Hovering Over the White Picket Fence: Exploring the Hopes and Concerns of Auckland Community Leaders Regarding Police Drones

Kochedov, Nicholas Alexander
Hanna, Kirsten
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Master of Criminology and Criminal Justice
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Auckland University of Technology

The purpose of this thesis was to explore Auckland community leaders’ perceptions of police use of drones, including for the purposes of routine surveillance. This included exploring the hopes and concerns that communities have regarding police drones, and how concerns might be addressed. While there are several overseas studies exploring public perceptions of police drone use, at the time of writing, research examining public perceptions in Aotearoa New Zealand is very limited. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first study to focus specifically on this topic in Aotearoa New Zealand. This exploratory study was guided by the social constructionism worldview and qualitative description methodology. It involved seven face-to-face semi-structured interviews with community leaders throughout Central to Southern Auckland. The qualitative approach allowed the study to explore the perceptions of the community leaders and their communities in depth and expand on existing overseas literature. Community leaders were chosen as they could represent the interests of their wider community in addition to sharing their own individual views. The interview data was analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Generally, community leaders in the current study were receptive to the idea of the New Zealand Police using drones, suggesting that drones could contribute to improving police efficiency and improving safety, including both for communities and police officers. However, community leaders also raised concerns regarding the practicalities of drone use, privacy and police mismanaging drones. While the focus of the study was on police drones, a short section was included on community leader perceptions of private drone use, which elicited similar concerns to police drone use. Four key findings emerged from these discussions, including the importance of police adopting a balanced approach to drone use, the intricacy of reactive vs proactive use of drones and how some community concerns may be with the police as operators of drones rather than with the drone itself. The fourth key finding of community engagement involving partnership, cooperation and even decision making, was of particular interest as it outlined what could be done next by the police in order to alleviate some of the concerns that communities have. Community engagement was also noted to have the potential to increase the chance that police drone use is, and is perceived to be, acceptable and appropriate to communities. Many principles and viewpoints of community leaders were explored from the perspectives of police legitimacy and democratic policing. The findings demonstrate that more future research could be done to further develop our understanding of public perceptions of drone use by police and more broadly by the public.

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