The Relationship Between Surveillance and Crime

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Surveillance is critical for the maintenance of individual’s safety within communities. The surveillance technology has advanced rapidly in the recent past making members of the public more disciplined. Besides, the rate of crime in the United States has fallen as a result of the use of advanced technology in surveillance. Statistics indicate that violent crime rate has substantially declined since it peaked in early 1990 (Gramlich 1). Although the numbers and statistics show that the U.S environment has become safer due to surveillance, the optimism of having a completely secure nation is overshadowed by the violation of human rights in the surveillance process. Studies on the relationship between the police and members of the African American and Latino ethnic groups indicate that police often stop people from these minority groups, and sometimes the police violate their rights in the process of keeping neighborhoods safe.  As a result, individuals belonging to the minority ethnic groups feel unfairly targeted by the police and find the surveillance idea a way of promoting police ill-treatment against them. Researchers have established a difference between African Americans and whites attitudes towards and experience with the police. The black youths tend to distrust as well as harbor hostile and negative feelings towards the law enforcers more than the whites (Fine et al. 143). Consequently, the young African Americans attitude and behavior towards the police can be interpreted as a mechanism for self-defense. Based on that, ending micro-aggression and discrimination towards specific racial groups would improve interaction among all people, reduce crime rates and make America a comfortable place for all people to live.

            Heightened surveillance targeting a specific group of people in the society does not yield the much-wanted result of reducing crimes and making communities safer. Instead, it creates suspicion and a sense of hostility which only worsens the situation for both the population targeted by police and that which is not. Surveillance of people of color has been on the rise, and it raises the question as to whether non-whites are the only participants in violent crimes in the United States. The study by Fine et al. shows that surveillance of youth of color in school has risen in the past decades following media focus on school violence (144). The over surveillance of African American and Latino students in public schools has made the young people feel that they are viewed as potential criminals, suspicious and untrustworthy (Fine et al. 144). The youths are adversely affected by these perceptions to the extent of finding it difficult to integrate into adult life and reluctance to seek assistance from adults. Heightened surveillance is targeting specific ethnic or age groups in the society, therefore, does not provide the intended feeling of safety and comfort.

            Surveillance that lowers the dignity of individuals is destructive and does not promote the overall well-being of Americans. Studies on racial discrimination in policing indicate that law enforcers tend to speak less respectfully to members of the black community compared to the whites. Moreover, the use of less respectful language cuts across police officers of all races (Couloute 1). Another study on strategies of surveillance found that young females have higher chances of experiencing sexual harassment by male police officers with 38 percent of African American women reporting being inappropriately treated by police and 52 percent of young white females reporting some form of sexual harassment by male law enforcers (Fine et al. 151). Both use of disrespectful language and harassment of young women by the police in the streets do not promote the safety of citizens. Instead, the young women who have experienced sexual harassment tend to fear the police and feel more at risk in the presence of the police. Similarly, people of color who have been spoken to disrespectfully by the officers develop fear, hate, and distrust for the police and therefore feel unsafe in their presence. If the officers reform their use of language towards minority ethnic communities and stop sexually harassing young women in the streets, the two groups will feel comfortable living in the United States and crime rates may go down. 

            Over surveillance is in most cases is interpreted by citizens as an indication of increased crime rates in the country. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Americans that crimes are on the rise even when statistics show that crimes rates have declined (Gramlich 1). White Americans have biased unintentional or unconscious belief about blacks and Hispanics and will always feel that crime rates are on the rise as long as members of these ethnic communities are present in the country and it influences their actions beliefs and decisions (Weir 36). The police, therefore, tend to be more focused on dealing reducing crimes among African Americans which gives citizens the impression that crime rates are high.  

            Other than actions and beliefs influenced by stereotypes, those attitude towards specific ethnic groups gives members of those groups an identity which can be good or bad. For instance, the association of black individuals with crime leads to the "us vs. them"  idea which Weir refers to as the "identity trap" (36). The identity can influence persons considered criminals to break the law and those who view themselves as law-abiding to always see blacks as offenders. Research carried out on implicit racial bias through a video game saw most participants shoot armed targets quickly if they are black but hesitate to shoot armed targets who are white (Weir 36). Such findings explain why officers react more rapidly and forcefully to African American suspects compared to the whites. At the same time, African Americans know they are viewed as criminals and may unconsciously behave in ways that make them look suspicious in the presence of police officers. The social identities are endorsed by increased surveillance which in the long run makes citizens feel less safe.

            Targeted surveillance made easier by the advancements in technology has become a way of infringing the privacy of citizens instead of offering them protection. The indiscriminate collection of people's private data even when they are not involved in crime is a violation of the right to privacy (Cyril 1). The racial bias and stereotypes described in the previous paragraph play a significant role in determining who will be watched under the program of total information awareness. The process involves using advanced technology to prevent crime which Cyril describes as racially discriminatory and tools for reproducing injustice (1). Apart from that, the predictive policing relies on racial and religious profiling which in most cases expose innocent people of color to unnecessary checks that leave them feeling less safe and uncomfortable with the law enforcement authorities.

            The effects of targeted surveillance discussed in this paper can be reduced and better results achieved by avoiding racial bias. The police need to treat people of color in the same way they treat whites. Besides, a collaboration between community members and the police through community policing can help build safer neighborhoods (Weir 36). The community policing approach might help the police and African Americans understand the motivations behind certain behaviors and can change perceptions, restore trust and make the society a comfortable place for all. Moreover, the policing style needs to change from the hard stance on minor offenses to increasing their interactions with people in the neighborhoods (Weir 36). By doing so, the officers will build trust with citizens and be able to act based on accurate assessments rather than use racial stereotypes to evaluate situations and people.

            It remains the fact that policing is racially biased in the United States with people of color feeling discriminated against. The heightened surveillance of blacks in the neighborhoods influence their aggressive reaction towards the police. Use of disrespectful language and incidences of sexual harassment by the police also hinder surveillance from achieving its objectives of making communities safer. Moreover, the use of advanced technology for targeted surveillance violates citizen’s right to privacy. The solution thus lies on changing approaches used in surveillance including reducing bias and focus on the black community, collaborating with all citizens without looking at their race in creating safe environments and improving the policing style from the focus on ending crime by all means to involving members of the community in that process.

Works Cited

Couloute, Lucius. “The Proven Truth: Police Treat Black Americans with Less Respect.” Prison         Policy Initiative, 8 June 2017,

Cyril, Malkia. "Black America's State Of Surveillance". Progressive.Org, 2015,    Accessed 21 Oct 2018.

Fine, Michelle, et al. “‘Anything Can Happen With Police around’: Urban Youth Evaluate          Strategies of Surveillance in Public Places.” Journal of Social Issues, Wiley/Blackwell         (10.1111), 31 Jan. 2003, 10.1111/1540-4560.t01-         1-00009.

Gramlich, John. “5 Facts about Crime in the U.S.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center,            30 Jan. 2018,           s/.

Weir, Kirsten. “Policing in Black & White.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Dec. 2016,

August 21, 2023

Crime Sociology

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