Publication Date

Summer 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Susan B. Murray


Identity, Media, Police, Stigma, Surveillance, Work

Subject Areas

Sociology; Social research; Social psychology


The recent surge in media footage surrounding police killings of unarmed black men clearly signifies the national concern for police violence, yet researchers have yet to study police identity in connection with such publicized inequality. This qualitative study closes this gap in research by addressing the following questions: “How do patrolling officers think about and experience their jobs at this particular historical juncture of increased internet and media exposure?” and, “How does the mass exposure and scrutiny of police violence shape police perceptions of their work and impact their work identity?” Face to face semi-structured interviews, symbolic interactionism, and interpretive research methods were used to uncover how eighteen current Bay Area patrolling officers come to perceive their collective identity as threatened and the four strategies they use to cope. First, some officers strengthen their collective identity by isolating themselves from civilians and spending more time on and off-duty strengthening their bonds with fellow likeminded officers. Secondly, a number of officers separate their collective and individual identities by concealing their occupational identities when off-duty. Thirdly, some officers deliberate over the choice of remaining in the occupation, and lastly, officers work towards preserving their collective identity by avoiding “negative” media and by using a bad apple narrative that distances the “few bad police officers” from the larger group of heroes. These four coping strategies, in turn, hold great potential in negatively impacting police-civilian relationships.