Use of Force Is the Media Helping or Hurting?

Useof Force: Is the Media Helping or Hurting?


CRJ310– Law Enforcement and American Policing

ColoradoState University – Global Campus

Dr.Timothy Emerick

Useof Force: Is the Media Helping or Hurting?

Thepolice play a crucial role in enforcing law and order in the UnitedStates of America. However, the police face a lot of challenges as itcarries out its duties and responsibilities. One of the majorchallenges that the police encounter in their line of duty isinteraction with the media. The media is responsible for informingthe public about the things taking place in their surroundings. It isthrough this mandate that the media report police actions to thepublic. Sometimes these responsibilities of the police and the mediamay conflict, causing tension and negative relationship between thetwo sectors. The public’s perception of law enforces, victims andcriminals are often determined by how the media portrays them.Frequent reports of police brutality and/or corruption in the mediacreate perception of misconduct and the belief that it is common inall law enforcement agencies.

Thisresearch paper examines the influence of media on public perceptionsof police force. Various conditional factors will be identified. Thepaper will also analyze and evaluate the impact of the media on thepublic perception of police’s use of force. Lastly, it willconclude by suggesting whether the media provides accurate andeffective facts and data on police force, or it they are more focusedon gaining audience and revenue through sensationalism andglorification of controversies.

  1. The Facts

    1. Statistics

Amongthe people who came into contact with police officers in UnitedStates in 2008, the 1.4% experienced the use of force from the policeofficers. This does not show significant change from the statisticsof 2002 (1.5%) and 2005 (1.4%). 19% of those who experienced policeforce were injured. In 2013, injury rates for civilians ranged from17 to 64% and that of police injury ranged from 10 to 20% (NationalInstitute of Justice, 2014). This shows that the impact of policeforce in United States is still significant. Some of the cases ofexcessive use of force by the police include the murder of teenagerMichael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO, and theshooting of a 12-year old boy playing with a toy pistol at Cleveland,Ohio.

    1. The Environment

Theuse of force by the police is a common occurrence in the UnitedStates. While some incidences are considered to be misconduct, othersare justified under the rule of self defence. When faced with athreatening situation, the police are allowed to use force. Theamount of force depends on the level of threat faced by the policeofficer. Some environmental factors such as culture, policies andlevel of insecurity affect the use of force. Community policing hashelped in reduction of violent encounters with the police, but lawenforcement continues to face challenges from resistance bycriminals. Some police officers also use excessive force due tostress and anxiety caused by the nature of their jobs.

  1. Public Opinion

    1. Influencers

Variousresearchers have studied the public’s perception of police force.Most researchers have found out that the major influencers of publicopinion are: the media, culture, race and economic situations.

      1. The Media

Astudy by Dowler (2003) shows that public opinion is determined by thepublic knowledge on crime and justice, which is obtained from themedia. The study also found out that fear of crime, perceivedneighborhood problems, age, and race influence the public’sperception on the effectiveness of the police. This study did notfind a significant relationship between media consumption and thepublic’s perception of the police effectiveness because it wasdifficult to measure media consumption. However, the study indicatesthat the media causes an increased fear of crime, and fear of crimeleads to a negative public perception of the police’s use of force.Furthermore media crime shows and reports increase public’sawareness of police corruption and brutality. For example, the murderof Michael Brown in Ferguson was widely publicized in the media,causing increased perception of police brutality.

Accordingto Ashcroft et al (2003), police believe that high publicity of thefew incidences of police use of force case negative influence n thepublic perception of the police. 35% of the respondents of this studysuggested that their perception of police force was influenced by themass media including newspapers, television and radio. Althoughpersonal experience was found to be the greatest influence onpublic’s perception of police force, the media is found to be animportant influence as well because it reveals some brutal policeactions.

Wihbeyand Kille (2015) argue that the brutal use of force by the police hasbeen distorted and justified by the media. This encourages the policeto continue using force while dealing with criminals. This idea isexamined further by Johnson (2007) who argues that the mediainfluences public opinion and may have an impact on court rulings onincidences of police force. The television and movies create publicperception of what constitutes reasonable force by the police.Johnson (2007) suggests that movies and the mass media reportnumerous police’s use of force which are filmed or reported bypeople with little or no knowledge of how the police force works.Therefore, the media is likely to create the wrong public perceptionof police’s use of force. Chan and Chan (2012) suggest that newsreports are likely to be twisted in the manner in which they areconveyed. Sensational newspapers were found to carry sensationalcrime reports that influence the public’s perception of fear ofcrime and the police’s use of force. However, Vera Institute ofJustice suggests that media’s influence on public opinion ofpolice’s use of force has remained stable over time only peoplewho have had contact with the police show a negative opinion (Milleret al, 2004).

      1. Culture

Police’suse of force is also influenced by police culture and cultures of thesociety as depicted through the media. The police culture ischaracterized by strain due to the nature of the policingenvironment. The police are guided by norms and values that restrainexcessive use of force while at the same time providing the policewith tools of self-defence. These factors are reported differently bydifferent media, causing different public perceptions on police’suse of force. Harris (2009) suggests that the media has theresponsibility to enhance crime prevention by their way ofrepresentation. Some media channels fail to live up to thisresponsibility and tend to create a negative opinion on the policerather than focusing on the police culture. Cultural diversity of thepublic also influences their perceptions of police’s use of force.For instance, cultural diversity may result in violations of humanrights and safety of police officers. These are often caused byprejudices and bias as people live up to their cultural beliefs andnorms. Some cultures may feel that the police are harassing themwrongfully for doing certain things that are lawfully wrong butculturally justified.

      1. Economic

Socialclasses also influence the public perception of police misconduct.Thurman and Reisig (1996) argue that people from lower socialclasses, low family income and low levels of education are likely tobe less satisfied with the police.

      1. Race

Racialprofiling of police force is perceived through media reports. Mediaexposure affects people’s attitudes towards the police. Escholz etal (2002) suggest that the public perception of the police asportrayed in the media depends on race-specific interpretations. Forexample, the brutal beating of Mark Fuhrman in 2003 which wasreported in the media caused negative perception on police brutalityand linkage to racism (Dowler, 2003). The trust of the people on thepolice is influenced by race and ethnicity. However, Ashcroft et al(2003) suggest that race did not influence the public’s opinion ofpolice performance. Dowler (2003) observes that African-Americansgenerally rate the performance of police negatively, and have anegative opinion on their use of force. The study shows that themedia’s portrayal of the criminal justice system affects theopinion of the police by African-Americans who perceive that thepolice use excessive force when dealing with them.

    1. Technology Drivers

      1. Social Media

Socialmedia networks such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs are used by thelaw enforcement agencies, the media and the public to create andexchange information (Atherton, 2012). News reports concerningexcessive use of force by the police are circulated in the socialmedia through sharing and other social media platforms. Sometimesimportant information about the situation is omitted, creating thewrong picture of Police’s use of force and negative public opinionof the police. However, the law enforcement agencies also use thesocial media to provide accurate information to change the public’sperceptions on the police’s use of force (Atherton, 2012). Thesocial media can also be used positively to build trustworthyrelationship between the law enforcement system and the public.

      1. Video

Videocameras play a crucial role in forming public opinion on police useof force. For instance, the incidences of police brutality can berecorded by video cameras located in bu8ildings around the scene.Secret media informers may also hide close by and use sophisticatedvideo cameras to take exclusive pictures of the incidents. Thesevideos are then circulated in the media, creating public opinion.Wihbey and Kille (2015) suggest that technology improvement has ledto increased video recordings of conversations between the police andcivilians. For instance, a Smartphone camera video was recorded inthe shooting of Walter Scott. Dash-mounted video cameras are alsofitted in police cars to record police interactions with the publicso that incidences of force can be noticed. The release of thesevideos through the media creates public opinion on police force.

  1. Media Responsibility

    1. Role in reporting

Themajor role of the media is to report. Through news production, themedia provides information that influences public perception (Chanand Chan, 2012).the media collect information on what happens on adaily basis, and then edits it appropriately so as to provide onlyrelevant and simplified news version because everything that happenscannot all be reported in a day.

    1. Avoiding sensationalism

Themedia also has a moral responsibility to reduce sensationalism. Chanand Chan (2012) argue that sensational media influence public’sperception on the police use of force. The media should reducesensational crime and police brutality reports in order to providethe public with accurate and unbiased reports, leading to the rightpublic opinion on crime and the criminal justice systems.

  1. Police Responsibility

    1. Protect and Serve

Theprimary role of the police is to enforce laws, protect civil rights,and serve the public populations (Schmalleger&amp Worrall, 2010).The police provide surveillance within neighborhoods and react topublic and media alarms concerning crime threats. This enhancessecurity in those neighborhoods. The police also provide civilservices such as patrolling social events, provided services to thepublic including provision of police abstracts, and other publicservices. The police help communities in times of emergencies anddisasters.

    1. Building Trust

Thepolice also build trust with the public by engaging with themregularly through social media, forums, and community patrolling. Thepolice also release information and reports concerning the state ofsecurity and service delivery through the media in order to buildtrust and good relationship between the public and the lawenforcement and judicial systems (Ashcroft et al, 2003). The policealso build trust through community involvement. This is achievedthrough active participation in community projects and activities.

  1. Solutions

    1. Training

TheVera Institute argues that public opinion of police use of force canbe improved by encouraging positive contacts (Miller et al, 2004). Inthis regard, training on courtesy and respect should be offered tothe public. The public should also be trained about the roles andresponsibilities of the media and police so that they can improvetheir understanding of the conflicts between the two sectors in termsof law enforcement. Training programs should also be offered topolice officers on accountability and supervision in order to reducethe negative image of police’s use of force in the public (Prenzleret al, 2013).The media also needs to be trained on community policing andreporting in order o minimize sensational reports. These trainingprograms ensure that the consumer satisfaction and public opinion canbe measured and achieved.

    1. Exercise Programs

Physicalfitness programs are also necessary for the police so that they caneasily tackle problems with aggressive criminals (Prenzleret al, 2013).The police usually have to pass a fitness qualification test. Thisrequires a proper training in the academy. At least four sessions ofexercise per week should be provided to the police officers so thatthey an become fit and ready to challenge criminals without having toshoot with the gun (Prenzleret al, 2013).As a result, the media will not be able to provide a negative pictureof excessive force to the public.

    1. Psychological Evaluation and Counseling

Thepolice also overreact due to their stress and the straining nature oftheir jobs (Bernd, 2015). Therefore, they need to undergo regularpsychological evaluation in order to determine their mental state.This involves psychological tests that test for cognition and mentalhealth of the police officers. Psychology tests also evaluatepersonality type and behavior (Bernd, 2015). The police officer whoshot 12-year old Tamir Rice was later proven to be mentally unfit(Bernd, 2015). This could be avoided if he had been tested. However,the psychological tests should be standardized. The test shouldinclude behavioral survey to look for the desired traits andpersonality surveys to look for appropriate personality profile. Thepolice should then be counseled to improve their psychologicalconditions.

  1. Conclusion

Itis clear that the roles and responsibilities of the media and thepolice often conflict. As the police play their roles in arrestingcriminals, they usually face resistance and aggressiveness thatthreaten their lives. As a result, they have to use some reasonableforce in self-defence. However, the media presents these incidencesin different ways using videos, social media and other technologies.These media reports create different opinions of the public andinfluence their perceptions of the police use of force. Race andculture also influences the public’s perception on police use offorce as depicted in the media. Sensational media reports tend tocreate negative public opinion of the police’s use of force.Research shows that the media does influence public opinion and mostoften highlights police use of force to drive audience throughsensational media reports and edited news reports to meet theconsumer needs. To improve the public’s perceptions of the police,training should be offered to the police, the media and thecommunity. Psychological testing and counseling as well as exerciseprograms should also be offered to the police to avoid excessive useof force as a result of mental problems and lack of fitness.


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