Is Negative Media Coverage of Cops Hurting Crime Control?


Pew: There is a widespread feeling among officers that police are mistreated by the media.

Pew: About eight-in-ten officers (81%) say the media generally treat the police unfairly.


By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Master’s degree-Johns Hopkins University.


I spent twenty-five years as a spokesperson for police and correctional agencies. I spent thirty-five years representing national and state criminal justice entities.

I like and respect the media and most reporters. I believe in strong and powerful journalism as a check on government and institutions. There were plenty of times where I felt closer to them than my own agencies.

As to the criminal justice system, yes, there are bad cops and I dislike them intensely.

But the narrative of most media coverage regarding conflicts between the community and cops paint officers with a broad brush that most of us would find repugnant if applied to other groups. When saying this in the past, the negatives came fast and furious with several stating that they can’t change the color of their skin or their heritage but cops chose the profession and they can leave anytime they want.

True but I repeat, many media reports paint cops with a broad brush that most of us would find distasteful, and that stereotype is hurting crime control, recruitment and retention. Why is it OK to attack the working class who fill most police officer positions? Why is it permissible to assume that some bad cops represent the majority?

Reporters will insist that they are doing nothing more than reporting the news and it’s not their job to remind everyone that that there are good and bad cops. But many stories offer larger examinations of police culture and the results are not pretty. Let’s do larger examinations of the culture of journalism or the beliefs of any other group and see what happens. Charges of bias will ring faster than Trump’s media denunciations.

As I have said in previous articles, I am aware of families insisting that their loved ones get out of policing, and get out now. They see the larger culture’s view of cops and they don’t see how the risks are worth their loved one’s psychological and physical safety.

Anyone who has worked as a reporter (or who worked with reporters) knows that there are journalists without ethics. Everyone is aware of surveys rating reporters as close to the bottom of the barrel as to trustworthiness. Yet I will defend journalism and the reporting community because I have years of experience where most reports were above board, fair or accurate. Journalism is currently in peril as to trust and public support. Newspapers are dying. Words, unfortunately, have meaning.

It’s the same with law enforcement. I’ve been a cop. I understand that officers take enormous risks every day. I also know that cops take chances with their safety because they see themselves as protectors of the powerless and vulnerable.

Once the role of righteous protector has been stripped, why take risks? Why be a cop at all?

There are cities throughout the country where homicides and violent crime are escalating principally due to cops holding back or not being sufficiently aggressive. Words, unfortunately, have meaning.

Endless negative narratives painting all cops as evil are hurting crime control. There are a multitude of stories addressing cops leaving law enforcement or agencies unable to recruit.

I will defend the media against all who suggest that they are a bunch of biased hacks. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I will defend cops against all who suggest that the majority are racist, violent and uncaring. If you feel that way, you are a clueless dolt engaging in the same behavior that is the foundation of race, sex, sexual orientation or national origin bias.

No one is expecting news coverage to be laudatory. We have problems with communities that need thorough examination. When bad things happen, negative media will inevitability result. But there needs to be balance and context.

As documented by Pew (below) public opinion of law enforcement has consequences and I’ll repeat the same question I’ve asked previously, “what happens when we run out of cops?”


(Editor’s note-selected passages included. See link for the entire story)

Most U.S. police officers see significant challenges on the job in the wake of high-profile incidents involving law enforcement and black citizens. Among those challenges is a widespread feeling among officers that police are mistreated by the media, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform.

About eight-in-ten officers (81%) who work in departments of 100 or more sworn officers say the media generally treat the police unfairly, according to the survey. Just 18% of officers disagree. About four-in-ten officers (42%) strongly agree that the media are unfair to police.

Attitudes about media bias are linked to other feelings about their jobs. Officers who feel strongly that the media treat police unfairly, for example, are more likely than their colleagues to say their work as a law enforcement officer nearly always or often makes them feel frustrated and even angry. Roughly two-thirds of officers (65%) who strongly agree that the media treat police unfairly say their work always or often makes them feel frustrated, and about one-in-three (31%) say it makes them feel angry.

Officers who have a strongly negative view about the way they are treated by the media also are more likely than their colleagues to see a disconnect between themselves and the public.

When asked how well the public understands the risks and challenges police face on the job, 56% of officers who strongly agree that the media treat police unfairly say “not well at all.”

By comparison, 30% of officers who agree (though not strongly) that the media treat police unfairly say that the public doesn’t understand police work well at all, as do 25% of those who do not feel the media treat police unfairly.

Source: Pew

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