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IACP Quick Take: How police agencies can effectively communicate with Generation Z

Just like millennials, those in the “iGeneration” have unique characteristics that require a different approach


In this photo, Debra A. Dreisbach speaks to the crowd during a session at IACP 2018.


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ORLANDO - While a lot of attention has been focused on the millennial generation, there’s a new crop of young adults currently entering the workforce: Generation Z. And just like millennials, those in the “iGeneration” have unique characteristics that require agencies to take different approach to things.

At the 125th annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, criminal justice professor and former special agent Debra A. Dreisbach outlined steps agencies can take to effectively motivate and communicate with them.


Dreisbach defined Generation Z as people born between 1995 and 2010. They are the first generation to grow up with technology throughout their entire lives. They were raised during a time of economic recession and do not know life before the U.S. was in a war on terrorism or before active shooter events were the norm. These issues have resulted in Gen Zs having a general sense of uncertainty about the future.

They were also raised in an era where Americans are having fewer children, and as a result their parents had more time and resources to devote to them.

Because of this, Gen Z didn’t have to grow up fast - they’re taking longer to reach developmental milestones, and generally have gone through life with more hand-holding than generations before them.

All of these factors influence how Generation Z operates. They tend to:

  • Be risk averse
  • Be more conservative with money
  • Expect instant gratification
  • Have a casual attitude towards employers
  • Have a strong ability to multi-task
  • Have a deeper loyalty to their personal lives over their work lives
  • Need clear direction and opportunity to grow
  • Need frequent validation
  • Get bored easily


  1. One of the biggest takeaways from the session was how technology has influenced the way this generation learns. In the Instagram and Snapchat era, they’re wired to understand visual imagery and “snackable” content (information given in small, digestible bits). They do not do well with deep reading or PowerPoint presentations. Gen Zs have an eight-second attention span, so you need to get through to them quickly or you’ll lose them. Dreisbach suggests using images and videos to get your message across, and to communicate in shorter, more digestible bursts more frequently.

    Gen Zs spend an average of nine hours a day online, which means your method of content delivery also needs to be online (computer and mobile friendly). Your agency should consider transitioning over to a learning management system like Blackboard or Canvas, which provides the convenience Gen Zs seek for accessing information and gives them the ability to collaborate, discuss, and share content in a way similar to the social media platforms they’re using every day.

  2. Because of how they were raised, Gen Zs also expect you to be checking up on them often. They’re going to seek regular managerial feedback and validation for their efforts. Provide them frequent positive reinforcement.

    They are also going to require clear instructions for tasks; they don’t do well with vague direction (yes, they’re going to need a little more hand-holding than you’re probably used to).

  3. Remember, they get bored easily. Education should be interactive. Gen Zs learn by observation and practice (think real-world training). Encourage collaboration and group work (this can be done through an LMS system). Ask for their input during brainstorming sessions. The point is to enable them to be actively involved in the learning process.


  • Dreisbach recommended police leaders read “iGen” by Jean Twenge for deeper insight into Gen Z.
  • It’s important to remember that catering to Gen Z does not come at the expense of your training content. You’re not lowering educational standards or job expectations - the content isn’t the problem, it’s the delivery.
  • The New Jersey State Police is a good example of an agency that changed the way they taught their cops. Through research, they found that the most effective learning was through many of the examples provided above (real-world scenario training, getting out of the classroom, making the learning experience more immersive). You can learn more about their training here.


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Cole Zercoe previously served as Senior Associate Editor of Lexipol’s and His award-winning features focus on the complexity of policing in the modern world.

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