LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As a young officer, making split-second, life-or-death decisions can be stressful.

“But I think with all the training and all the activity that we have, it definitely relieves that stress,” said 27-year-old Brett Dale, who was sworn in to the Lafayette Police Department on April 23.

Dale is one of roughly 40 recruits sworn in since Chief Patrick Flannelly was appointed in 2013, meaning nearly one-third of the department’s 142 officers have three years of experience or fewer with the agency.

In recent years, LPD has ramped up recruitment as seasoned employees hired during a mid-1990s expansion reach retirement. While the agency has lost years of veteran experience, Flannelly said the department’s new class of millennial officers bring unique skills and qualities to the table.

Rolling out a force with a large chunk of fresh recruits, however, also comes with a set of challenges, he noted.

“The millennial generation gets maligned in a lot of ways because people say they’re needy, they don’t work hard, that they’ve been coddled,” Flannelly said. “You hear all of these things, but the reality is that the officers that we’re finding now — they’re highly educated, they’re very motivated, they’re very purpose-oriented.”

They’re also more adept to new technologies — an important quality as LPD rolls out body cameras and smartphones for all its patrol officers.

“The future of policing is in technology,” he said. “When you start thinking about what police agencies are going to be responsible for, and what they’re going to need to prepare for in the next five, 10 to 20 years down the road, everything is about technology, about data, as much as it is about people and relationships.”

Recruits are subject to months of training in-house and at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. Still, there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility placed on young officers in particular, Flannelly said.

“There’s only so much you can pick up in a classroom, and experience is (important), especially in law enforcement,” he said.

For example, a 2004 study of the Riverside (Calif.) County Sheriff’s Department — the 44th largest law enforcement agency in the country at the time — found that the risk of officer-involved shootings decreased with the officer’s age.

“We could set up scenarios all day long, and it’s good to see them react,” said Officer James Jerrett, a field training officer for LPD. “But once you get them out into the real world, with real people yelling at them that they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know what they’re going to do — that’s ultimately the best experience they can get.”

Flannelly contended, however, that young officers who have “never had to physically protect themselves or somebody else” are less likely to engage with a suspect.

“Getting them to engage — that’s one of the things we have to monitor for very closely,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to replicate the stress that somebody is going to feel in those moments, but we do the best that we can.”

LPD’s flood of recruits coincides with a wave of retiring officers hired during an expansion in the 1990s, Flannelly said. At the time, LPD was catching up with Lafayette’s multiple annexations, growing industries and rising population.

“The size the agency has grown is a direct result of the growth of Tippecanoe County in general,” he said.

When Flannelly joined the force in 1994, for example, he said there were fewer than 80 officers. As Lafayette’s population ballooned from 56,397 in 2000 to 71,111 in 2015, the force nearly doubled and now comprises two officers for every 1,000 people.

LPD put a focus on recruitment as positions continued to vacate, participating in job fairs at universities across the state and advertising in national publications. As a result, the agency accepted a record 196 applications in 2014 and 131 last year, according to statistics provided by Lt. Scott McCoy.

The agency is hiring for a police officer positions and is accepting applications until Oct. 20. Additionally, LPD will swear in several officers on Oct. 14, just a month after four recruits were awarded badges during a Sept. 12 swearing-in ceremony. Another four or five spots will become vacant in January as several officers are expected to retire.

“I’ve never seen this many come on in this short of a period,” said Jarrett, an officer for eight years.

Dale said it feels good to approach the final days of his training, which he said has prepared him for a variety of scenarios and circumstances. Ultimately, however, he said patrolling the streets will be the real test.

“I’m still learning stuff every day,” he said.

Source: (Lafayette) Journal & Courier,

Information from: Journal and Courier,

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Lafayette) Journal & Courier.