The Kids Are Alright

10 ways Generation Z will transform the culture of 
law enforcement and 10 ways to recruit and retain the best of them


According to Jason Dorsey, a leading speaker on ‘Gen Z’, “You will begin to look more like them, then they will begin to look like us. Every parent, employer, marketer and neighbor needs to understand this new generation that is poised to change everything,” No matter how you might feel about it, welcome to Generation Z…

As Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials begin to work together, Generation Z is starting to enter the workforce. The cultural differences between the older generations and Generation Z will have a significant impact on the workplace. A primary reason this newest generation will have such an impact is that their skills and knowledge of social media are greater than those of any generation before them.

Dr Linda Ronnie, a Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behavior and People Management at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, addresses a very important workplace fact: in the next few years, five generations may be working side by side, since people are living longer and delaying retirement (Ronnie, 2017). This includes Veterans (pre-World War II); the Baby Boomers (World War II – 1960s); Generation X (mid-60s – late 1970s); Millennials (aka Generation Y) (1979 – 1991); and last, but not least, the largely unknown factor: Generation Z, born after 1992 (Ronnie, 2017).

Generation Z is significantly larger than the populations of Baby Boomers and Generation X. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the United States Gen Z makes up 25% of the population, outnumbering Millennials and Baby Boomers (Dill 2016). At approximately 60 million, native-born American members of Generation Z outnumber millennials by nearly one million, according to census data compiled by Susan Weber-Stoger, a demographer at Queens College (Williams 2015). They are known as “digital natives;” most have never been without a smartphone, and the future will provide a considerable range of new technological tools that will be more suitable for a mobile device than a desktop (Fromm 2017).

There is little, if any, information on how Gen Z will transform the culture of law enforcement. This article will explore 10 ways this generation will transform police culture, and 10 ways to recruit and retain the best of them. So, without further ado, let the countdown begin:

Number 10: Communication

Although they are “digital natives,” Gen Z prefer traditional forms of communication. They actually prefer face to face communications over texts, emails, or social media (Patel 2017). They thrive on real relationships with people, especially with authority figures. It will be important for police agencies to mentor Gen Z on how and when to adapt their communication style to the proper situation, and understand when to use formal communication styles.

They want to know what an organization can offer them right away on day one (Half 2016). The big question for Gen Z when looking for a job is: how will your agency fit into their lives? It is important for them to understand an organization’s culture and what the organization stands for (Half 2018).

Number 9: Training

According to a Robert Half/Enactus survey of more than 770 college and university student members between the ages of 18-25; thirty two percent of Gen Zers out of college expect to be managing or supervising employees in the workplace. Gen Z wants training and support to succeed in leadership roles, and they want to be set up for success and allowed room to prove themselves (Half 2018). Gen Zers are used to being taught, coached and mentored, and they expect to provide input. They don’t like to work in isolation and prefer to work in small group collaborations. Their least favorite working conditions are working off-site and/or working on virtual teams (Half 2018).

A key consideration to integrate Gen Z into policing is to focus on the strong cultural strengths law enforcement shares with them. One of those shared strengths involves the intense teamwork that is inherent with police work, and the desire Gen Z has for working in a collaborative environment.

Number 8: Politics

Gen Z does not connect with either major party, but their votes in 2016 may have benefited Republicans, and between 2012 and 2016, Democratic candidates lost 5 percent of the youth vote nationally (Lynch 2017). That drop could have been caused by Generation Z’s first time voters (Lynch 2017). Gen Z favors limited government and supports free speech even when it is offensive.

This is a generation that wants government to take care of national security and the economy, but also wants government to leave individuals alone. Gen Z stresses consensus and compromise over individualism, and therefore they will “usher in a unified and peaceful period in politics” (Lynch, 2017).  Consensus and compromise is an important quality in a law enforcement officers role as a peacekeeper and can be used as a key consideration to integrate Gen Z into policing.

Number 7: Maturity

Gen Z is a generation that is mature and in control. Underage drinking declined to about 66 percent in 2013, from about 82 percent in 1991 (Williams 2015). Generation Z has many comparisons to the Silent Generation of late 1920s through the early 1940s, which was shaped by the Depression and World War II. Generation Z grew up in the great recession of 2008, and through constant world conflicts.

Generation Z and the Silent Generation also share strong career focus and entrepreneurship (Williams 2015). The Silent Generation was the richest and the most career-focused generation in history (Williams 2015).  A key consideration to integrate Gen Z into policing is to concentrate on the strong career focus they share with the silent generation. Gen Z will naturally be attracted to the safety of working in one of the few careers that still offers a pension plan.

Number 6: Career Opportunities

According to a Robert Half/Enactus survey, this is a generation that is entrepreneurial and wants to work independently, but they also expect to be given the right tools and input to help them succeed (Half 2018). They want their leaders to be honest and straight with them. They need to feel they are making a difference and are having a positive impact on society.

The top five priorities for Gen Zers when looking for a job are: Opportunities for job growth, generous pay, having a positive impact on society, stable work, and good healthcare benefits (Half 2018). Gen Z’ desire to have a positive impact on society lines up nicely with policing’s culture of service and protection.

Number 5: Culture Builders

What is important to Gen Z is the opportunity to form or play an active role in creating their own culture (Jacoby, n.d.). They are culture builders, and although the coming exponential growth of innovation and technology will cause disruption, generation Z itself will influence multiple generations. Organizations will have to brand their culture toward Gen Z’ commonly held social belief system, and that Gen Z’s belief system is not a matter of politics, but of practicality (Jacoby, n.d.).

For instance, Gen Z is the last generation to be majority non-Hispanic white at 52.9% (Jacoby, n.d.). Therefore, a majority of Gen Z will define their cultural identity in different ways than previous generations. Because Gen Z embody multiple cultures, their cultural identity will move beyond definitions of race and ethnicity. Therefore, for Gen Z; race, sexual orientation, gender equality, and gay marriage will be accepted as a matter of fact and practicality: not politics.

Number 4: Social and Environmental Issues

A 2017 Cone Gen Z CSR Study “How to Speak Z” presents the findings of an online survey conducted March 9 – 15. According to this study, 81% of generation Z believes they can have an impact on social and environmental issues by using social media (Cone 2017). The study found that “Gen Z looks to its purchasing power as a critical way to support responsible companies.”

Because Gen Z is always engaged with social media, they are the first to learn about social injustices around the world, and they prioritize poverty and hunger more than any other generation (Cone 2017).   The study identifies the people most likely to influence Gen Z’s purchasing power as parents and close friends. Celebrities rank at the bottom of their list. The study found that more than half (58%) feel that supporting social or environmental issues online is actually more effective at making a difference than doing something out in their communities (Cone 2017).

Number 3: Mentorship

Since Generation Z will be supervised mostly by Millennials, it is important to compare how both generations are different and how they are alike. Do not make the mistake of confusing Gen Z with Millennials; they share some traits but are very different. “Millennials primarily crave mattering and Generation Z crave safety first, mattering second” (Comaford, 2017). If Millennials are the “Me’ generation, Gen Z is the “We” generation (Hughes 2018). Millennials like to share things; Gen Z like to create things.

For Gen Z, it is important that advancement and opportunities are based on performance. Gen Z views mattering through social media and recognition. For Gen Z to thrive, the workplace has to develop an atmosphere that identifies with and creates a culture of mentorship, stability, opportunities to advance and constant recognition (Comaford, 2017). Law enforcement’s culture includes both mentorship and stability. However, to recruit and retain Gen Z agencies must provide constant recognition and opportunities for advancement.

Number 2: Diversity

Rapid advancements in technology, mobile devices, and social networks is decreasing generational spans from 15-20 years to 5-10 years (Jenkins, 2017). Generation Z is more diverse, both culturally and behaviorally, than any previous generation partly due to this exponential advancement. In fact, “they are so diverse, they will not see diversity unless it is absent” (Dorsey 2015).

Worldwide surveys of those 35 and over agree, that generation Z has more in common with their global peers than they do with adults in their own country (Jenkins, 2017). However, the older generations will look to generation Z for “cues on how to use and leverage technology” (Jenkins, 2017). Generation Z is a diverse and technology minded generation. Police agencies and business organizations must appeal to this group to succeed in the future.

Number 1: Safety and Security

Terrorism and school/mass shootings have had a great impact on Gen Z. They are very conscious and security-minded. They are realistic, straightforward, serious and more idealistic than millennials.   They crave change and will take a job where they feel they can make a difference (Little 2015).

Gen Z have seen and experienced major innovation and social change, and because of the uncertainties caused by world affairs, terrorism, and school/mass shootings, they are well prepared to handle uncertain times. They believe government should be limited in its role, but should provide safety, security, limited regulations, and remain focused on improving the economy (Jacoby, n.d.). This is by far the strongest commonality between the Gen Z and police cultures, and should be exploited as a recruitment and retention tool.

How to recruit Gen Z

Andy Last is the co-founder of Mullen Lowe salt and author of “Business on a Mission: How to Build a Sustainable Brand”. Last’s research indicates that “16- to 20-year-olds will go out of their way to buy products and services from businesses they know are helping to create a better world.”   Nearly half of the Generation Zers Last surveyed in his research stated that working for a company that will make the world a better place is more important than salary (Last, 2014).  This in of itself is the biggest cultural similarity between Gen Z and law enforcement that can be exploited. With that in mind, let’s look at five key ways to recruit the best of Gen Z:

  1. Demonstrate the organization’s culture and what the organization stands for. Authenticity is important to Gen Z, so try not to oversell your agency.
  2. Show them don’t just tell them there are opportunities for advancement. It could be difficult to recruit Zers if they see limited growth in your organization.
  3. Demonstrate strong and genuine ties to the community and social responsibility. They have strong desires to make a difference and have a positive impact on society.
  4. Show them examples of personal and agency integrity. Hold true to your cultural values and hold everyone accountable to them or you will lose credibility with Gen Z.
  5. Become highly engaged in the hiring process and give them the attention and recognition they desire right from the start. Think about how you’ll retain them while you’re recruiting them (Half 2018).

How to retain Gen Z

The most successful cultures are often those that promote a true sense of camaraderie. These types of cultures are seductive and powerful. They involve respecting peers and colleagues, and a desire to help a partner or not let a partner down. This is a trait that is inherently present in police agencies. This trait is also inherently present in Gen Z’ culture, making this a commonality in both cultures that can be exploited for recruiting and retention purposes. The key will be to keep officers from the other generations engaged with officers of Gen Z to avoid losing institutional knowledge. With that in mind, here are five key ways to retain Gen Z and institutional knowledge:

  1. Show them respect, value their ideas, and stay involved. It will be highly important for law enforcement leaders to take a strong interest in Gen Zers career paths, ask for their input and help them map out their future in the organization.
  2. Create opportunities for promotions and transfers to sought after units. Gen Z will not be afraid to work different units within your agency to find their niche.
  3. Give them input and feedback. Gen Z seek happiness and will not hesitate to leave in the hopes of finding something better (good for recruitment, bad for retention).
  4. Talk to them face to face. Make genuine connections. They are lifelong learners. Mentorship and respect among generations is the key to successfully retaining Gen Z and institutional knowledge.
  5. Stay up to date and invest in the most relevant technology. Remember they are innovative, entrepreneurial, and passionate about creating.


Law enforcement has a great opportunity to attract and invite Gen Z into a culture of meaningful and challenging work, and to develop new recruitment and retention programs focused on Gen Z. A cultural shift is imminent, and advances in technology will see to that no matter how we feel or think. Gen Z will embrace this shift with open arms; it is what they have been cultivated on and it is what they long for. Therefore, the question is – Are we ready for it? Because Gen Z definitely is.


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Author’s note: This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning & action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.

This journal article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it—creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.

The views and conclusions expressed in the Command College Futures Project and journal article are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the CA Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).


Richard Aloise is currently a captain with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation, with over 27 years of law enforcement experience; seven years as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff and 20 years as a Los Angeles County District Attorney Investigator. Past assignments include the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Major Crimes/Organized Crime unit, Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force, Workers’ Compensation Fraud, Officer Involved Shootings, and most recently as the administration lieutenant in charge of recruitment and retention. He graduated from California State University Los Angeles, with a bachelor’s degree in aviation administration.