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In defense of the kids these days: Debunking myths about new police officers

Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions, an experienced officer sheds light on the strengths and potentials of the younger generation in law enforcement

DALL·E 2024-01-21 16.55.34 - A child dressed in a playful police officer costume, complete with a toy badge and a small, harmless toy walkie-talkie. The child is standing confide.png


In a recent leadership class, the discussion turned to the topic of new officers entering the profession. Many of the comments reflected similar sentiments, expressing concerns about how “the kids these days” lack communication skills, over-rely on technology, and have little to no experience in handling physical confrontations.

I share concerns on some of these issues, particularly for departments facing a shortage of applicants. However, to avoid becoming the stereotypical grumpy old cop with misremembers the past, I’d like to offer a few points in defense of the young people joining our field.


If you have been in the career for a long time, or have at least heard stories from officers of the previous generation, you recognize we have made significant advancements in professionalism.

These improvements are partly due to the people we hire, partly a result of a cultural shift within the profession over time, and partly because of higher training standards. The outcome is officers who communicate with more empathy, exercise greater self-control to avoid provoking physical conflicts with suspects, and are more aware of their own biases.

While I won’t delve into the old stories, many of which were outlandish and often lacked consequences for holding officers accountable, it’s evident that times are changing, and not entirely for the worse.

Why add to the challenges of our career by mistreating our new members?


In the not-so-distant past, and likely still in some departments, the childish game of “you’re sitting in my chair” was common. This form of bullying, often disguised as a way for newcomers to “earn their way,” was nothing but nonsense. The disrespect shown to new officers had no productive value; it perpetuated a culture of disrespect and subjected officers to unnecessary abuse. Why add to the challenges of our career by mistreating our new members?

The high rates of divorce and suicide among law enforcement officers are telling indicators. This career can be immensely challenging and can take a toll on us. It is crucial that we support each other, not just those officers who have responded to an arbitrary number of calls. Regarding the pervasive issue of hazing culture, it’s not the incoming officers who are disrupting the workplace. Rather, it is some of the more experienced officers who, by pointing fingers at the supposed problem, are actually contributing to it.

Talking to people

The most common complaint about new officers is their perceived inability to communicate effectively with people. Although there is some truth to this, I remember that many of my academy mates, including myself, also struggled with this aspect of the job years ago.

Fortunately for me and my similarly awkward peers, our career uniquely compels us to develop the ability to communicate effectively with people. Throughout my entire 17-year career, I’ve consistently heard complaints about new officers struggling with interpersonal communication. However, I rarely hear such complaints about officers with five years of experience. This pattern suggests that the issue of communicating effectively is, thankfully, a short-lived problem.

Moreover, if I had a functioning time machine, I might look back and discover that some of the most vocal critics were once in the same position, being less than proficient themselves at communicating with people in their earlier years.

When we objectively assess the situation, we should acknowledge that the future of policing may be in better hands than we often give credit for.

Defensive tactics

The particular concern raised about defensive tactics is that many new officers have never been involved in a physical altercation. This is a valid issue, as it’s undesirable for an officer’s first genuine physical conflict to be a potentially life-threatening situation.

Where feasible and permitted by liability-conscious administrations, police academies can address this issue. Implementing challenging scenarios that require recruit officers to exert significant effort to overcome demanding situations can have far-reaching benefits. It helps in developing a survival mindset and motivates them to train in physical skills.

However, I also recall the lack of fluid defensive skills in older generations. I remember older officers who, like defenseless turtles on their backs, lacked a foundation of grappling skills to defend themselves in dire situations. I recall sets of control tactics reliant on pain compliance that proved ineffective when a suspect resisted with genuine determination or simply had somewhat sweaty hands.

Inexperience with the stress of interpersonal violence is indeed a valid concern. However, the question arises: are “the kids these days” less capable of effectively controlling dangerous suspects? Based on my observations as a long-time defensive tactics instructor, I would say, on average, they are actually better.

The concern about generally lower fitness levels among new officers is indeed significant. With fewer individuals engaging in sports during their formative years and instead spending extensive hours in front of screens, often in poor posture resembling a cashew, there are broader implications. This trend not only impacts defensive tactics but also the overall physical and mental well-being of an individual.

Fortunately, this issue can be addressed effectively. Departments can counter these deficiencies by fostering a culture that values and encourages physical fitness. Some agencies have the means to provide full or partial gym memberships, or even allow officers to exercise during duty hours. Realistically, a long-term commitment to fitness in adulthood is more crucial than the level of physical activity during one’s teenage years.

Are “the kids these days” less capable of effectively controlling dangerous suspects? Based on my observations as a long-time defensive tactics instructor, I would say, on average, they are actually better.


I cannot support the requirement that all officers must have a college degree. I have witnessed many highly capable officers who did not possess college degrees. While I agree that the same individual might be a better candidate with a degree than without, I don’t believe that lacking a degree inherently makes them inferior to all candidates who do have college degrees.

It’s crucial for new officers to possess positive traits and the capacity to develop the necessary skills for the job. However, the specific route they take to acquire these skills is less important. That said, the general trend toward college education among our officers is positive.

Officers are expected to possess strong language and critical thinking skills, nuanced ethics, and a range of other “soft skills” essential for being highly proficient and professional. The writing skills needed to produce a robust report, which can support a criminal case and preclude a lawsuit before it gains traction, are invaluable. Although not all officers have the advantage of a college education, this trend has helped elevate the entire profession to a higher standard.

Still skeptical? Many years before my tenure, an agency I previously worked for required officers to write their reports — barring major crime investigations — on 3x5 cards. One report was confined to just one card.

Should the “old guard” just stop complaining?

The concerns raised by the more experienced officers aren’t entirely baseless, nor are they always expressed just for the sake of complaining. To offer the most effective training, our trainers need to recognize the general trends in the challenges faced by incoming officers and make necessary adjustments. We must guide new officers to improve their interviewing skills, address officer safety issues, and help them overcome other obstacles to achieving a high standard in policing.

When we objectively assess the situation, we should acknowledge that the future of policing may be in better hands than we often give credit for.

Andrew Heuett graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and became a police officer in 2006. He received his Defensive Tactics Master Instructor Certification in 2012, joined the Port of Seattle Police Department in 2016, served as a PTO for over 30 officers, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2022. He is an instructor for defensive tactics, TASER, reality-based training, regularly instructs patrol tactics at regional training events, and is an active bagpiper for Seattle Police Pipes and Drums.