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Friday, May 10, 2013

Crime Bulletin: As Violent Crime Drops, Fear of Crime Increases

     Violent crime has always been a staple of local television and newspaper news. Take out crime, sports and weather and there's nothing left. The old saying, "If it bleeds it leads," is accurate. According to researchers at the Pew Research Center, since 2007, national print and television news outlets have significantly increased their coverage of crime. In 2012, the spree shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut as well as the Jerry Sandusky pedophile case dominated the national news for months. Murder-suicide, murder-for-hire, and police involved shooting cases always attract considerable local and national media attention. So far this year, the ex-LA cop's killing spree, the Boston Bombings, the Jodi Arias murder trial, and the three women held captive ten years in Ariel Castro's house in Cleveland, Ohio dominated local and national news coverage.

     Recently, the top story on Fox News--the Benghazi cover-up--was pushed aside by the Cleveland Kidnapping case and the Arias murder verdict. (Immediately following the Arias guilty verdict, a Fox News correspondent in Phoenix landed an exclusive holding-cell interview of the convicted killer. In true crime reporting, this is a grand slam. Jodi Arias, who looks like a mean elementary school teacher who's dying to hit you with a stick, was one of the most unsympathetic female murder defendants in history.)

     Given the nonstop reporting of gruesome crime on national television, it is not surprising that most Americans believe that over the past two decades the rate of violent crime in the country has steadily increased. This spring, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that since the mid-1990s, the rate of gun killings has been cut in half. The rate of other gun crime fell by 75 percent.

     Despite the significant decline in the rate of gun violence, only 12 percent of those surveyed said they believed crimes involving firearms had dropped over the past 20 years. Twenty-six percent think that crime has stayed the same while 56 percent believe it has increased. A poll by the Pew Research Center produced similar findings. Both studies also reveal that a high percentage of gun violence involves black males shooting other black males.

     Criminologists have attributed the drop in violent crime to a variety of factors including a decline in the use of crack cocaine, and the rise in prison incarceration rates.

     Regardless of the reasons for the drop in violent crime, if an American doesn't live in a high-crime inner city neighborhood, that person resides in a country that is relatively safe from gun and other forms of violence. But people who watch television news, and have noticed how law enforcement has become so highly militarized, understandably don't feel safe. This is exactly how politicians and police administrators want us to feel. Citizens who feel threatened by crime will put up with militarized, shock-and-awe-policing, restricted civil rights, and higher taxes.

     In the old days, police administrators and politicians had to do their own fear mongering. Today, the national media unwittingly does it for them.



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