• Summary
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Policing the Media is an investigation into one of the paradoxes of the mass media age. Issues, events, and people that we see most on our television screens are often those that we understand the least. David Perlmutter examined this issue as it relates to one of the most frequently portrayed groups of people on television: police officers. Policing the Media is a report on the ethnography of a police department, derived from the author’s experience riding on patrol with officers and joining the department as a reserve policeman. Drawing upon interviews, Perlmutter describes the lives and philosophies of street patrol officers. He finds that cops hold ambiguous attitudes toward their television characters, for much of TV copland is fantastic and unrealistic. Moreover, the officers perceive that the public’s attitudes toward law enforcement and crime are directly influenced by mass media. This in turn, he suggests, influences the way that they themselves behave and perform on the street, and that unreal and surreal expectations of them are propagated by television cop shows. This cycle of perceptual influence may itself profoundly impact the contemporary criminal justice system, on the street, in the courts, and in the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

Prime-Time Crime and Street Perceptions
Prime-time crime and street perceptions

The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that in 1996, about one in five Americans age 12 or older “had a face-to-face contact with a police officer” (U.S. Department of Justice, 1997). This number, however, reflects any contact, even the most brief request for directions; only one third of the contactees were classified as “victims or witnesses to crime.”

In contrast,

The typical American child is exposed to an average of 27 hours of TV each week—as much as eleven hours [a day] for some children. … That typical child will watch 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 acts of violence before finishing elementary school. By the age of 18, that same teenager will have witnessed 200,000 acts of ...

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