Crime fighter image of the police and the role of the media

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The importance of a distinction between crime fighting and order maintenance functions of the police has long been discussed in policing studies. Nevertheless, police officers are portrayed in different ways in the entertainment media, a perception that has led to the development of myths and misconceptions about policing. Media sources and movies such as S.W.A.T and “Die Hard” feature characters who are over-the-top heroes with unlimited firepower and unending bravery, who end up saving the public from various adversaries. These images have played a critical role in shaping perception about the function of the police, and have often led to the present myths concerning the policing roles (Donovan & Klah, 2015).

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For instance, the prime-time show, “The Shield” portrays the officers as rogue individuals who are bent on administering justice to criminals on the streets. Moreover, reality shows such as COPS helps to present images of the functions of the police by featuring patrol officers responding to the immediate needs of the public. Research into police departments have indicated that the media plays a pivotal role in propelling the myths about the police. It is therefore important to examine the role of the popular media in perpetuating the crime-fighting myth, compare and contrast the media portrayal and the real work of the police as well as analyze why the media portray police officers as crime fighters.

According to Van de Velde, Meijer, & Homburg (2015), crime fighting is one of the most popular myths in policing. This myth is perpetuated primarily by the media on assumptions that the police spend most of their time enforcing the criminal law, investigate crimes, patrolling to deter crime, and arresting criminals. The sources of the crime fighting myth about the police officers include the entertainment media such as movies and televisions, news media such as dramatization of serious crimes as well as from the police themselves who help to propagate the myth during press releases and annual, reports that emphasize crimes and arrests.

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Contrary to the myths, the American Bar Association’s Standards Relating to the urban police function asserts that the work of policing entails identifying criminal offenders and criminal activities and in appropriate time, the police have a duty to apprehend offenders and participate in the subsequent court proceedings. The police equally have a role in reducing the opportunities for the commission of some crimes through preventive patrol. The police also have a role in helping individuals who are in danger of physical harm as well as protect the guarantees of the Constitution. This is a clear contrast from the TV portrayal of the police as a force that conducts their operations without regard to the provisions of the constitution and frequently involves themselves in arbitrary arrest and execution of street justice.

The American Bar Association equally stipulates that the police have a role in facilitating the movement of people and vehicles, assist the members of the public who cannot care themselves and identify potentially serious law enforcement or government problems. Additionally, the policing works entail creating and maintaining a feeling of security in the community and promoting and preserving of civil order. According to Chermak, McGarrell, & Gruenewald (2006), the media cannot be entirely blamed for the myths and stereotypes surrounding policing since the reality of policing is that the role of the police is extremely complex and involves a wide variety of tasks of which few involves law enforcement and most of these tasks are vague. Moreover, in the police force, different tasks often conflict each other, and the officers themselves exercise a great amount of discretion in police work. Therefore, the nature of policing contributes to the developments of the myths and stereotypes; by they are eventually magnified by the media.

According to Mawby (2010), the media portrays the police as crime fighters to fit the stereotyped image of the police that has already been embraced by the masses. Nevertheless, the media portrayal of the police officers has an effect on how the public views the police. Research studies indicate that a repeated exposure to social issues on television influence a person’s view of the world, and most people have been exposed to police drama, news stories and reality shows that are inaccurate. Therefore, the success of the police in solving crimes in both news media and entertainment may cause the public to have unrealistic expectations on what the police are able to accomplish.

Studies have indicated that the crime-fighting image of the police as portrayed by the popular media comes with its consequences. Among the consequence created by the myth is that it leads to ignorance of order maintenance and peacekeeping activities that consume most efforts and time of the police. The myth equally makes it difficult to evaluate the performance of the police, creates unrealistic public expectations about the ability of the police to prevent crime, and create role conflict for individual officers. Moreover, the crime fighting myth of the police makes it difficult for police chiefs to manage the police department (Van de Velde et al., 2015).

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Moreover, the overrepresentation of sensational and violent crime in the media impacts the public’s assessment of risk for the type of crime. For instance, in as much as police dramas in televisions paint police officers as successful in solving crimes, the reality is that most crimes are not solved due to lack of evidence, lack of suspects or unwillingness of witnesses to cooperate. The police drama shows equally over represent the use of force and misrepresents the use of force against young non-white males. These like stereotypes can project the image of the young non-white males as dangerous and the actions of the police as being discriminatory. It can, therefore, be argued that the myths and stereotypes concerning the role of the police can create friction between the role of the police and the expectations of the public. An interesting example that can demonstrate the consequence of contrast between reality and myths concerning policing is the TV’s NYPD Blue and Law and Order which portray the officers as flawed but honest, a depiction that questions the integrity of the police (Sela-Shayovitz, 2015).

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  1. Chermak, S., McGarrell, E., & Gruenewald, J. (2006). Media coverage of police misconduct and attitudes toward police. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 29, 261–281.
  2. Donovan, K. M., & Klah, C. F. (2015). The Role of Entertainment Media in Perceptions of Police Use of Force. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42.
  3. Mawby, R. C. (2010). Police corporate communications, crime reporting and the shaping of policing news. Policing and Society, 20, 124–139.
  4. Sela-Shayovitz, R. (2015). Police legitimacy under the spotlight: media coverage of police performance in the face of a high terrorism threat. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 11, 117–139.
  5. Van de Velde, B., Meijer, A., & Homburg, V. (2015). Police message diffusion on Twitter: analysing the reach of social media communications. Behaviour & Information Technology, 34, 4–16.
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