Masters Thesis

Shifting the Surveillance Gaze: Officers' Experiences with Body-worn Cameras in Southern California

While the academic literature extensively covers the benefits of body-worn technologies to policing, this literature is limited of information that examines, directly, the police officer experience and perspective with body-worn technologies in the field. Accordingly, the present study includes 9 in-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews and 20 hours of participant observation via police ride-a-longs in the Southern California region to better understand the police officer perspective about and experience with body-worn technologies. Drawing on Foucault’s concept of power as a guiding framework, findings show that participants perceive body-worn cameras as civilian-driven surveillance mechanisms that are intended to watch the police. as a result, body-worn technologies have shifted the surveillance gaze away from the traditional direction of law enforcement surveying civilians to that of civilians now surveying law enforcement. Findings suggest that this form of counter-surveillance led some participants to change their behaviors in order to avoid potential scrutiny by administrators and civilians alike. However, ultimately, the majority of participants actively worked to resist the outcomes associated with the shift in the surveillance gaze by employing strategies to reclaim power over citizens and the gaze over society. This research provides a deeper understanding of how officers experience body-worn technologies as a struggle for power between the police and civilians and, as a result, offers a potential explanation for current problematic police-civilian events.

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