Dr Justin Ellis

Dr Justin Ellis

Lecturer

School of Humanities and Social Science

Examining the impact of amateur video and social media on police accountability

Dr Justin Ellis is a criminologist studying the impact of digital media technology on crime and criminalisation and how it affects police accountability in cases of police excessive force.

Image of Justin Ellis

The rapid evolution of digital technology has enabled the public to place the police under more scrutiny than ever before through the simple act of recording police operations via mobile phones. Dr Justin Ellis is a criminologist researching the impact of this increased exposure on everyday crime and police-public relations.

Justin looks at how social media, and amateur video in particular, exposes the ways that people might be criminalised and the role it plays in mitigating or aggravating that process. He said social media has a central and ongoing role to play in providing public institutions with candid assessments of their performance, and as a community organising tool.

“Audience expectations have changed and are driven by what technology has made possible. Institutions such as the police are not always in step with these changes, and effective regulation often lags behind developments in technology.”

Dr Ellis is particularly interested in how the widespread availability of digital video and its direct upload to social media has allowed more public exposure of police excessive force. His PhD involved an in-depth case study of the police excessive force used against Sydney teenager Jamie Jackson at the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade captured on video (trigger warning – violent content).

“This was one of the first viral videos of police excessive force in Australia directly uploaded to YouTube. It had close to 2 million views two weeks after the incident and crossed over into mainstream media reportage. It happened at a time when sharing on social media platforms had reached a critical mass which facilitated the video’s viral reach. It acted as an extremely effective public service announcement and caught the police completely off guard,” Ellis said.

Dr Ellis conducted in-depth interviews with NSW police and former police employees and Sydney LGBT community respondents most closely affected by the video, and analysed media coverage of the cases.

“It is lawful for people to film police in public places but the public didn’t necessarily know that, and unlawful police directions to stop civilian filming of police operations captured in the video implied that some police were ignorant of the lawful right of civilians to film police operations” he said. “The digital era has ushered in a wave of unprecedented exposure and transparency. A counter point to that is that the institutional processes of accountability have not shifted commensurately to what a digital audience might expect.”

“The incident at the 2013 Mardi Gras parade also showed that amateur video of police excessive force can provide the police with a frank assessment of the acceptable limits to the public of police use of force. It also provides police with an opportunity to respond to calls for reassurance, transparency and accountability that might generate greater trust and confidence within communities that have been overpoliced. And the NSW Police Force through a range of policy measures did respond constructively to LGBT community concerns about the policing of Mardi Gras.”

Ellis’ journal article ‘Renegotiating police legitimacy through amateur video and social media: lessons from the police excessive force at the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade’ outlines in more detail how amateur video distributed through social media impacted police-public negotiations on legitimate police use of force in this case.

“Most police will do the right thing, but the ones that don't impact greatly on individuals and the trauma associated with the incidents lives on, as can the reputational damage to the police institution. I see it as part of my role to educate the public of the lawfulness of police actions – teenagers and young people in particular – who are some of the most overpoliced populations as they regularly use public space, often at night, and can be intoxicated and don't necessarily know their rights.”

Exposing hidden costs

It was widely reported that police withdrew the charges against Jackson –

offensive language, resist arrest and assault police – common public order offences that Ellis says belie the impact that these charges can have on vulnerable populations – and the court ruled that the police did use excessive force in Jackson’s arrest, and he was awarded $39,000 in costs. However, Ellis says what the public doesn’t know is what happened to the officer that used excessive force.

“Internal police investigations do not provide the public, and most importantly victims, with enough transparency over the outcomes of such investigations. Civil actions the police settle can provide redress to victims, but once again, the public is none the wiser about the outcomes of these cases.”

“This is because civil actions the police settle are subject to non-disclosure agreements. One way we can get access to that kind of information is through Freedom of Information requests, which I did do as part of my research,” Ellis said.

He discovered that there were a total of four claims arising from the policing of the 2013 Mardi Gras Festival, for which a total of $283,880.75 damages were paid. The amount paid by the State of New South Wales for the legal cost of defending these claims was $385,903.90, so overall, a total cost of $669,784.65 to the state of NSW to settle those four claims.

“We are basing our evaluation of effective and fair policing on very limited information, largely that the police provide, and that the mainstream media report on,” Ellis observed.

“Think about how this money could be better spent in many areas of need, whilst acknowledging the need for due process. We’re all paying the price but we can’t effectively evaluate police assertions of reasonable, necessary and prudent policing in these cases because we can’t easily access that information.”

“Digital technology is an amazing tool of scrutiny, and police are now subject to what I call ‘the social media test’; the characteristics of amateur video and social media exposure of police excessive force that challenge the police version of events and mainstream media’s newsbreaking and agenda-setting capacity. How individual police and police institutions respond to cases of police excessive force determine how trustful the public are in them and their likelihood to report crime. But it stops at the institutional gate and we still do not have access to much of that information, and which the public want to know to be reassured that the police institution is addressing police culture that falls below general public expectations.”

Telling local stories

Ellis has an interdisciplinary background with an undergraduate degree in history, and a Masters and PhD in criminology. He also has a background in communications and media and was working on a law and social justice radio program at the University of Technology Sydney when he interviewed the academic who would become his Masters and PhD supervisor. Ellis’ interviewed journalists about their relationships with the police for his Masters, publishing the findings in this 2016 journal article.

“What underscores all of my work is a deep curiosity and desire to tell people’s stories; putting victims' stories on the public record is particularly rewarding. Not all cases have the benefit of the clarity provided by amateur video that was the case with Jamie Jackson, despite its graphic nature, so sometimes the media is the only way of getting these victim’s voices heard in the public domain.”

“Documenting the impact of digital technology and social media on police public relations is an essential part of the process. We are recording the stories of the local community and the gay and lesbian community. Getting a range of perspectives on record is an important part of the process so we can distil the lessons that need to be learnt,” he said.

“Even though digital technology is driving the globalisation of communication, it’s still local stories that resonate most and help to make sense and meaning of such serious issues as how police use force and how they are held accountable when things go wrong.”

Image of Justin Ellis

Examining the impact of amateur video and social media on police accountability

Dr Justin Ellis is a criminologist studying the impact of digital media technology on crime and criminalisation and how it affects police accountability in cases of police excessive force.The rapid evolution of digital technology has enabled the public to place…

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Career Summary

Biography

Dr Justin Ellis is a lecturer in Criminology. His research examines the impact of digital technologies on trust in public institutions. His current focus is the scrutiny of public order policing through sousveillance within the LGBTIQ+ community in Sydney. His broader research focus is on the impact of digital technologies on institutional accountability and responsible government. His scholarship has been published in high-ranking internationally peer-reviewed journal Policing and Society and award-winning anthropology publication Kyoto Journal. Justin has over five years’ experience researching and lecturing in Criminology at three universities – the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney. His five years’ in legal affairs journalism in Sydney and close to 10 years living and working in Asia on sexual orientation and gender rights advocacy for Asia region publications provides him with a broad perspective on sexual citizenship and how this intersects with notions of crime, deviance and digital technology. Justin has peer reviewed for leading criminology journals Current Issues in Criminal Justice and New Media and Society. Justin is a member of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology, the Sydney Institute of Criminology, the American Society of Criminology and European Society of Criminology. He tweets @justRellis.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sydney
  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Sydney
  • Masters in Criminology, University of Sydney

Keywords

  • Communication technology
  • Criminology
  • LGBTIQ
  • accountability
  • digital media
  • journalism
  • legitimacy
  • policing
  • sousveillance
  • vulnerable populations

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
200102 Communication Technology and Digital Media Studies 40
160205 Police Administration, Procedures and Practice 30
160204 Criminological Theories 30

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
Australia

Teaching

Code Course Role Duration
CRIM3010 Crime, Power and the State
School of Humanities and Social Science - Faculty of Education and Arts - The University of Newcastle

This course will analyse contemporary phenomena of crime and deviance using innovative criminological theories that are relevant to all social science disciplines. It will provide an understanding of the intersection of knowledge, discourse, power, and forms of state governance. Topics may include risk society, governmentality, class and gender theories, and how aspects of globalisation and science have transformed the nation-states engagement with crime, deviance and security.

This course provides the opportunity for students to integrate and consolidate knowledge and skills learned throughout the Criminology Major, enabling them to articulate a clear analysis of crime, criminality, and victimisation within society as influenced through institutional power.

Course Coordinator and Lecturer 24/2/2020 - 26/6/2020
CRIM1020 Vicitimology
School of Humanities and Social Science - Faculty of Education and Arts - The University of Newcastle
A grounding in criminology requires the understanding of the interplay of two core components: the offender and the victim. Victimology, as the study of all aspects of victims and victimisation, has therefore developed as a sub-disciple of criminology, as the importance of the victim profile has been increasingly recognised both within academia and the criminal justice system more broadly. This course will help students cultivate a theoretical and practical understanding of the role of the victim in a variety of criminological contexts, with a focus on the application of this knowledge in a vocation environment, using contemporary examples to augment their understanding.
Co-ordinator 23/7/2019 - 31/12/2019
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Chapter (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 Lee M, Ellis JR, 'Qualifying fear of crime: Multi-methods approaches', The Routledge International Handbook on Fear of Crime 155-169 (2017)
DOI 10.4324/9781315651781
Citations Scopus - 2

Journal article (6 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2020 Ellis JR, 'More than a trivial pursuit: Public order policing narratives and the 'social media test'', CRIME MEDIA CULTURE, (2020)
DOI 10.1177/1741659020918634
Citations Scopus - 1
2020 Ellis J, Jackson J, Lee M, 'Functional and dysfunctional fear of crime in inner Sydney: findings from the quantitative component of a mixed-methods study', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 53 311-332 (2020) [C1]
DOI 10.1177/0004865820911994
Citations Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1
2019 Ellis J, 'Renegotiating police legitimacy through amateur video and social media: lessons from the police excessive force at the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade', Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 31 412-432 (2019) [C1]

© 2019, © 2019 Sydney Institute of Criminology. This article examines the impact of digital media technologies on police-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (L... [more]

© 2019, © 2019 Sydney Institute of Criminology. This article examines the impact of digital media technologies on police-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community relations in Sydney through a viral video of police excessive force filmed after the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Critical media analysis, and 15 in-depth interviews with police and non-police respondents directly affected by the video, make an in-depth, qualitative contribution to legitimacy and procedural justice studies on the impact of digital technologies on LGBTIQ community trust in police. The findings emphasise the capacity of amateur video of police excessive force publicised directly through social media to pressure the police to account, to catalyse LGBTIQ community responses and to negotiate through online fora legitimate boundaries of police practice. Exposure through social media can pressure the police to justify police transgression in real time; a form of ¿dynamic¿ legitimacy requiring continuous and detailed justification of police practice that can exhaust standard police responses through a potentially infinite claim-response dialogue. Despite revision of policing practices at Mardi Gras since 2013, ongoing discrepancies between police understanding and public perceptions of a range of police tactics, including use of force, emphasise the continued importance of dialogue between police and LGBTIQ communities.

DOI 10.1080/10345329.2019.1640171
Citations Scopus - 1
2019 Ball M, Broderick T, Ellis J, Dwyer A, Asquith NL, 'Introduction: queer(y)ing justice', Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 31 305-310 (2019)
DOI 10.1080/10345329.2019.1643058
2018 Clancey G, Monchuk L, Anderson J, Ellis J, 'Lost in implementation: NSW police force crime prevention officer perspectives on crime prevention through environmental design', Crime Prevention and Community Safety, 20 139-153 (2018)

© 2018 Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature. Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is practiced by various professions and agencies in many jurisdict... [more]

© 2018 Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature. Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is practiced by various professions and agencies in many jurisdictions. The role police play in CPTED has received limited scrutiny from academics within Australia (and other countries). This article makes an important contribution to addressing this gap in the literature through providing New South Wales Police Force Crime Prevention Officers (CPOs) perspectives on their role in reviewing council development applications from a CPTED perspective. Findings show police-council relations vary considerably. Some police-council areas have clear policies in place to enable police to contribute to reviewing crime risks of development applications, whilst others do not. Many police feel their engagement in the planning and development process is often tokenistic, receiving limited feedback from councils about their recommendations. For these police, they see little ongoing relevance of reviewing development applications. If police are to remain involved, there is a need to develop clearer parameters of how police will contribute and what they can realistically be expected to contribute to this process.

DOI 10.1057/s41300-018-0043-x
2016 Ellis J, McGovern A, 'The end of symbiosis? Australia police media relations in the digital age', Policing and Society, 26 944-962 (2016)

© 2015 Taylor & Francis. As the police move further into areas of traditional journalistic practice, the ¿unhappy marriage¿ between the police and the media becomes more com... [more]

© 2015 Taylor & Francis. As the police move further into areas of traditional journalistic practice, the ¿unhappy marriage¿ between the police and the media becomes more complex. To what extent this symbiotic relationship has allowed for transparency has varied over time, subject to political, operational and technological change. While acknowledging the police premium on access to information, this relationship is further challenged by police oversight bodies, the spread of corporate mangerialism and media decentralisation. Through qualitative interviews with Australian police, crime, court and investigative journalists, we provide a fresh perspective on this relationship from the journalists' point of view. In particular we explore the impact of digital media, social media and mobile technology on this relationship integral to maintaining public confidence in the police. This research serves as the basis for further interrogation into police perceptions of the role of the media and how an increasingly mediated public sphere is influencing public confidence in the police.

DOI 10.1080/10439463.2015.1016942
Citations Scopus - 11Web of Science - 11
Show 3 more journal articles

Review (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2020 Ellis JR, 'Queer histories and the politics of policing', Current Issues in Criminal Justice (2020)
DOI 10.1080/10345329.2020.1744298
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 5
Total funding $38,000

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20204 grants / $36,500

Faculty funding for external engagement in 2020 - Centre for 21st Century Humanities$20,000

Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Funding body Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Project Team

Dr J McIntyre (Director); Dr K Ariotti; A/Profr G Arrighi; Dr H Askland; Dr J Coffey; A/Prof N Cushing; E/Prof H Craig; Dr J Ellis et al.

Scheme Faculty funding
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2020
Funding Finish 2020
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

Institutional Intervention in Queer Lives: Historical to Contemporary Paradigms$12,000

Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Funding body Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Project Team

Dr David Betts (Lead), Dr James Bennett and Dr Justin Ellis

Scheme Strategic Network and Pilot Project Grants Scheme
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2020
Funding Finish 2020
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

2020 FEDUA 'Finish that Output' scheme funding$2,500

Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Funding body Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Project Team

De Justin Ellis

Scheme FEDUA 'Finish that Output' scheme
Role Lead
Funding Start 2020
Funding Finish 2020
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

Faculty of Education and Arts New Start Grant$2,000

#fakemetoo and #toxicfeminity: Making sense of the #me too backlash.

Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Funding body Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Scheme New Start Grants
Role Lead
Funding Start 2020
Funding Finish 2020
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

20191 grants / $1,500

Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology, Perth, 10 - 13 December 2019$1,500

Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Funding body Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
Scheme FEDUA Conference Travel Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2019
Funding Finish 2019
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed0
Current2

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2020 Honours The commodification of gender on social media and its impact on female body image Anthropology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor
2020 PhD Clandestine Grave Discovery: The Application of Forensic Geophysical Techniques to Improve Covert Gravesite Detection PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
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News

Criminology expert in police accountability comments on George Floyd case

June 4, 2020

The tragic death of George Floyd on 25 May has once again emphasised the significance of bystander video distributed through social media as a police accountability mechanism, says University of Newcastle Criminologist, Dr Justin Ellis.

Research highlights importance of collective efficacy in mitigating community fears

May 11, 2020

Criminologist from the University of Newcastle, Dr Justin Ellis has recently published a co-authored journal article into the level of fear of crime in inner city Sydney. The 2016 study involved a survey of 409 inner Sydney residents asking them about their perceptions of crime.

FOI Reveals Cost of 2013 Policing of Mardi Gras Festival

February 18, 2020

As the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras begins this week, University of Newcastle criminologist, Dr Justin Ellis, reflects on the cost of the controversial policing of the 2013 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.

History of Gay and Lesbian Rights Features in Waiting for Equality Exhibition

February 14, 2020

The exhibition brings together archival and contemporary research material to focus on LGBTQ+ history as it has emerged in the city of Newcastle.

Dr Justin Ellis

Position

Lecturer
School of Humanities and Social Science
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Contact Details

Email justin.ellis@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 5682

Office

Room MCG35
Building McMullin Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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