Award Date

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Committee Member

William Sousa

Second Committee Member

M. Alexis Kennedy

Third Committee Member

Paul Traudt

Fourth Committee Member

David Damore

Number of Pages



Police have a complex myriad of ever-changing responsibilities and fluid expectations from the public, and traditional media has performed a largely ambivalent self-appointed oversight and agenda-setting function vis-à-vis police for decades. But in the last five years, the second wave of the first new mass communications medium since the 1940s, social media, has democratized both that oversight function as well as traditional media's agenda-setting ability. Meanwhile, police have been characterized as slow to adapt to change and to adopt new practices in response to a changing world. This work analyzed police agency social media adoption and explained the rate at which United States municipal police adopted social media, the reasons that they did so and for what purpose through the lens of Everett Rogers' diffusion of innovations theory. Based on a survey of police chiefs and administrators with media responsibility, this research demonstrated that police were not slow to adopt social media, but did so in keeping with what diffusion of innovations theory would have predicted. Larger departments (with more resources) adopted social media earlier than smaller departments. Smaller departments used social media somewhat differently than did larger departments, in keeping with the concept of reinvention. Other factors such as age of the chief (which is not an aspect of diffusion of innovations theory but has been demonstrated to be a factor among the general public) and education level of the chief was less explanatory. Chiefs and media professionals at all levels professed an intense distrust of traditional media and a wide belief that social media was an effective tool for both public and non-public facing tasks, but distrust of the media did not necessarily correlate to a more positive view of social media or the degree to which police embraced the inherent interactivity of social media. A longitudinal content analysis of Facebook posts by police departments demonstrated that from 2010 to 2014, a shift from crime news and general information to a public relations focus had occurred, and that from 2014 to 2015, perhaps in response to current events such as police-involved shootings and public backlash to that, there was a further shift toward community interest posts at the expense of crime news. Public response as measured by the number of followers and likes of particular posts demonstrated that there was strong resonance to stories posted by police departments that had emotive qualities in 2015.


camera; comments; Facebook; hero; rhetoric; surveillance


Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice | Mass Communication | Public Policy

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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