Intelligence-Captivated Policing: Real-Time Operations Centres and Real-Time Situational Awareness in Canadian Police Services

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Linder, Thomas
surveillance , policing , technology , intelligence , canada
Over the last decade a new organisational entity has appeared in Canadian police forces. Based on post-9/11 US homeland security and developments in digital surveillance technology, real-time operations centres (RTOCs) have quietly sprung up in cities from Vancouver to Halifax. Sold as providing digital backup to responding officers, they are fundamentally restructuring how data is acquired and used and shifting the relations of power between police and citizens. Based on interviews, site visits, access to information requests, and various international trade shows, this thesis investigates the inception, development, operation, and likely effects of RTOCs on policing. It first deploys an STS framework to unravel the processes of heterogenous engineering and sociotechnical co-construction involved, and identifies ‘real-time situational awareness (RTSA)’ as the sociotechnical imaginary at the heart of the RTOC project. On this basis, the thesis then isolates the modally distinct yet operationally interconnected dispositifs of surveillance, power, and policing at work in RTOCs: a pre-emptive, yet event-based and hyper-reactive, risk-driven surveillant assemblage that serves to extend policing into new digital data spaces. It then draws on research into analogous surveillance systems to postulate the likely dangers involved: hypervisibilization, mission creep by design, context collapse, and the reification of racist, classist, or gender-based prejudices in novel sociotechnical procedures. The thesis then places these conclusions within the discourse on intelligence-led and big data policing to identify a fundamental shift in the operational logic of police intelligence work caused by RTOCs and RTSA towards the prioritization of tactical reactivity and immediately actionable intelligence over strategy and preemption, as well as non-consensual or exploitative information collection over transparent or democratic methods. Finally it argues that, in terms of progressive resistance and reform, this research makes it clear that police forces are struggling to develop a response to the ongoing digitalisation of society, and have become captivated by the only model on their horizon: the military and counter-terrorism theory of RTSA. Prohibiting individual technologies will not prevent the hegemony of this rationality: we need alternative systemic approaches to citizens, data, and governance.
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