Crime and violence in America”

I suggest that even if we add more police, policing will probably be ineffective in reducing crime because police still will not spend a substantial amount of time fighting crime. Of crime calls, which make up only a small minority of calls for service, “almost all calls come when it is too late to catch the perpetrator” (Donziger 1996, p. 162). These are known as cold crimes. The fact that about 75% of offenders are not caught at the scene of the offense is what makes arrest the weakest stage of the criminal justice process.

Such facts have led even police chiefs to make statements such as, “Adding more police may be good politics, but it will do little to reduce crime and violence in America” (Moran 1994; quoted by Krajicek 1998). Alternatively, better policing may reduce crime. A small portion of officers nationwide is assigned to crime prevention efforts. If we want to prioritize community policing, we must invest more resources in problem-solving approaches that are proactive rather than reactive. Discuss the proper role of the media in terms of keeping the public informed about crime and criminal justice.

In your opinion, do the media fulfill this role? Give a specific example to support your argument. I personally believe that media portrayals of crime are “selectively determine[d]” by media outlets. Generally, decisions are made to feature “the most sensational, emotional, significant, and universally appealing aspects” of crime for public viewing (Sacco 1995). As Krajicek (1998, p. 95) said about his own work, crime reports focus on the miserable, the deviant, the strange, and the “particularly cruel.

” The common saying, “If it bleeds, it leads,” accurately characterizes the philosophy of the media in the United States. Although his research focuses on politics generally, his arguments apply to media coverage of crime and criminal justice as well. Metaphorically speaking, if there is blood in the water, the media will likely cover a story about crime. Research clearly demonstrates that crime news is focused on the most violent types of crime (Potter and Kappeler 1998), at least those that occur at the street level (e. g. , see Kooistra, Mahoney, and Westervelt 1999).

Of particular interest to the media are the rarest and “most egregious examples” of crime. Television news generally shows violence at a rate much higher than its incidence in society would seem to justify (Newman 1990). As noted by Krajicek (1998, p. 4), “Murder and sexual offenses are the marquee offenses . . . and certain cases, generally based upon nobility or celebrity, are anointed for extravagant coverage. ” A study cited by Surette (1992, p. 68) showed that 26% of news stories were focused on murder, even though murder regularly accounts for

only 0. 1% of all crimes known to the police. Although murder may be the most heinous of all crimes, this disproportionate focus does not seem justified by its prevalence in the United States. At the same time, even though about half of the crimes that are reported to the police are nonviolent, they made up only 4% of the stories in the same study. Additionally, it is the most heinous and bizarre of all murders that tend to be discussed most widely in the media (e. g. , see Paulsen 2000). Terrorism is no different.

As horrible as the events of September 11, 2001, were, the fact is that four planes were crashed that day by terrorists, of approximately 40,000 that were in the air that day. Consider this: If roughly 40,000 flights per day landed successfully before the terrorist attacks and roughly the same number per day since then (but less given our increased fear of flying), how was the intense media coverage of those flights justified? The rare nature of the event and the horrifying result are what is used to justify the coverage.

The problem, however, is that such coverage may lead viewers to conclude wrongly that flying is unsafe and/or that such terrorism is likely to happen to them when they fly. Marsh (1991) conducted a review of studies of media coverage and crime and found that for every two stories of property crimes, there were eight stories of violent crimes. Newspapers in the mid-1980s covered the violent crimes of murder, rape, robbery, and assault four times more than they did the property crimes of theft, burglary, and motor vehicle theft, even though property crimes make up at least 90% of street crimes in any given year.

By focusing on certain types of crimes over others, the media are thus involved in “constructing” the typical view of crime, even when they are only reporting “extreme, dramatic cases: the public is more likely to think they are representative because of the emphasis by the media” (Chermak 1994, p. 580). Potter and Kappeler (1998, p. 7) explain, “Media coverage directs people’s attention to specific crimes and helps to shape those crimes as social problems. ” This means that Americans are much more concerned with violent crimes such as murder, even

though they are much more likely to be victimized by property crimes such as theft and burglary and acts of white-collar deviance that receive virtually no coverage. The media are also preoccupied with random crime (Merlo and Benekos 2000), which partly explains the focus on terrorism, which is very rare in the United States. Not surprisingly, one type of crime that has received a tremendous amount of coverage in recent years is school violence. After the tragic mass murder of a dozen students and a teacher at Columbine

High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1998, the national news on each of the three major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) devoted no less than half of each night’s newscasts to this subject for approximately a month after the murders. But despite a commonsense impression to the contrary, in fact, school violence was not increasing during this time period, but rather, was decreasing! Even though the media give much attention to crime, they typically ignore harmful acts committed by the wealthy, such as white-collar crime and corporate crime (Potter and Kappeler 1998; Surette 1992).

This is troubling precisely because, in any given year, the harms associated with such acts clearly dwarf those resulting from all street crimes combined. Neglect of this topic stems from the risk of libel suits, interrelationships between the media and business, the probusiness orientation of the media, and difficulties associated with investigating white-collar crime (Potter and Kappeler 1998, p. 15). The media focus almost exclusively on street crimes, so that three classes of people are depicted—the upper class, the middle class, and the “criminal class” (Barak 1994).

When ABC’s Prime Time Live investigated allegations and uncovered actual examples of food contamination at a Food Lion grocery store in 1996, for example, ABC was successfully sued by Food Lion for using deceptive media techniques to investigate claims of contaminated food products. The fact that Food Lion had intentionally sold unsafe food products to consumers was lost in the resulting coverage. This type of coverage is rare, however, and is limited to news magazine shows such as Prime Time Live. This is one result of the intimate relationship between the media and corporate America.