Surveying Surveillance: A National Study of Police Department Surveillance Technologies

30 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2021 Last revised: 12 Jan 2022

Date Written: August 25, 2021


Discussions of surveillance practices within U.S. law enforcement agencies often suggest that police departments have ready access to a wide range of high-tech tools. To date, however, most of the empirical evidence regarding police surveillance has come from either qualitative case studies of cities or surveys of the largest departments. While these studies have led to important insights into the surveillance capacities of large police departments located in larger jurisdictions, our current understanding of police surveillance is limited by a lack of empirical data on police departments in smaller jurisdictions. This study fills this gap by using data from an original nationwide survey of police departments. First, we discuss existing studies of police surveillance access and the legal regimes underlying each type of technology. Next, we use descriptive statistics to empirically investigate the variation in police access to surveillance tools when we account for differences in jurisdiction type. Our findings suggest that rates of police access vary widely depending on the type of technology and jurisdiction size. Overall access to and use of cell phone location tracking far outpaces access to facial recognition and Stingray devices. We discuss these findings and their implications for civil rights and liberties and the state of mass surveillance more generally.

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, Police Surveillance, Law and Social Science

Suggested Citation

Oliver, Mariana and Kugler, Matthew B., Surveying Surveillance: A National Study of Police Department Surveillance Technologies (August 25, 2021). Arizona State Law Journal, Forthcoming, Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 21-08, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 21-26, Available at SSRN: or

Mariana Oliver

Northwestern University, Pritzker School of Law ( email )

Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Matthew B. Kugler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics