European Journal of Policing Studies


The Online Police Gaze: Police Discretion in the Digital Age

Keywords discretion, digital policing, digital transformation, online policing, decisoon-making
Authors Kira Vrist Rønn
Author's information

Kira Vrist Rønn
Kira Vrist Rønn, Associate Professor at Department of Political Science and Public Management, University of Southern Denmark.
  • Abstract

      Historically, discretion has been a key part of police work. In the digital age, police practices are changing, and it is therefore vital to examine how discretionary decision-making occurs in the digital realm – the so-called online police gaze. This study is based on semi-structured, qualitative interviews with and field observations of “digital police patrols” in Norway. The structure of the article is based on the four types of discretionary decision-making presented by Kleinig: scope, interpretive, priority and tactical. The study shows that the threshold for police attention is lower in the digital realm and that digital police officers emphasize the feasibility of constructive slowness when responding to digital encounters. Further, the study shows a risk of bringing along “old anomalies” and “stereotypes” in the online realm and points to challenges related to an asymmetrical dependence on private technology companies. Finally, the article concludes with a discussion of three common dichotomies from the policing literature, which might be collapsing when the police are operating online: distance versus proximity, dialogue versus crime control, and image work versus operational policing. Since digital policing is associated with a heightened degree of visibility of police – especially when engaging publicly on social media platforms – the article concludes by adding “image decisions” as an additional and overarching type of police discretion in the digital realm.

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