Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Greg Hise

Second Committee Member

David Tanenhaus

Third Committee Member

Jeff Schauer

Fourth Committee Member

Mark Padoongpatt

Number of Pages



This dissertation explores the development, shortcomings, contingencies, and responses to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) surveillance in black South Central from the beginning of Chief William H. Parker’s term in 1950 until the L.A. Riots in 1992. It argues that surveillance was employed in South Central as a means of black criminalization and social control but was always contested by the South Central community and Los Angeles left. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, surveillance scholarship has interrogated the rise of mass surveillance and the surveillance state. However, there have been far-fewer examinations of local police surveillance, despite important work on mass incarceration, criminal justice reform, and modern American policing in recent years. This dissertation seeks to remedy this absence by examining local LAPD surveillance and contemporaneous black community resistance in South Central Los Angeles during the postwar era. The vast criminalization of black South Central residents was accomplished by a two-pillar system of surveillance established during the professionalism and reform era under Chief Parker. The first pillar was an expansive, statistics-based bureaucracy that stored and analyzed crime, arrest, and demographic statistics. The second pillar consisted of physical patrols that gathered and created those statistics by aggressively policing black neighborhoods. This dual-pillar system grew and changed over time as county, state and federal laws and criminal justice reforms extended the bureaucratic reach of LAPD surveillance far beyond the municipal boundaries of Los Angeles. These efforts were further bolstered by the War on Crime under President Lyndon Johnson and the War on Drugs under President Ronald Reagan. By the 1980s and under the guise of anti-drug and anti-gang “crime control,” LAPD task forces broadened the department’s criminalization efforts by arresting black residents for banal “offenses” like wearing a pager or standing on a corner, inducting them into capacious gang databases that shackled residents with the stain of criminality, often for life. In response to these interdictions and expanding surveillance capabilities, the South Central black community formed police watchdog groups like the Temporary Alliance of Local Organizations (TALO) and the Community Alert Patrol (CAP) to sousveille the LAPD’s actions in black neighborhoods. At the same time, leftist organizations like the ACLU of Southern California attempted to establish oversight over the department through the formation of a police review board and modifications to the City Charter. While these reforms and challenges to police hegemony were limited and, in some cases, failures, they nevertheless contested the shifting power relations between the LAPD and the citizens they were sworn to protect.


African Americans; crime; criminalization; policing; surveillance; urban


United States History

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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