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Media coverage of police misconduct and attitudes toward police

Steven Chermak (School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Edmund McGarrell (School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Jeff Gruenewald (School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 1 April 2006

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine how celebrated cases affect attitudes toward police, controlling for key demographic, police contact, and neighborhood contextual variables.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper presents two waves of public opinion data measuring attitudes toward police, police services, police harassment, and officer guilt before and after a celebrated police misconduct trial. Data were collected by telephone from residents living in three areas.

Findings

The findings in the paper suggest that news consumption of this celebrated case had no significant effects on general attitudes toward police, police services, and concerns about police harassment. Media coverage, however, did effect citizen evaluation of the guilt of the officers involved in the case. The more a citizen read a newspaper or read about the case, the more likely she was to think that the officers were guilty. Concern about crime in the neighborhood was an important predictor of attitudes toward the police, and race effects were much more pronounced after media coverage of the case.

Research limitations/implications

This paper highlights the need to examine more closely media coverage of celebrated cases and the effects of such high profile cases. In addition, it illustrates that public opinion research must be careful of contextual variables when conducting a study at a single point in time.

Practical implications

These findings also have critical implications for law enforcement agencies. The findings highlight the importance of police departments being prepared to respond to crisis events.

Originality/value

This paper is valuable to scholars and police practitioners because of its close examination of the effects of a celebrated case on various measures of public opinion of the police. Although there have many studies examining this general topic, research has ignored the impact of media coverage generally and coverage of high profile incidents.

Keywords

Citation

Chermak, S., McGarrell, E. and Gruenewald, J. (2006), "Media coverage of police misconduct and attitudes toward police", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 261-281. https://doi.org/10.1108/13639510610667664

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited