Sociology Index E-Books

PUBLIC IMAGES OF CRIME

Public image of crime is the perception of crime and the threat of crime generally held by members of the community. Public image of crime may be manipulated by authorities and the media to focus on some types of crime and criminal behavior and divert attention from others.

Public perceptions of crime have typically been quite separate from an objective account of the amount of crime or its distribution. To take crime seriously is not to reflect the public images of crime. But it is to say that there is a rational core to public concerns and images.

That is, that popular conceptions of crime and policing are, in the main, constructed out of the material experiences of people rather than fantasies impressed upon them by the mass media or agencies of the State (Young, 1987: 337).

Public images of crime - True Lies - Changing Images of Crime in British Postwar Cinema
Jessica Allen, Sonia Livingstone, Robert Reiner. - Academic and public attention has long focused on media images of crime. Crime media create and reproduce cultural narratives about social and moral order, and the putative links between such images and their effects on society have been much debated. While acknowledging the complexity of the relationship between media representations and social influence, this article argues that the assumptions concerning actual trends in crime media which underlie and inform these debates have received little empirical investigation.

Particularly neglected has been research on the cinema, and little research has adopted the historical perspective necessary to make claims regarding long-term trends. As part of a larger project, we report a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of popular crime films in Britain released between 1945 and 1991. Despite common beliefs, we find no overall increase in the number of crime films. However, the nature of representations of crime and social order shows a variety of significant shifts over this time. In brief, the nature of crime changes, the violence and threat of crime increases, as does the portrayed suffering of victims. To combat this, police officers increasingly assume the hero role and they increasingly use vigilante, even corrupt, tactics to achieve their goals, although their chances of bringing criminals to justice actually decrease. Such findings lead us to propose a three-stage periodization for crime films.

Crime, Crime News, and Crime Views 
The relationship of crime news reporting in newspapers and television to actual crime patterns and to public images of crime was examined by gathering data from the New Orleans police, media, and public concerning crime in New Orleans for a 3-month period during 1978. 
Abstract: Previous research has indicated that official crime rates and crime news coverage are unrelated. In addition, the public's conception of crime tends to reflect the picture of crime presented in the newspapers. Little attention has focused on the portrayal of crime on television, although a large proportion of the public relies on television as its primary source of news. The present research compared the images of New Orleans crime reflected in the newspapers, television, police reports, and public opinion. The presentations of crime trends for the seven major Index crimes, of the relative frequency of occurrence of these offenses, and of the characteristics of offenders were examined. Murders and robberies accounted for about 80 percent of the crimes reported on television and 45 percent of the crime reported in print. However, the police department reported that only 12.4 percent of the city's crimes were homicides and robberies. The public view of the prevalence of violent crimes differed considerably from the police statistics, but was more realistic than the television portrayal. Public, media, and police images of offenders' race and sex were similar. It was concluded that media reporting on crime patterns bears little resemblance to the reality of police statistics. Television and newspapers are not as similar in their crime coverage as might be expected. The public image of crime patterns is similar to that portrayed by newspapers, but concerns regarding crime increases are at variance with the factual data. Additional findings and conclusions, tables, and a list of 20 references are provided.

Crime, Mass Media & Society (E104) - Professor Chermak
The public's concern and fear of crime is influenced by many different sources. It is interesting that most of the public does not have direct contact with serious crime. Instead, the public is exposed to crime and criminal justice processes from vicarious sources of information, such as the news media. Newspapers, television stations, and radios are among the most influential sources used by the public to develop opinions about crime and the criminal justice system. Moreover, the frequent presentation of crime in entertainment sources increases the importance of understanding the media images presented to the public. Although the images of crime and criminal justice are important, our understanding of the media as a social control institution is limited. This points to the fundamental question addressed in this course: What role does the mass media play in crime control?
We will address this question in three ways. First, we will examine how media organizations relate to other social control institutions. For example, we will consider how news organizations construct crime stories, and how the reliance on police and court sources for crime information affects the images presented about crime. Second, it will be important to understand the significance of the media images presented about crime, focusing on how these images help establish community boundaries. Third, we will examine how media images can directly affect how the public thinks about crime, politicians formulate policy, and criminal justice professionals dispense justice.

Criminal Justice - coas - Crime, Mass Media & Society - Chermak
Crime is among the top concerns of the American public. Public opinion polls consistently indicate that crime is one of the most pressing problems facing our country; politicians frequently rely on the public's fear of crime to help pass crime legislation; and community-level neighborhood watch groups are formed in response to concerns about crime and safety.
The public's concern and fear of crime is influenced by many different sources. It is interesting that most of the public does not have direct contact with serious crime. Instead, the public is exposed to crime and criminal justice processes from vicarious sources of information, such as the news media. Newspapers, television stations, and radios are among the most influential sources used by the public to develop opinions about crime and the criminal justice system. Moreover, the frequent presentation of crime in entertainment sources increases the importance of understanding the media images presented to the public.
Although the images of crime and criminal justice are important, our understanding of the media as a social control institution is limited. This points to the fundamental question addressed in this course: What role does the mass media play in crime control?
We will address this question in three ways. First, we will examine how media organizations relate to other social control institutions. For example, we will consider how news organizations construct crime stories, and how the reliance on police and court sources for crime information affects the images presented about crime. Second, it will be important to understand the significance of the media images presented about crime, focusing on how these images help establish community boundaries. Third, we will examine how media images can directly affect how the public thinks about crime, politicians formulate policy, and criminal justice professionals dispense justice.
The course will help students understand the media's place in the social control structure of our communities. This course will challenge students to think critically about the role of the media in society generally and criminal justice specifically. Moreover, students will be asked to consider several different points of view to answer the fundamental question of the course and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of several arguments.

Popular Media Images of Crime - Oxford University Press
The media have a significant influence on the general portrayal of crime in society. The images that permeate popular consciousness of crime are mainly generated by, and reflected in, the electronic and print media. In this way the media have a tremendous impact in terms of how crime is generally defined in society.
According to the media, in both fictional and factual types of programs and reportage, crime tends to be defined primarily as ‘street crime’. Such crime is thus associated with personal terror and fear, and violence is seen as central. Crime is sensationalised, with important implications for the fear of crime among certain sections of the population. This fear is heightened by the way in which crime is seen to be random in nature, with anyone and everyone a possible target for victimisation.
With regard to crime control, the usual implication is that, once a crime has been brought to the attention of the authorities, investigation will generally lead to detection and capture of the offender. This is a far cry from the reality of much police work, and in specific cases of serious street crime a significant proportion of cases do not get to the prosecution stage.
In fictional accounts of crime fighting, the police are usually endowed with special qualities (such as, big guns and martial arts abilities), and violence is central and always justified because of the nature of the ‘criminals’ at hand.
Another facet of fictional accounts is that the police are not accountable to anyone; they can even step outside the bounds of the law, because we all know they are on ‘our’ side. Thus, the police are always honest and incorruptible, even though evidence in real life show that corruption of the police is a constant challenge.
It is important, therefore, to separate the images and realities of crime in society. The media shape our perceptions of crime, and in the process they define crime in particular ways. One aspect of this process is that the media often portray crime in terms of distinct crime waves. This refers to the way in which increased reporting of particular types of crime (usually street crimes, such as assault, rape, drug offences or homicide) increases the public awareness of this crime. Significantly, there need not have been an actual increase in the crime for a crime wave to occur. The increase exists only in public perception.
Nevertheless, ‘crime waves’ can and do have real consequences regardless of factual basis. For example, extensive media coverage of child abuse may lead to changes in the law, such as the introduction of mandatory reporting of suspected incidents. Or the fear generated by press coverage of assaults on elderly people may lead to calls for more police, tougher sentences and greater police power. - Excerpts from White, R. & Haines, F., Crime and Criminology – an introduction 4ed, Oxford University Press, 2008.