Policing Uncertainty: On Suspicious Activity Reporting

In Rabinow Simimian-Darash (ed.), Modes of Uncertainty: Anthropological Cases. University of Chicago. pp. 69-87 (2015)
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A number of the men who would become the 9/11 hijackers were stopped for minor traffic violations. They were pulled over by police officers for speeding or caught by random inspection without a driver’s license. For United States government commissions and the press, these brushes with the law were missed opportunities. For some police officers though, they were of personal and professional significance. These officers replayed the incidents of contact with the 19 men, which lay bare the uncertainty of every encounter, whether a traffic stop, or with someone taking photos of a landmark. Representatives from law enforcement began to design policies to include local police in national intelligence, with the idea of capitalizing on what patrol officers already do in dealing with the general public. Several initiatives were launched, among these, the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. Routine reporting of suspicious activity was developed into steps for gathering, assessing and sharing terrorism-related information with a larger law enforcement and intelligence network. Through empirical analysis of counterterrorism efforts and recent scholarship on it, this chapter discusses prevention, preemption, and anticipation as three technologies of security, focusing on how each deals with uncertainty. The Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, this analysis suggests, is an anticipatory technology which constitutes police officers and intelligence analysts as subjects who work in a mode of uncertainty. 

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Meg Stalcup
University of Ottawa


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