My general research interests concern questions of surveillance. Building on seminal work by scholars like Dr. David Lyon and Dr. Kevin Haggerty, I am interested in questioning the broader implications of life in a “surveillance society,” where few activities can be engaged in without being documented in some form or fashion. To appreciate this idea, consider your daily trip to a cafe…
Surveillance cameras will record every movement you make both in and outside of the walls of the coffee shop. You may document your experience via a smartphone camera. If you use a credit card to make your purchase, it will produce digital records. A number of actors will then use resulting records for their purposes. For example, police officers will use those records to search for legal infractions. Retailers will use the records to nuance their advertising strategies. In addition, family members and peers will use the records to scrutinize your personal habits. This scrutiny is one of the primary consequences of the highly visible life that we are all living in the contemporary surveillance society.
My current research interests concern the intersection of surveillance and authority, with a twist. Rather than examining the surveillance of disadvantaged populations (a common discussion), my work examines how authority figures are monitored. This “bottom up” surveillance has been made possible due to the invention of accessible, affordable, and high-quality surveillance technologies in recent years, which have created a culture in which citizens are increasingly willing to monitor and scrutinized authority figures including police officers and politicians.
Among the most commonly monitored authority figures in the surveillance society are police officers, largely as a result of emerging “copwatching” trends. Copwatching has produced a regular influx of controversial images of police, most of which expose police violence targeting racial minorities. In response to the seeming anti-racist purposes served by copwatching, many commentators have theorized that the surveillance of police is an empowering form of political resistance, and a method to improve police accountability systems. However, few empirical studies have considered how surveillance affects the daily realities of police officers. My work aims to fill this gap by gathering empirical data on what I call the “highly visible reality” of police officers.
My most recent study, The Police On Camera, relied on participant observation and interview data to examine the experiences and perspectives of officers who are under camera surveillance. Ethically approved research took place during January 2013 – January 2014 and included:
- 200+ hours of in-field research with 3 policing organization,
- 60+ informal interviews with police officers, peace officers, detectives, sergeants and others,
- and 20+ formal semi-structured interviews
My research led to some surprising findings: contrary to what many might expect, my research participants did not uniformly resent or resist cameras. Instead they expressed diverse perspectives about being on camera, which I categorize as the habituated perspective, the strategic perspective, and the camera-shy perspective. Among my most interesting findings concerns the strategic perspective as, rather than resenting cameras, many police officers expressed the belief that being under surveillance was beneficial to the police. My findings complicate the common assumption that the surveillance of police is a method of exposing police malpractice, and raises questions about how the police officers can learn to mobilize their visibility to serve their interests.
More details about my findings and their implications can be found in a series of single and co-authored publications in journals like Theoretical Criminology, the Surveillance & Society, and the Oxford Handbook of Criminology Online.