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Realtionship Between the Media, Public Perceptions of Crime and Police Essay

Does the media and the amount of exposure to specific news media affect fear of crime? This question is examined in a survey with data collected from three universities in the United States and one in Canada; The Impact of Media on Fear of Crime among University Students: A Cross-National Comparison, goes over the results. It’s believed that fear in itself can be debilitating leading to harmful social outcomes. Vincent Sacco believes there are three dimensions to fear of crime: cognitive, emotional and behavioral. Cognitive looks at a how a person assesses their likelihood of being victimized.

Emotional is how someone feels about crime, and behavioral is a person’s response to fear of their perceived likelihood of being victimized. However, in 2011, it was argued “that fear of crime ought to be conceptualized by distinguishing between generalized anxieties and more concrete episodes of fear, as well as by differentiating effects of everyday worries and anxieties” (Kohm, Waid-Lindberg, Weinrath & Shelley, 2012). This theory “is thought allow for better understanding of how people are motivated to protect themselves” (Kohm, Waid-Lindberg, Weinrath & Shelley, 2012).

Despite a decrease in crime rates, citizens of both the United States and Canada still have a high fear of being victimized. One theory suggests that increased fear is a direct result of an individual’s perception of the risk to being a victim. This can occur because of one’s past victimizations or through media exposure of crime also known as indirect victimization. Individuals learn of local crime, national crime and even world-wide crime events through media sources: TV, newspapers, and internet.

In 2007, the United Nations Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) showed that the United States reported the second lowest level (16%) of fear of being victims of a burglary compared to Canada who reported higher levels (25%) of fear, even though crimes rates had declined since 1989. Secondhand information (news sources) raises fear and beliefs that victimization is likely, in turn individuals become indirect victims through their fear. The cultivation theory suggests that when violent crimes stories increase so does the fear of crime.

Similar to the cultivation theory, the substitution perspective states that individuals with no history of victimization will have increased fear of crime with crime related stories. The resonance perspective is just the opposite. It states that the media increases fear when the content is similar to one’s experiences. These three theories are derived from the indirect victimization model. Most individuals receive crime information from television news reports, where stories on crime are reported twice as often as political news stories.

Stories involving multiple victims, use of firearms, as well as certain other crime characteristics is more newsworthy than others. The survey done on Canadian and United States university students showed that local news affected individual’s fears more than world news. Also television news reports affected fear more than other news sources such as newspapers or the internet where people can select which stories they want to read. The nature of a criminal offence and the community context in which the crime occurs determines how a story is reported.

An example being, “smaller suburban and rural areas are more likely to report all homicides while large urban areas may be more selective” (Kohm, Waid-Lindberg, Weinrath & Shelley, 2012). The article states that fear if crime is directly related to demographics factors which include: gender, age, race/ethnicity, and situational factors including any previous victimization, one’s perception of their risk of being victimized, and concerns about local crime. Even though males experience higher levels of being victimized, women tend to fear crime more because they feel they are able to defend themselves against a physical attack.

One study reported that Elderly are more fearful where as another study shows younger individuals are more fearful. Therefore, age as a predictor for fear of crime is inconsistent. The following universities were given a self-administered survey as part of the current study this article was based on: Colorado State University (CSU), University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), and Florida State University (FSU) and one Canadian, University of Winnipeg (UW). The campuses of UTA, FSU and UW are located in higher crime urban areas. In Florida and Texas, violent and property crime rates are higher than the national average.

Winnipeg’s violent and property crimes rates are also higher than the rest of Canada’s crimes levels. Criminal Justice or Criminology majors reported a lower fear of crime compared to other majors or students who were yet undecided. The survey also showed that there was a similar rate of concern between both nations; reporting on a scale of 1-10 the average was seven, clearly showing a somewhat high concern for crime. In summary, the findings for the survey are as follows: women, whites, non-criminal justice/criminology majors reported aving more fear of crime.

A general concern about crime was relatively the same between the American and Canadian students though Canadians had higher rate of fear for risk of violent victimization and Americans had a higher rate for property victimization. The media plays a substantial role in determining the amount of fear of crime that people hold. This comes from the fact that the media extensively and disproportionately cover crime stories. But how does this affect the public’s perception of law enforcement? The answer to this question is simple.

The media leads people to believe that there is more crime than there actually is. Therefore, the media also plays a role in forming expectations of police. When people think that crime has increased, they more than likely will believe that the police are not doing their jobs. The problem is, is that the media has created a false image of law enforcement. According to Ronald D. Hunter and Thomas Barker (2011), “the police officers of Hollywood lore are fictional images of stereotypes that have been exaggerated to provide entertainment to a bored public” (p. 41).

A few examples of entertainment media that depict these false pictures of police are: CSI, NCIS, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, and NYPD Blue. Each and every one of these portray the characters as super-cops that can perform more than just the standard jobs of real life police officers. For example, in CSI the multitude of character can perform investigative tasks as well as tasks involving forensic science. The characters of these shows solve challenging cases using their superior intelligence and expertise. Almost always, the characters solve their case in single day maybe two days.

People tend to believe that these fictional images and stereotypes are true and base their perceptions of real life police off these. Aside from entertainment media, the public is also greatly influenced by news media, as previously seen above. According to Hunter and Barker (2011), Depicting the police negatively as misusing deadly force, police prejudice, or police corruption is also newsworthy.

The amount of emphasis given to police actions and the media’s interpretation of these actions as either proper or improper have a tremendous effect on the public’s perception of the police. p. 41) Police agencies across the United States; deal with accusations of misuse of force on a daily basis. Justified or not, images of police using force continue to outrage the American public. However, police use of force incidents are often misinterpreted by the community due to the media frenzy twisting facts. The media undermines the authority of the police and reduces the trust that the public has in its police. What is observed in the media is largely carried out to represent police as a whole.

In other words, the media magnifies situations and creates an exaggerated perspective that viewers assume is a standard of all police and police organizations as well as crime. Among the different types of stories in the media, negative stories attract a larger audience. What a person reads, hears, and observes in the media largely defines the person’s perception of the police. Whether we recognize the effects of the media or not, our perceptions of this world are heavily influenced by the information we receive from the media. The media constantly surrounds us, frequently informs us, and just as frequently misinforms us.

The influence of the media is significant since media could be identified as a primary source in influencing people’s perceptions of crime and their perceptions of police. Besides the significant effect on fear of crime, the media has influenced the public’s attitudes toward police at the same time. News media may be the primary source for the public viewing the police as ineffective and incompetent. Studies have highlighted the powerful influence of media’s news coverage, there are solid justifications for us to examine the links between fear of crime and how crime news coverage influences the public’s attitudes toward police efficiency.

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