Tips from Students


Report Back was designed after a rigorous trial-and-error period with students at University of Nevada, Reno’s Reynolds School of Journalism. Students Christian Romero and Madison Vialpando, who compiled surveillance profiles of communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, contributed the following tips. They are designed to improve your research skills and to help you enter information that will be useful to researchers who are responsible for reviewing and curating the data. 

Got other tips? Email 

Research Tips

Familiarize yourself with the search-engine shortcuts, like filtering using quotation marks and the subtraction symbol. This really helps when you’re looking for something specific but the search results are diluted by something of a similar name that is not relevant. Click here for our guide to search engines. 

When looking up a specific technology, try writing it in different ways to find different results. For example, google “Body worn cameras” then look up “BWC.” Mixing things up can show different results. 

Sometimes it can be helpful to look at a local news website and use their search field to search if they’ve written about one of these surveillance technologies. 

Using the search field on a government website can be a good way to see if there’s anything useful.

Facebook shouldn’t be your first destination, but if a Facebook link pops up in your search engine results, click it! Sometimes people can post interesting links onto Facebook or the law enforcement agency might have a post about the equipment they use. If you are researching technologies such as body-worn cameras or automated license plate reader, you may be able to verify their use through images of police uniforms and patrol cars in agencies’ Facebook galleries. 

When reading articles, always check the text under any image. Sometimes the images can have information not found in the body of the article. Sometimes the pictures in a news article can show what vendor is making the technology used, especially if the picture has a brand name or logo. 

Make sure you double check that you’re researching the right place. A lot of counties and cities have the same names as place in other states, and it’s easy to mistake one for another. 

When researching whether or not the technology is currently in use, make sure that the article being used is the most recent. 

Government policies, operating procedures and general orders are gold. Public records and contracting documents are also very useful. These documents will help verify that the technology is being used and that the government entity has set guidelines.

When researching a particular region, it can help to do a little preliminary research on what towns, cities, universities, and schools are nearby, since they may also have surveillance technology. 

Using Google Earth or Street View can give you a better understanding of the layout and design of the cities. 

Drones are not only used by law enforcement. Sometimes fire departments or other emergency responders purchase drones that they lend to their counterparts in the police department. 

Tips for Reporting Back

One of the most important parts of reporting back is including a concise, accurate, and informative summary of what you learned from the documents. 

Some of the most important things to put into an entry is how the agency is using the technology, the vendor (if known), retention of the data, and how long the agency has had the data. Also if they got the technology through any specific grant.

Whenever possible, use an excerpt from the article, rather than paraphrase. This saves you time and saves the person reviewing your work time, since it means you are less likely to have misinterpreted the article. 

You can use multiple paragraphs or sentences when including a summary for the article. Sometimes there will be good information spread out in the article, not just in the first paragraphs. 

Sometimes it can be helpful to paste an excerpt from the article and then also add further commentary. This is a good method if there is information throughout the article and you can’t paste the whole thing.

Consistency is important: When filling out a form, make sure that you write the city, county, and state the same every time. If you use multiple articles from the same source, make sure to write their source name (e.g. San Diego Union Tribune, KGUN) the same way every time. 

When in doubt, report back! If you are unsure whether a technology or an article or document is appropriate for submission, always lean in favor of over-inclusion rather than under-inclusion.