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Detective Work in a Digital Age: Ethnography of a Suburban Police Department

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posted on 06.08.2019, 00:00 authored by Stacy Dewald
Contemporary detective work relies on evolving technologies (e.g., global positioning systems [GPS] and social media) as ways to collect information to investigate a criminal case. However, these technologies do not override “traditional” investigative methods, such as assessing credibility. To that end, the newer generation of detectives can be thought of as a “hybrid figure…: a product of both the past and the present” (Miranda, 2015, p. 422). Scarce criminal justice research explores how detectives use technology and social media to build cases. The present study addresses a gap in the literature by using ethnography to examine how detectives investigate and build cases in a time of technological and social media advances. The setting for this study is a suburban police department in a mid-sized community. Observation and qualitative interviews with detectives were conducted. This dissertation contributes to our understanding of investigative work as it examines the nuanced processes that detectives apply to make sense of their work. The data indicate that technology and social media are often used in conjunction with traditional methods of investigating crime. Further, viewing digital evidence is an interpretive task in which detectives’ stocks of knowledge and institutional goals inform how technology is used, perceived, and interpreted. First, I explore how detectives use traditional investigative techniques and how these can be used in conjunction with technology and social media. Second, I examine how detectives integrate new technologies into their everyday work. And finally, I show the interpretive work involved when detectives give digital evidence meaning.



Ibarra, Peter R.


Ibarra, Peter R.


Criminology, Law, and Justice

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Committee Member

McCarty, William Erez, Edna Frohmann, Lisa Rosenbaum, Dennis P. Stemen, Donald

Submitted date

May 2019

Issue date