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Impact of visual technologies on policing subject of new research

10 July 2023

Close-up of police body camera

The use of visual technology and video footage to inform perceptions and the actions of police will form the basis of new research from Cardiff University.

Academics will investigate how various sources of video footage are influencing the outcome of complaints and criticism of the police, comparing this with how these new technologies are shaping the training of new recruits and serving officers.

Findings from these two stages of research will be used to develop new video analytic and simulation tools to assist with police oversight and tuition.

Project lead Dr Robin Smith, based at the University’s School of Social Sciences, said: “The latest visual technologies, such as body-worn and mobile phone cameras, are changing public perceptions of policing. Public reaction to this new visibility of policing practices such as use-of-force, crowd control and stop and search procedures has been extremely polarised. As recent news stories have shown, video footage can be a way through which policing decisions are challenged by the public, often being shared in near real-time. Our research seeks to provide a deeper understanding of how this is changing and influencing policing practice and accountability.”

In the first phase, researchers will analyse materials gathered primarily from social media to evaluate how these videos represent and frame potentially problematic police conduct. Key cases will be followed through different stages and venues of inquiry and investigation to better understand how video is made sense of in different contexts. The research is particularly interested in how video can empower citizens capacities to scrutinise the police, as well as how the police themselves use visual materials to promote their accountability and professional standard.

The second phase will involve the team studying how police forces use visual technologies to evaluate and teach reasonable officer conduct within training settings. Researchers will sit in on and observe classes at police colleges and interview new police recruits and trainers about how visual technology is informing their learning and teaching practices.

The data and analysis will inform the development of new tools to improve how police procedures are assessed, as well as how police forces train their officers.

Research associate Terry Au-Yeung, also based at the University’s School of Social Sciences, said: “Despite an increasing emphasis on video technologies, there has been little attention paid to how police use this information themselves to evaluate officer conduct and training. We hope this research, as well as democratising policing further, will help guide police forces in developing best practice.”

The £1.7m, three-year project has been funded under the multi-research-council call Open Research Area (ORA) Round 7 for social science, and includes academics in Canada, France, and Germany. The Cardiff University team is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

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