Examining Role And Function Of Police Criminology Essay

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The media is unique in its ability to bring people together and allow individuals to share common perceptions as well as expand their knowledge. In this way, the media has helped shape ideas, fears, and perceptions about many different topics in society, which has become of greater importance as part of a network society that relies on various media outlets to deliver information, knowledge and facts. As one book about the media noted, "The media dominates our lives. We give more time to viewing, surfing, listening and reading than we do to our families and friends" (Monck and Hanley 2008). Never has it been so viable to know exactly what is occurring around the world than in present day society. Another book made the point that "When the image of Nelson Mandela may be more familiar to us than the face of our next door neighbour, something has changed in the nature of our everyday experience" (Giddens 2002).

With the media empire growing as new technology arises and the world connecting like never before as a result of rapid globalization, society depends on information and communication to keep moving in the right direction. In this way, society is, in essence, giving the media the power to direct the decisions they make and the actions they take about nearly every subject that interests them-from politics and products to the economy and social issues.

However, the media likes to take a specific and often dramatic turn when it reports on specific issues, knowing that it does have this power to influence popular opinion. One area where questions develop about the media's influence is that of crime.  It can be said that the media does often embark on a "moral crusade" against an identified "folk devil" (Cohen 2002). In this way, the media has seemingly been able to influence how society labels certain people as social deviants, which combined with the recent focus on anti-social behaviour as the basis for all of the UK's social ills and crime, has led to specific people being demonised within society.

What is interesting to note that whilst the media is charged with the delivery of information and communication, there is no code or standard that states that it has to particularly move people in this right direction. The media does not make any claim that it should be the moral voice of society and, instead, states that they simply report the news and it is up to each person to draw their own conclusions. Despite any attempts to create a separation between information and influence, it is easy to see how the media focus on the "hot button" issues through which to build their readership. For example, even with good news about falling crime rates, the media prefer to single out instances where crime is rising. 

This tendency to sensationalise crime extends beyond the news media through to television drama and the cinema. For some reason, society seems to be continually fascinated with crime, why it happens, and who commits the crimes. In response, the media seems to amplify and glorify certain criminal activities by researching certain crimes and reporting statistics as "facts."  Referred to as the reassurance gap, this action by the media tends to build up society's fear of crime even if it is not warranted by the actual rates of crime.

One example where this might be occurring is that of knife crime in the U.K. What makes this such an interesting topic to research is that the representation of knife crime in the media seems to be used as fuel to further an already-existing fear of young people tied to the government's focus on anti-social behaviour and its emphasis on shaping policies to address this social problem. As such, the media has created the character of the "yob," which is an unpredictable, aggressive, and anti-social young person who lacks any guidance or interest in becoming a contributing and productive member of society.

In this way, it would seem as young people are simply given a reinforcing perspective of how they are to behave, which only furthers the behaviour and perpetuates society's perspective by giving the media more situations and examples to use for dramatic effect. In this way, society is further manipulated to be scared of young people and think they carry knives when, in actual fact, they may not at all. It would seem that this would only create more problems than provide any means to help young people by providing more educational opportunities and job training programmes as well as outlets for their energy and freedom.

In reflecting on this background and in realising the minimal research coverage it has received provides the motivation for studying if, in fact, the way knife crime has been reported in recent years by the UK media has been exaggerated to some degree, leading to a demonization of those involved, particularly young people, who are then shaped by the deviant identities created in the media and reinforced by society. Since the media has become even more powerful amongst a network society that relies on information, content, and knowledge from various forms of media-social, Internet, and television-this topic is important to further explore as any findings could help the media and society better understand the need to be more careful in how it presents information about crime and those involved as well as assist the government in better understanding how to address the underlying reasons for why such crimes have become more prevalent or publicly debated. Perhaps, by publicising the real reasons for knife crime rather than just focusing on the statistics, which tends to demonise those involved as perpetrators, the media can wield a more positive influence and "fire up" the community to get the government to drive more solutions that can reduce the interest in participating in such crime.

1.2 Research Question and Objectives

The research question is to what extent has the media amplified the problem of knife crime in the UK which has led to the construction of deviant identities? The research objectives are to:

Determine if the problem of knife crime is as accurate as the media portrays or if it is, as I believe, being exaggerated.

Outline some of the key reasons why knife crime occurs or has become more prevalent as a crime analysed by the media.

Assess how the media has been able to influence society's perspective in general as well as on the area of knife crime, why it happens, and what type of people are involved.

Provide specific recommendations on how knife crime could be better understood as a complex issue that involves a number of social and economic factors rather than to "demonise" those involved in this crime, especially young people.

1.3 Dissertation Outline

This dissertation is comprised of six chapters, which are intended to encompass the research completed for this study on the impact of the media on knife crime and the formation of deviant identities. The first chapter sets the foundation the motivation for conducting the research as well as provides background about the challenges of increased knife coverage and the associated influence of the media's coverage of this crime in the UK.

Chapter two provides a critical review of the available literature on knife crime in the UK and how it is reported as well as any available theory on how the media shapes society's perspectives on various behaviours or issues that impact their communities. Chapter three focuses on outlining the research model and design used as well as the various methodologies and how these will contribute and/or limit the potential findings and conclusions that will be drawn from the research.

Chapter four includes all the findings from the research whilst chapter five offers an analysis of these findings. Finally, chapter six includes conclusions based on the analysis of the findings and comparison to the research objectives to determine if these had been achieved. Additionally, this chapter describes potential recommendations for future research that could be conducted on the topic of the research question. The appendix has other significant information that was utilised or gathered whilst developing the work contained in this dissertation.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.1 Introduction

The literature review provides a basis for understanding the theoretical framework for a particular research question so that the researcher can determine how to frame the research that is conducted as well as identify any gaps in the available research so that specific areas can be focused on to deliver new insights or knowledge about a particular research area or relevant issue.

For this dissertation, the literature review will focus on current literature that is available on knife crime in the UK and the public's perceptions of knife crime and those who commit this crime. Additionally, the literature review will include any theories about how the media is able to influence public opinion, specifically in the area of crime, and how this influence can effective alter society's viewpoint in either a positive or negative way.

Knife Crime in the U.K.

In 2008, 70 young people died due to gang violence in England with 26 of these the victims of knife crime in London (British Library 2009). There is a great concern over the number of young people who are being attacked or that are using knives (NCVCCO 2008). The media reporting in the UK has stated that most of these crimes occur in certain parts of London and seem to involve a higher proportion of black men as both the victims and the perpetrators (Squires 2009).

Amongst the statistics provided for the entire U.K., knife crime accounts for one-third of all homicides, which, in total, accounts for six to seven per cent of all violent crime in the country (Firmin et al. 2007). Overall, much of the literature suggests that there are very few statistics available by which to understand knife crime (Royal Armouries Museum 2007). Other researchers who look at the available statistics note that knife crime on a national level has actually fallen and that the number of teenagers who have died in a violent crime has been the same for a number of years outside of London (Wood 2010).

Public Perception of Knife Crime and the Perpetrators

       Knife crime has been evident throughout history. It can be traced back to 1669 when King Louis XIV of France declared all pointed knives on the street or used at the dinner table 'illegal' and ordered all knife points ground down, like those similarly used today, in order to reduce violence. It is however difficult to recognise by the public today that violence with weapons is not a new phenomenon but it is interesting to note how it has been examined in literature versus how the media has portrayed it. In the UK, the attitude toward knife crime and perpetrators is primarily a growing concern and fear as more cases are reported (Margo 2008).

What is interesting to note is the review of literature that illustrates that there are a number of definitions for a knife crime in the UK, but the public's perception is almost always to think of violence toward a victim (Royal Armouries Museum 2007). For instance, knife crime can describe anything "from carrying a knife for protection in a public place to producing a knife as a weapon during the course of a robbery or sexual assault (Royal Armouries Museum 2007).

2.4 Theories on Media Influence

According to available literature, researchers and students have studied the connection between media and crime for well over a hundred years with various schools of thought developing from realism and reception analysis, the dominant ideology approach, Marxism, and pluralism (Jewkes 2004). It is believed that "media representations are not simply a mirror of society but rather that they are highly selective and constructed portrayals" that then "shape and frame our perception of the world" (The Australian Psychological Society 2000).

A number of theories exist on how media's influence the public, including the mass society theory and behaviourism (Jewkes 2004) in which sociologists and psychologists have studied how the media shapes perceptions, decisions, behaviours and actions. Most focus on the idea of agenda setting despite the media's insistence that it simply reports the news (McCombs 2004). However, as researchers notes, the media helps to create a picture in people's heads about situations that they cannot see or have not been involved in, so, in essence, they are creating a "pseudo-environment" based upon their perception of what happened, which, in turn, is further processed by the person receiving the information based on their background, knowledge, and potential bias (McCombs 2004). Agenda setting has been described as a theory "about the transfer of salience from the mass media's pictures of the world to the pictures in our heads" (McCombs 2004).

In some ways, the media can be used by stakeholders, such as politicians or specific interest groups, to create a consensus of opinion. For example, one book noted that "the media preoccupation with crime stories as a source of exaggerated public fear of crime fuelling support for authoritarian crime control polices" (Mason 2003). As Monck and Hanley (2008) concluded, the media uses numbers and statistics as the foundation for getting the public to trust what they say. As these researchers also noted, "our ability to 'trust' the media is, in other words, directly proportional to how much we understand it: what it is, why it is and how it works (Monck and Hanley 2008).

How Media Influence Alters Public Opinion

From the literature reviewed, studies have indicated that the media can alter public opinion, especially in terms of situations where fear or lack of knowledge is concerned. For instance, one book about the media found that "readers of newspapers that devoted the largest proportion of its news hole to stories about crime exhibited higher levels of fear about crime than did the readers of other newspapers" (McCombs 2004). Likewise, television media has made this fear even worse with its use of visuals and flair for the dramatic when reporting crime stories (McCombs 2004). Peter Wilby (2008) noted that knife crime is just one topic in a string of topics, with last year being gun crime, which the media has used to sensationalise issues and leverage attacks against government policy when necessary.

Because crime, especially amongst young people, has been taken on as a political issue, the media has likewise joined on to provide its take on it, which has then led to an increase in the fear of young people as potential knife crime perpetrators, creating a "moral panic" (Burke 2008). Deviance has been described as the "quintessential element of newsworthiness" due to people's combined sense of fascination and fear (Mason 2003). The media is able to influence because the majority of the media's audience seems to passively accept what the media delivers as facts and statistics without any real question about the authenticity or agenda for presenting the information (Carrabine 2008). Fear is created when the media decides to link a number of crime under one headline, which tends to exaggerate and prolong the stories to further influence public opinion (Firmin et al. 2007). As one article noted, "It is this form of linkage which can help to create a moral panic around an issue. New crimes are 'found' and narrated in the press as if there is a sudden surge in the reported activity" (Firmin et al. 2007).

In the UK, it would appear as though public fear is increasing in relation to young people. A recent report (Margo 2008) concluded that "an increased media and political focus on youth anti-social behaviour, and changes to youth justice policy…have been seen as encouraging high levels of concern about youth misbehaviour, and to encourage Britons to be more likely to hold young people independently responsible for their misbehaviour." A study of six UK television programmes found that the focus of young people was thought to have painted a strong connection for the audience between young people and the rise in violent crime (Wayne et al. 2008). This type of media attitude has also been reported in U.S. literature. For instance, one article found that "newspapers may be responsible for socially constructing an atypical image of juvenile homicide by overreporting cases involving females, Caucasians, and extremely young victims and offenders" (Boulahanis 2004).

In terms of knife crime, one article noted that there seemed to be a rise in knife crime reporting by the media around the same time that the government released a set of youth justice policies that focused on "robust policing" and tougher measures (Squires 2009). The focus on black youths has, in some ways, furthered preconceived notions about this group as criminals even if they are not because these personal characteristics are emphasised by the media (Okoronkwo 2008). According to the available literature, it would seem that researchers believe that the media could present a more positive view that would downplay "fear of crime" and focus, instead on positive and proactive measures to create safer communities (Kirby and McPherson 2009).

2.6 Summary

In reviewing the available literature, it would seem as though there is limited available research on the subject of knife crime and how the media has portrayed the issue in a way that has influenced society's perspectives about deviant identities. The available information on knife crime does seem to present a different picture than that portrayed by the U.K. media, which has seemed to sensationalise the issue, further building fear in the communities and present a picture of young people as being focused on deviant behaviour along the lines of creating a moral panic and drive a further gap between adults and young people that only serves to exclude them rather than address the underlying issues that impact young people.

This leaves a considerable area of opportunity for further developing this area of study and discovering new insights that could benefit both the academic community as well as provide some assistance to the government and society, in general, in terms of developing a better understanding of this issue.

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