ABSTRACT

The increased use of cell phone cameras by citizens to record their interactions with law enforcement officers has altered practices of policing and of talking with police. It is widely assumed that the presence of cell phone cameras can have the effect of making police officers more accountable for their actions. The degree to which this is true, however, depends crucially on how citizens and police make use of the camera as an interactional resource in the moment by moment negotiation of rights and responsibilities that unfolds over the course of the encounter. This paper provides close examination of two different encounters between citizen and police officers in the US, one involving a Caucasian motorist, and the other an African American. It focuses on how citizens used their cell phone cameras to construct different kinds of ‘auditors’ of the interaction and how the officers responded in various ways to these strategies. The analysis shows that increasing the accountability of police officers requires more than just technological means (cameras) and the ‘legal right’ to use them, but rather depends on a range of complex discursive strategies both drivers and officers engage in at the intersection of the immediate interaction order and larger systems of power and inequality.