Media @ McGill

"Ways of Seeing: Public Perceptions of Transparency and Accountability in the Adoption of Police Body-Worn Cameras"

Submitted by Media@McGill on
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Hannah Tollefson


Police body-worn cameras are a law enforcement technology being rapidly and widely adopted across North America, largely in response to several recent, widely publicized civilian shootings by police. The was an initial consensus among the public that these devices may be the most efficient means of inhibiting violent interactions between police and civilians, in their capacity to provide a record of events after the fact. Police body-worn camera systems are small and lightweight, mounted onto a police officer’s lapel, helmet or glasses. These wearable cameras are highly specialized surveillance devices that not only capture vast amounts of information and data, but also operate in conjunction with biometric and analytic software to monitor, recognize and classify the information they produce.

The emergence of a public demand for police body-worn cameras exemplary of the assumption, often made in our contemporary media environment, that transparency will lead to accountability. However, how might the drive to increase forms of visibility neglect to address the power relations involved in image production and complex materialities of media systems? By engaging with the interwoven discourses surrounding media coverage, public debate, and policy recommendations I intend to examine how police body-worn cameras function as a proposed technological solution to the political problems between citizens and law enforcement.

Police body-worn camera systems are small and lightweight, mounted onto a police officer’s lapel, helmet or glasses. As a form of wearable technology, they capture and record a point-of-view perspective. Recent research has done much to explore wearable technologies and their implications for subjectivity and embodiment, but not yet in relation to law enforcement. To consider perspective of body-worn cameras in relation to other forms of surveillance, I intend to use a phenomenological approach to investigate the material ways in which body-cameras function as tools integrated with actions of the body.