How law enforcement is preparing for a tech-savvy generation of officers
Gen Z expects employers to implement the same technology they have become accustomed to using in their everyday lives
By Michael Sparks
Law enforcement is in a state of digital transformation. However, like many industries, law enforcement is also facing a severe labor shortage. As experienced officers in many cities retire in record numbers,  agencies are working hard to build the next generation of public safety, inspired by the values of its youngest recruits.
Several key factors are converging to create the new face of policing, benefiting officers and the communities they protect. These factors include an incoming infusion of young, tech-savvy talent, the enhanced speed and connectivity of today’s wireless networks, and the capabilities of rugged mobile devices to aid in increasing efficiencies and streamlining communications.
A REVOLUTIONIZED WORKPLACE
While Millennials slightly outnumber the Baby Boomer population, the upcoming cohort known as Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) is somewhat smaller. 
The challenge for agencies nowadays becomes how to capture the interest of young candidates in a competitive labor market and build departments that support the development of new talent as more of Gen Z age into their prime career-building years. Winning over young recruits requires first understanding their needs and expectations.
Millennials brought a new level of tech-savviness to the workplace. Now, Gen Z is revolutionizing it. As the first generation of true digital natives, members of Gen Z expect employers across industries to implement the same technology they have become accustomed to using in their everyday lives.
Technology is a fundamental part of policing now and can genuinely make a difference when recruiting new officers. In fact, 91% of Gen Z said that the level of technological sophistication influences their interest in a potential employer.  The agencies and departments that invest in technology will be best positioned to attract young people as they enter the workforce.
[READ: What young cops want (and what police leaders can do about it)]
HOW MODERN CONNECTIVITY IS ENABLING FASTER, SAFER POLICE WORK
Emerging wireless technologies will enable an even more powerful policing ecosystem. In a recent study about the future of field operations, 91% of public safety respondents indicated that 4G/5G wireless networks are driving new technology investments  as agencies introduce new tools to help increase officer safety, improve situational awareness, and enhance command and control.
Today’s public safety agencies rely on a high volume of data and visual information. With 4G – and eventually, 5G – connectivity, departments should have the capacity to collect and analyze high-bandwidth information like video and location data, which dispatch can push out to officers in the field. Equipped with that information, officers can better prepare to respond to a call by visualizing real-time events before arriving at a scene.
Mobile computing also speeds up database lookups, providing officers with real-time information related to the case at hand. At a traffic stop, for example, real-time access to a digital records system can help identify a potentially dangerous situation before the officers initiate the stop on their own.
MOBILIZING THE WORKFORCE WITH NEXT-GENERATION TABLETS
Younger generations expect to work from just about anywhere, and they increasingly look for departments to provide the tools necessary to stay mobile and connected.
To create and maintain the highest level of public service, agencies are equipping officers with rugged touchscreen or 2-in-1 tablets that support mobility and enable police officers to do their jobs wherever they are located.
With the power of computing on the edge, officers have the station's resources along with the mobility of the patrol car, effectively creating a connected office on wheels. Mobile devices appeal to digital natives, are user-friendly and intuitive, yet flexible enough to take into all the environments in which officers may need to go. Already, many officers use mobile devices to perform central functions, including conducting photo lineups, taking victim statements, pulling mug shots, reviewing arrest records, accessing location history, capturing video and photos, collecting evidence, and more.
As departments grapple with tightened budgets and push out technology refresh cycles, the durability of devices becomes mission-critical. The ability to withstand drops and heavy use without screens cracking or other costly repairs is crucial, as is extended battery life so officers can stay on the go for a whole shift without worrying about where to charge their device. Meanwhile, enhanced cybersecurity protections are essential in helping prevent malware attacks that can potentially compromise valuable police data.
REFRAMING THE ROLE OF POLICE WITHIN THE COMMUNITY
While the number of younger officers in the field continues to grow and with it, their preconceived notions of technology, policing is changing as well. There is a greater emphasis on building trust and strengthening community bonds. One of the best ways to do that is to free officers from the confines of the patrol cars and stations and get them out and more engaged in local neighborhoods.
Mobile technology lets officers stay out on their beat instead of being stuck in an office or the patrol car. Equipped with all the information and communication tools they need, officers can go into the community to learn and understand its heartbeat, share essential statistics, and work hand in hand with local leaders to enhance the quality of life in the neighborhood.
Many young jobseekers gravitate toward positions they feel are greater than themselves and positively impact their community. In recruiting Gen Z, departments can highlight the possibilities for artificial intelligence (AI) and new technology to reduce risk on the job and enhance the accountability and efficiency of law enforcement, ultimately fostering stronger relationships between agencies and the local communities they serve.
[DOWNLOAD: How to harness the power of AI in law enforcement]
CLOSING THE GENERATION GAP
Gen Z has higher expectations for technology and the kind of work they want to do. With an entrepreneurial spirit, they are interested in careers that give them the freedom to express themselves and learn new skills. Confronted with familiar technology on the job, they can quickly adapt to new processes without much of a learning curve. Intuitively recognizing the advantages of technology, they’re also generally more open to evolution and to implementing and training on new solutions along the way.
Long-time officers may be hesitant to give up manual processes in favor of digitized solutions and handheld devices. The proper training, however, can make all the difference in winning them over. Just as with the introduction of previous solutions like e-citation or in-car camera systems, putting them to use is proof positive. Connectivity enhances safety on the job as well as officers’ ability to protect and serve.
[DOWNLOAD: How to buy mobile computers eBook]
1. Forbes. Historic Police Exodus In Cities Most Impacted By Racial Justice Unrest, New Data Shows, April 29, 2021.
2. Statista. Population distribution in the United States in 2019, by generation. January 20, 2021.
3. The Undercover Recruiter. 5 Ways to Prepare Your Workplace for Generation Z.
4. Zebra Technologies. The Future of Field Operations, A Look at the Public Safety Sector Through 2025.
About the author
Michael Sparks is director of government sales for Zebra Technologies.