POLICE WATCH: AN INTEGRATIVE UNDERSTANDING OF BODY-WORN CAMERAS
- Author(s): Yang, Fei
- Advisor(s): Pontell, Henry N.
- et al.
The use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by police has raised numerous questions and current political controversies, including those related to privacy issues, race relations, police legitimacy and discretion, evidentiary value of BWC footage, and the access, retention, and potential tampering of the information it contains, among others. This dissertation examines BWC controversies through a sociological lens. It aims to: (1) document the emergence and evolution of police BWC controversies; (2) delineate the main arguments, major narratives, and underlying sociological issues in BWC debates; (3) identify specific social problems collectively defined through BWC debates and (re)construct the social processes of these collective definitions; (4) understand the social processes from recognition of social problems to collective actions taken to address them, (5) explore the social processes of struggles for social control among different political actors, and (6) propose an integrative theoretical framework drawing from theories in multiple areas of sociological inquiry to explain the social construction of BWC controversies. To accomplish these tasks, this project examines national and local debates on BWCs as presented in the media and in the weekly police-community meetings in the City of Los Angeles. Within the study period (December 1, 2011 through November 30, 2017), data were collected from (1) media reports on BWC issues that were published in a number of mainstream national media outlets and local newspapers based in California municipalities and (2) videotapes of the above-mentioned weekly police-community meetings. The newspaper articles and video transcripts were first open coded to discern the development of narratives and to capture changes in the discourses of BWC controversies. The data were then analyzed through both quantitative and qualitative methods. In addition to the analysis of the narratives around BWC issues, the project also tracks the rise and fall of social movements, and identifies new challenges facing the police and the public in the age of advanced technology. Finally, this study examines BWCs in the context of social control and analyzes the societal implications of it. Drawing from work in sociology and criminology, this study offers an integrative theoretical and analytical model for examining this policing technology and the controversies around it.