seen and not heard.” 

There is wiggle room with some of the rules within families and often things are up for a diplomatic discussion. Not so within the police. Millennials are unaccustomed to the “authority figure” persona. When a cop pulls a Millennial over for driving under the influence, there is never a discussion about feelings with the individual or a chat involving legal explanation, consequences, and other choices. It’s the law, and the cop is there to enforce it. 

In Conclusion...As Millennials Learn To Adult

As Millennials are transitioning into adulthood, the gap between police and Millennials only appears to widen. The relationship between the two is still at odds with two very different mindsets ruling the actions behind any decision or interaction.  Forbes reported in an article about the particular workings of the “Millennial Mindset.” Essentially, Millennials seem to demonstrate a sense of entitlement which provides them with their own permission to argue, advocate, and voice ideas to authority figures much more than individuals from previous generations. They are much less likely to simply comply to any order or directive because they believe they have all of the answers. 

In terms of Millennials growing up and learning “to adult,” this presents an interesting dynamic between the relationship of police and Millennials.  Conflict is inevitable as police provide directives. Generally speaking, it is understood (by everyone, perhaps except Millennials) that the directives should be followed. There is no room to collaborate and come up with a mutually agreed upon answer or solution during the moment of contact. This appears to be hard for Millennials to reconcile.

It will be interesting to see how the relationship between law enforcement and Millennials continues to evolve.  It may seem kind of “Millennial” in nature to think that maybe this generation and the police force could come together in a more peaceful and cohesive way with a mutual trust. After all, Millennials are not going anywhere and neither are police.