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Crime, Law Enforcement and the Media

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Crime is a real problem in most places today and it requires tough address by the law enforcers. However, perceptions arising from how the crime issue is handled by the media. The media has a very big influence on the public views and relations with the public. Misconceptions and misinformation that the media portrays could be deadly for officers in the line of duty; sometimes dragging on to the political wing of the area.

Media over dramatizing crime. It is unfortunate that the media sometimes dramatizes crime. For example, homicide crime is featured in countless books, television shows and news stories yet homicide does not fall within the top ten causes of death according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010 (Barken-Bryjak, 2011). The drama is brought out in two ways; (a) in the way they present crime stories in the news stories. These crime stories are used as teasers in an effort to capture the viewers’ attention and they give violent crime more attention creating an impression of a crime wave. (b) Some media houses devote disproportionate attention to violent crime especially with new entrants to boost viewership. In the journalism world, an old idiom is the unwritten rule "if it bleeds, it leads". For most reporters, they will involve their personality and skepticism into their cover stories. The public then mutates the story in the backbone of societal inequalities, prejudices and hypocrisies spiral the story to appear like there is a crime wave happening.

Media treatment of crime. Media interviews and dissemination of information should be conducted with outmost care to maintain accuracy of that information so as to prevent repetition to clarify information that had been issued earlier. Corrections should be done immediately if it is discovered that incorrect information was disseminated. The public feel more comfortable if the statement is issued by the police chief and the police chief should utilize the media to convey crime related information swiftly and the other departmental members should be restricted from early release of information especially if the information would hamper the investigation or expose other officers into danger.

Crime myths. Speculation within the public and the media arises when the media is left unchecked, or the law enforcement leaders do not participate in conveying the information arising from the crime scenes. As such, the public receives a false impression concerning the crime because the media presented it to them disproportionately. Generally, there are unfair perceptions created against youth offenders. According to polls in America, Americans believed youth offenders were responsible for the majority of violent crimes. However, statistics indicate that only 14% percent of the crimes reported were actually carried out by youth offenders.

Politicians and news coverage of their agendas contribute to crime myths. Some politicians use fear of crime and campaign rhetoric as a platform to get into office.  The police force also contributes to crime myths through poor responses during media interviews. Poorly thought out responses by the police leads to speculation. It would be wiser to construct the answers correctly to reduce public perceptions of the existence of conspiracies, botched investigations, and the belief that crime goes unpunished (Garner, 2009).

Dispelling Crime Myths. Law enforcement leaders must prepare themselves to act as the sole spokespersons or delegate the duty to have well-trained spokespersons in place before the media calls on the department for answers to questions. It is advisable that the Police Departments devise and maintain a media policy and familiarize all their members with its contents especially on media interviews, dissemination of information and proper channels for dissemination. The policy is meant to prevent the undermining of the criminal justice system by attempting to eliminate bad press and the continuation of crime myths. (Garner, 2009).

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