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In the Know: Would you go into law enforcement?

A little over a year ago, I was attending a training conference. After the day ended, I had supper with a group of law enforcement officers I have known for years that were also attending the conference.

All of us were 20 or more years into our careers. While we were eating, we were having some good conversation. Like most conversations, we covered a lot of different topics. Some were related to our jobs and some were not. One job related topic we talked about was our concern that fewer young people are choosing law enforcement as a career. That led to the question, "If you were starting your careers over, would you go into law enforcement again?" I surprised the group and myself a little with how quickly I answered, "Absolutely, I love being a cop."

It is the truth though. I told the group that every job has its ups and downs, but overall, I have always enjoyed my job. There was a variety of other responses in the group, but the initial consensus seemed to be that they might choose a different career path, and that also surprised me.

The discussion then went to why we chose a career in law enforcement. We talked about how when we were a little younger, the excitement the job can offer was part of the draw, but as the conversation got a little deeper, a common theme became apparent. It was that the job seemed to choose us as much as we chose it. The desire to serve others and to make a difference in people's lives and our communities was an important part in our decision to become law enforcement officers.

It seemed that what influenced the group's initial response was the national and state spotlight that had been put on law enforcement professionals through recent media coverage. The feeling was that this coverage had created an inaccurate and negative image of law enforcement officers. Yet all of us agreed, our own communities were (and still are) very supportive. As we talked about the positives of the job, in just a short time, the group consensus softened and was in agreement that the career choice has been a good one.

The truth is, law enforcement is still trusted overall by the majority of Americans, but one of the groups we have lost ground with is young people. Many young people do not use traditional media sources to get current information so blaming the media for this might not fit. Young people rely heavily on social media, and this is one area where law enforcement may fall short. The social media platforms that align more with young people's interests need to be utilized by law enforcement in order to reach this group.

We also need to have face-to-face conversations with young people and share with them why we chose this career. In a short conversation, we can change attitudes. There is a desire of today's young people to make a difference in their communities, and I and other law enforcement professionals need to find ways to reach out to them and to express the positives about our profession.

It is up to us to take the initiative and show our young people that they can make a difference in their communities while serving as law enforcement officers.

• • •

Troy Wolbersen is the Douglas County sheriff. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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