Panopticism for Police: Structural Reform Bargaining and Police Regulation by Data-Driven Surveillance

Publication Title

Washington Law Review


collective bargaining, consent decrees, police

Document Type



Spurred by civil rights investigations, police departments across the nation, including in Washington State, are engaging in structural reform bargaining and collaborative design of institutional reforms. Often before any complaint is filed in court or a judge makes any findings of unconstitutionality, police—and the groups threatening to sue the police—are cooperating to fashion remedies for the biggest concerns that have shadowed the law of criminal procedure, such as excessive force and the disproportionate targeting of people of color. Prominent scholars have expressed concern over settlement of civil rights suits outside the arena of the courtroom and without legal clarification. This Article argues, however, that bargaining in the shadow of law and outside the courthouse may yield smarter and farther-reaching reforms and remedies based on data-driven surveillance than could be achieved through litigation and judicial decision. [para] This Article argues that the remedies being fashioned "off the books"-that is, outside the doctrine in the case law reporters-offer important insights for the future of police governance and reform. The primary engine of police regulation—the exclusionary rule, which deters rights violations through the remedy of exclusion of improperly obtained evidence—is increasingly eroding and becoming the last resort rather than first instinct. The question becomes: what regulatory and remedial model should arise to fill the vacuum? The Article contends that a promising paradigm being refined by structural reform bargaining is regulation by data-driven surveillance-what this Article dubs "panopticism for police." Panopticism is efficient internalized regulation by surveillance. The term comes from the metaphor of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, in which prisoners in a state of perfect visibility positioned around an opaque watch tower self-regulate because at any time the guard may be watching. The goal of police panopticism is leveraging data-driven surveillance from multiple institutional vantages. The state of "conscious and permanent visibility" reduces monitoring and remedial costs and triggers self-regulation and institutional culture change.