Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Lee Ann Slocum, Ph.D


David Klinger, Ph.D.

Marisa Omori, Ph.D.

Rachel Ellis, Ph.D.


In many cities, private camera ownership and video sharing partnerships with law enforcement are on the rise. These private surveillance networks have dramatically increased the reach of law enforcement and intensified the monitoring of urban life. Although police use of private cameras has become the subject of contentious debate, our understanding of private camera systems and how they are used by the police remains quite limited, largely focusing on either utopian or dystopian narratives. Drawing on interviews with community organizations in St. Louis, Missouri, that have installed neighborhood surveillance systems, this dissertation seeks to provide some insight into the rise of private camera systems and video sharing partnerships with the police.

First, I explore what compels and motivates community organizations to install cameras and how they negotiate public criticism and conflict that arises. Second, I examine how community cameras are used in partnership with the police. Third, I examine the ways in which community camera systems are connected to purposes beyond direct law enforcement. By examining these questions, the overarching goal of this dissertation is to understand why residents of community organizations are contributing to the expansion of camera networks in public spaces and what this involvement could mean for the future of urban surveillance.

The findings from this dissertation suggest that resident demands for cameras, perceptions of police inadequacies, and memetic pressures are key factors driving the implementation of community camera systems. I find participants navigate conflict in varied ways but can be loosely captured in two distinct approaches: some vehemently counter criticism while others seek to evade conflict and implement their systems with greater caution and hesitancy. Additionally, while most organizations try to use their camera systems to support local police, local law enforcement officials are characterized by participants as fairly absent partners. The results presented also suggest that cameras implemented by community organizations function as a form of electronic fortification aimed at keeping out individuals and groups who might pose a threat. At times, however, participants fluctuated between using their cameras to protect against perceived dangers and reformulating these systems for more ‘welfarist’ and ‘caring’ purposes.

Available for download on Friday, October 25, 2024