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Policing and Society: An International


Journal of Research and Policy
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Media Influence on Citizen Attitudes


Toward Police Effectiveness
a
Kenneth Dowler
a
Department of Sociology and Anthropology , University of
Windsor , Windsor, Canada , N9B 3P4
Published online: 27 Oct 2010.

To cite this article: Kenneth Dowler (2002) Media Influence on Citizen Attitudes Toward Police
Effectiveness, Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy, 12:3, 227-238

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10439460290032369

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Policing and Society, 2002, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 227238

MEDIA INFLUENCE ON CITIZEN ATTITUDES


TOWARD POLICE EFFECTIVENESS
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KENNETH DOWLER

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor,


Windsor, Canada N9B 3P4

Employing the 1995 National Opinion Survey of Crime and Justice (NOSCJ), this study examines the effect
that media consumption has on attitudes toward police effectiveness. Media consumption consists of hours of
television viewing per week, regular viewing of crime drama and primary source of crime news. Employing
OLS regression, the results indicate that none of the media variables are significantly related to attitudes
toward police effectiveness. Moreover, the results indicate that age, race, income, fear of crime and perceived
problems in the neighborhood are significantly related to perceived police effectiveness. In addition, the
sample was divided into respondents with no police contact and those with police contact. For respondents
with no police contact, the results indicate that none of the media variables are significantly related to
police effectiveness. However, age, education, perceived problems in neighborhood, and fear of crime is sig-
nificantly related to perceived police effectiveness. For respondents with police contact, the results reveal that
hours of television viewing are positively related to police effectiveness. Respondents who watch increased
levels of television are more likely to rate the police as ineffective. In addition, the results demonstrate that
income, problems in neighborhood, and satisfaction with police contact are significantly related to perceived
police effectiveness.

Keywords: Police media effectiveness; Television and attitudes

The mass media play an important role in citizen attitudes toward law enforcement
agents. Broadcast and print news media rely heavily on police agencies for information
and present a large amount of coverage to crime stories. In addition, crime dramas
involving police officers are a staple of mainstream television programming. The
public is inundated with images of police officers, from the heroic crime fighter, to
the bumbling ineffective bureaucrat. Some would argue that perceptions of law enforce-
ment officials is largely determined by their portrayal in the mass media. Therefore, it is
imperative to examine the effect that the mass media have on attitudes toward law
enforcement agents. The purpose of this research is to examine how the media influ-
ences audience perceptions of police effectiveness.
Public attitudes toward police are generally positive (White and Menke, 1978;
Decker, 1985; Maxfield, 1988; Walklate, 1992; Huang and Vaughn, 1996). Research
indicates that race, gender, age, education, residence, political ideology, socioeconomic
status and police contact are related to attitudes toward the police (Huang and Vaughn,
1996). However, there are few studies that examine media influence on citizen ratings
of police effectiveness. Much of the literature focuses on media portrayals of police

ISSN 1043-9463 print: ISSN 1477-2728 online 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/10439460290032369
228 K. DOWLER

officers and findings reveal two conflicting views. Some researchers argue that the
police are presented favorably in the media, while others suggest that the police are
negatively portrayed in the media.
Presentations of police are often over-dramatized and romanticized by fictional tele-
vision crime dramas, while the news media portray the police as heroic, professional
crime fighters (Reiner, 1985; Surette, 1998). For example, in television crime dramas,
the majority of crimes are solved and criminal suspects are successfully apprehended
(Dominick, 1978; Estep and MacDonald, 1984; Carlson, 1985; Zillman and
Wakshlag, 1985; Kooistra et al., 1998) Similarly, news accounts tend to exaggerate
the proportion of offenses that result in arrest, which projects an image that police
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are more effective than official statistics demonstrate (Roshier, 1973; Skogan and
Maxfield, 1981; Sacco and Fair, 1988; Marsh, 1991) The favorable view of policing
is partly a consequence of police public relations strategy. Reporting of proactive
police activity creates an image of the police as effective and efficient investigators of
crime (Christensen et al., 1982). Accordingly, a positive police portrayal reinforces
traditional approaches to law and order, which involve increased police presence,
harsher penalties and increasing police power (Sacco, 1995).
In addition, a number of researchers suggest that a symbiotic relationship exists
between news media personnel and the police. It is suggested that the police and the
media engage in a mutually beneficial relationship. The media needs the police to
provide them with quick, reliable sources of crime information, while the police have
a vested interest in maintaining a positive public image (Hall et al., 1978; Fishman,
1981; Ericson et al., 1987). Nevertheless, a number of researchers argue that the
police are not portrayed positively in the news media. For example, Surette (1998)
claims that docu-dramas and news tabloid programs present the police as heroes
that fight evil, yet print and broadcast news personify the police as ineffective and
incompetent. Likewise, Graber (1980) claims that the media provides little information
to judge police, and that the news media focus on negative criticism rather than positive
or successful crime prevention efforts. In essence, most media crime is punished, but
policemen are rarely the heroes (Lichter and Lichter, 1983).
The purpose of this research is to examine the relationship between media consump-
tion and public attitudes toward police effectiveness. We intend to determine whether
regular viewing of crime drama, hours of television viewing and source of crime
news is related to attitudes toward the police. In addition, we intend to examine the
differences between respondents with police contact and those with no police contact.
We hypothesize that respondents with no prior contact with police (in last two years)
will be more influenced by media variables than those with police contact. In addition,
we speculate that positive appraisal of police contact is the most important determinant
of perceived police effectiveness. In short, those who are satisfied with their contact
with police will be more likely to hold positive attitudes toward the police.

METHODS

Sample
The sample is derived from the 1995 National Opinion Survey on Crime and Justice
(NOSCJ). The NOSCJ is a nationally representative survey of adults (n 1005) residing
in the continental United States. It is designed to measure public attitudes toward crime
MEDIA AND CITIZEN ATTITUDES ABOUT POLICE 229

and justice. The survey employed a random sample design with a response rate of 65%.
The survey examines a number of issues such as attitudes toward the courts, police,
neighborhood problems, juvenile gangs, drug laws, death penalty, gun control, prisons,
and worries about crime. In addition to basic demographic characteristics, the survey
provides information about hours of television viewing, viewing of crime drama and
source of crime news.

MEASURES
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Perception of Police Effectiveness


Police effectiveness is measured by using seven items that examine the respondents
attitudes towards police. Three questions address respondents confidence in police
ability to protect, solve and prevent crime. Each question has a four-category response
ranging from a great deal, some, little and none at all. Three questions address respon-
dents assessment of police promptness, friendliness and fairness. Each question has a
five-category response ranging from very high, high, average, low and very low. For the
scaling purposes, very low and low were combined into one category. The final question
examines the respondents belief in the use of excessive force by police in their com-
munity. This category responses range from serious problem, somewhat of a problem,
minor problem, and not a problem at all.1 The seven items are scaled to establish an
index of perceived police effectiveness that range from seven to twenty-eight.2 Lower
scores indicate positive appraisals towards police effectiveness and higher scores indi-
cate negative appraisals of political effectiveness. Reliability analysis reveals an alpha
of 0.8318, which indicates that this scale is consistent.

Mass-media Variables
The media variables include crime-drama viewing, television hours and crime news
source. Crime-drama viewing is measured by asking respondents if they are frequent
viewers of a television crime drama.3 Television hours are measured by asking respon-
dents how many hours of television they watched per week. Finally, respondents were
asked the primary source of crime news. The categories include television, newspaper,
radio, and friends/neighbors and are dummy coded for the analysis. Specifically, we
intend to examine the print medias effect on perceived police effectiveness.

Socio-demographic Measures/Control Variables


A number of control variables are employed in this research to account for mediating
effects. Demographic variables such as race, gender, age, income, residence, education,
marital status, and satisfaction with police contact are employed in the analysis.
Races, income, residence, level of education, marital status, and satisfaction with
police are dummy-coded. In addition, scales are created to measure respondents
attitudes toward problems in their neighborhood and fear of crime, Respondents

1
Use of police force is reverse coded.
2
The mean for each item is employed for missing cases.
3
Responses are dummy coded; Regular Viewer 0, Not a Regular Viewer 1.
230 K. DOWLER

were asked to rate the seriousness of a number of issues in their neighborhood.


The issues include: trash and litter; loose dogs; unsupervised youth; graffiti; vacant
houses; noise; people drunk/high in public; and abandoned cars. The scores range
from eight to thirty-two. Lower scores indicate high levels of problems in the neighbor-
hood, whereas higher scores indicate low levels of problems in the neighborhood.
Reliability analysis reveals an alpha of 0.8082, which indicates a consistent scale.
Fear of crime is measured using seven items that examine the respondents worry
about crime. Respondents are asked if they worry about sexual assault; car-jacking; get-
ting mugged; getting beaten up, knifed or shot; getting murdered; being burglarized
while at home; and being burglarized while no one is at home. Each question on
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worry/fear of crime has a four-category response ranging from very frequently, some-
what frequently, seldom and never. The seven items are scaled to establish an index of
fear of crime that ranges from seven (high worry) to twenty-eight (low worry). Lower
scores indicate a greater amount of fear/worry about crime. Reliability analysis reveals
an alpha of 0.8631, which indicates that the scale is highly consistent.

RESULTS

Univariate and Bivariate Analysis


Table I presents descriptive statistics of the variables employed in this study. The
variables were divided into three sections: media variables, scale variables and socio-
demographic variables. The results indicate that respondents average almost 15 hours

TABLE I Descriptive characteristics of NOCJS

Mean % SD

Media variables
Hours of television viewing 14.95 11.46
Regular viewer of crime shows 42.5
Newspaper as primary source of crime news 20
Television as primary source of crime news 66.1
Scaled variables
Fear of crime (High to Low) 21.35 4.98
Perception police effectiveness (Good to Bad) 14.86 4.43
Problems in neighborhood (High to Low) 28.2 4.35
Socio-demographic variables
African Americans 7.7
Latinos 7.7
Married 53.1
Age 45 17.24
College educated 58.2
High income ($60,000 or higher) 22.1
Middle income ($30,00059,999) 37.2
Low income ($15,00029,999) 25.8
Very low income ($15,000 or less) 13.4
Female 47.9
Urban resident 15.9
Rural resident 37
Police contact (in last two years) 54.4
Satisfaction with police contact 71
n 1005.
MEDIA AND CITIZEN ATTITUDES ABOUT POLICE 231

of television per week, while 42% of the respondents report that they are regular view-
ers of crime drama, and that 20% of the respondents report that newspapers are their
main source of crime news. The results indicate that on a scale of seven to twenty-eight,
the average score is 21 for fear of crime and 15 for perceived police effectiveness.
On a scale of eight to 32, the respondents score 28 for perceived problems in their
neighborhood.
Socio-demographic characteristics of the sample indicate that 7.7% of the respon-
dents are African American and 7.7% are Latino; 53.1 % are married; 48% are
female; 16% are urban residents; 37% are rural residents; the average age is 45; 58%
are college educated; 22% have incomes over $60,000; 37.2% have incomes between
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30 and 60 thousand; 25.8% have incomes between 15,000 and 30,000; 13.4% have
incomes lower than $15,000; 54.4% have prior police contact (in last two years); and
71% were satisfied with police contact.
Correlation analysis is conducted on media consumption variables (television hours,
crime-drama viewing, and source of crime news) and perceived police effectiveness
(Table II). The results indicate that viewing crime drama is significantly related to per-
ceived police effectiveness. Those who report being regular viewers of crime drama are
more likely to hold negative attitudes toward police effectiveness. Bivariate analysis
indicates that newspaper as primary source of crime news and hours of television view-
ing are not significantly related to perceived police effectiveness. For respondents with
no police contact, we find that none of the media variables are related to police effec-
tiveness. For respondents with police contact, we find that regular crime drama viewing
is related to negative attitudes toward police effectiveness. However, there may be a

TABLE II Pearsons correlation: attitudes toward police

Attitudes toward police

Perceived Perceived Perceived


police police police
effectiveness effectiveness effectiveness
(no police contact) (police contact)

Newspapers as source of crime news 0.036  0.020 0.079


Hours of television viewing 0.021  0.071 0.083
Regular viewer of crime drama  0.093**  0.004  0.158**
African American  0.142**  0.140**  0.143**
Latino  0.076*  0.061  0.098*
Female 0.043 0.099*  0.003
Urban resident  0.099**  0.088  0.105*
Age  0.199**  0.241**  0.171**
College educated 0.029  0.052 0.097*
High income  0.042  0.021  0.053
Average income  0.081* 0.038 0.112*
Low income  0.035  0.012  0.052
Lowest income  0.018  0.014  0.021
Fear of crime  0.135**  0.147**  0.125**
Problems in neighborhood  0.228**  0.204**  0.248**
Satisfaction with police 0.558**
Contact
Married 0.047 0.067
*Correlation is significant at the 0.05 levels.
**Correlation is significant at the 0.01 levels.
232 K. DOWLER

number of factors that mitigate or enhance the relationships. Therefore, it is necessary


to conduct multivariate techniques to further address these hypotheses.

Multivariate Analysis
Perceived Police Effectiveness
Table III examines perceived police effectiveness regressed on media and control
variables.4 The findings reveal that none of the media variables are statistically related
to perceptions of police effectiveness. Multiple regression model reveals that the pro-
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portion of variance explained by the media variables are minimal. In the regression
model, hours of television viewing explains 4.5% of the relationship between perceived
police effectiveness, compared to 3.7% for hours of crime drama viewing and 1.6% for
print media as the major source of crime news. A possible explanation is that there is
little agreement on the role that police play on television crime dramas and news
reports. Some research suggests that police are positively portrayed while other research
claims that the police are negatively portrayed. However, we do find a few variables
that are significantly related to perceived police effectiveness. The most important vari-
able in the regression model is problems in neighborhood (17.4%); followed by age
(14.8%), fear of crime (12.6%), high income (10.3%) and race (9.4%). Respondents
who believe that there a high number of problems in their neighborhood are more
likely to rate police effectiveness as being poor. Respondents may believe that the
local police are not properly fulfilling their role in the community. Those who are
older are more likely to have high ratings of police effectiveness, whereas younger
respondents are more likely to have low ratings of police effectiveness. This is consistent
with prior research that shows that the elderly have more favorable attitudes toward
police (Hindelang, 1974; Garofalo, 1977; Thomas and Hyman, 1977). Respondents

TABLE III Perceived police effectiveness regressed on media variables

Variable Std. error t Beta

Viewer of crime drama 0.302  1.064  0.037


Hours of television per week 0.013 1.322 0.045
Newspaper source of crime news 0.356 0.484 0.016
Age 0.009  4.096  0.148*
Black 0.559  2.785  0.094*
Latino 0.572 0.162 0.006
Urban resident 0.404  1.529  0.052
College educated 0.307 0.561 0.02
Married 0.305 0.808 0.028
High income 0.377  2.799  0.103*
Low income 0.38  0.988  0.038
Lowest income 0.492  0.007 0
Female 0.298 0.048 0.002
Problem in neighborhood 0.036  4.843  0.174*
Fear of crime 0.031  3.627  0.126*
n 838; Adjusted R2 0.119; *p<0.01.

4
Case-wise diagnostics reveal four outliers, which are excluded from the analysis. VIF and tolerance statis-
tics indicate no problems with multicollinearity.
MEDIA AND CITIZEN ATTITUDES ABOUT POLICE 233

who have a high fear of crime are more likely to give poor ratings to the police. These
respondents may feel that the police are not adequately protecting their communities.
Respondents with incomes over $60,000 are more likely to have a negative
evaluation of police performance. This is contrary to prior research, which indicates
that low-income people hold less favorable attitudes toward police (Jacob, 1971;
Thomas and Hyman, 1977). However, high-income respondents may feel they have
more to lose if they are victimized.
Finally, we find that African Americans are more likely to hold low ratings of police
effectiveness. This is similar to prior research that suggests that African Americans have
an antagonistic view of police (Garofalo, 1977) and that there is a climate of distrust:
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between African Americans and law enforcement (Jacob, 1971). For example,
Waddington and Braddock (1991) find that African Americans believe that whites
receive preferential police treatment and that African Americans are subjects of dis-
crimination. Similarly, research indicates that there is a significant association between
being black and being harassed by police (Browning et al., 1994). Other factors
may include an increased awareness of police corruption, racism, brutality and racial
profiling. A number of significant social events occurred during the 1990s. For
example, the beating of Rodney King and the racist remarks of Mark Fuhrman
elevated racism and police brutality into national issues. Finally, we have seen racial
profiling or driving while black emerge as an important social issue.

Police Contact versus No Police Contact


Police contact may play a more significant role in the relationship between media
variables and perceived police effectiveness (Jacob, 1971; Smith and Hawkins, 1973;
Zevitz and Rettammel, 1990). Respondents who do not have direct experience with
police may rely on television or media portrayal of police officers as their reference
point. Therefore, respondents were divided into those who experienced police contact
and those with no police contact.5
Table IV presents the findings for respondents with no police contact in the last two
years.6 We expected to find that respondents with no police contact would be more
likely to rely on media sources. However, the results indicated that none of the
media variables achieve statistical significance. This multiple regression model reveals
that the proportion of variance explained by the media variables are minimal. In the
regression model, newspaper as primary source of crime news explains 5.7% of the rela-
tionship between perceived police effectiveness, compared to l.9% for hours of crime
drama viewing and 0.2% for hours of television viewing. The findings reveal that
age, education, neighborhood problems and fear of crime are significantly related to
perceived police effectiveness. The strongest predictor is fear of crime (21.3%) followed
by age (18.7%), problems in the neighborhood (14.4%) and education (9.1%).
Respondents who are young, college educated, report high number of problems in
their neighborhood, and who fear crime are more likely to report negative evaluations
of police.

5
Respondents were asked if they had prior police contact in the last two years. Responses are dummy
coded, Police Contact are coded 0, and No Police Contact are coded 1.
6
Case wise diagnostics reveal one outlier, which is excluded from the analysis. VIF and tolerance statistic
indicate no problems with multicollinearity.
234 K. DOWLER

TABLE IV Respondents with no police contact (last two years)

Variable Std. error t Beta

Viewer of crime drama 0.431  0.363  0.019


Hours of television per week 0.019  0.032  0.002
Newspaper source of crime news 0.504  1.119  0.057
Age 0.013  3.298  0.187**
Black 0.773  1.235  0.065
Latino 0.794 0.650 0.036
Urban resident 0.635  0.115  0.006
College educated 0.429  1.701  0.091*
Married 0.425 1.091 0.058
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High income 0.592  0.398  0.022


Low income 0.524  1.275  0.075
Lowest income 0.681  0.541  0.032
Female 0.422 1.308 0.069
Problem in neighborhood 0.053  2.537  0.144**
Fear of crime 0.044  4.049  0.213**
n 360; Adjusted R2 0.124; *p<0.10; **p<0.01.

TABLE V Respondents with prior contact with police

Variable Std. error t Beta

Viewer of crime drama 0.366  0.463  0.108


Hours of television per week 0.015 2.511 0.095*
Newspaper source of crime news 0.427 1.616 0.061
Age 0.012  1.412  0.0.58
Black 0.703  1.302 0.194
Latino 0.715  0.764  0.029
Urban resident 0.459  1.540  0.059
College educated 0.380 0.341 0.013
Married 0.373  0.749  0.030
High income 0.439  2.371  0.101*
Low income 0.471  0.301  0.013
Lowest income 0.605 0.218 0.010
Female 0.366  0.876  0.034
Problem in neighborhood 0.044  3.598  0.147*
Fear of crime 0.037  1.613  0.063
Satisfied with police contact 0.394 13.168 0.508*
n 476; Adjusted R2 0.364; *p<0.01.

Respondents with police contact were included in the next model. We expect to find
that satisfaction with police contact may be the most important determinant of per-
ceived police effectiveness. As a result, satisfaction with police contact is employed as
a control variable in the model.7 Table V presents the findings for the respondents
who had prior police contact.8 In this model the most important indicator is satisfaction

7
In the survey respondents who experienced police contact were asked if they were very satisfied, satisfied,
dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied with police contact. Very satisfied and satisfied are coded 0, whereas dissatis-
fied, very dissatisfied and neither are coded 1. This was the only measure included in the NOSCJ on police-
respondent interaction. Adversarial contact with the police may have a more profound impact on citizen atti-
tudes toward the police. It is possible that respondents who were dissatisfied with police contact may have had
an adversarial experience with police. However, a more detailed explanation of policerespondent interaction
would have been useful.
8
Casewise diagnostics reveal two outliers, which are excluded from the analysis. VIF and tolerance statistic
indicate no problems with multicollinearity.
MEDIA AND CITIZEN ATTITUDES ABOUT POLICE 235

with police contact (50.8%), followed, by neighborhood problems (14.7%), high


income (10.1%), and hours of television viewing (9.5%). Not surprisingly, respondents
who have positive appraisals of police contact are more likely to report higher ratings
of police effectiveness. We also find that respondents who report a high number
of problems in their neighborhood are more likely to have low ratings of police
effectiveness. Respondents with high incomes (over $60,000) are more likely to rate
the police as ineffective. Finally, we find that respondents who watch high levels of
television are more likely to have negative perceptions of police effectiveness.
We speculate that respondents with limited contact with the police might be more
influenced by media variables. Nevertheless, we may surmise that respondents who
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watch television may rate police as ineffective because of negative police images.
Conversely, positive police images may present unrealistic expectations of police
performance. It may be that police officers do not reflect media versions of police.
For instance, interactions with police may be influenced by media based stereotypes
of police officers. Television crime is more likely to be solved and police are presented
as competent, maybe even heroic. As a result, real interactions may be disappoint-
ing for some heavy television viewers, who expect more from the police.
In contrast to our earlier findings, we find that race is not related to perceived police
effectiveness. This finding is similar to other studies that indicate that social class and
residence mitigate the relationship between race and attitudes toward the police. For
example, Kusow et al. (1998) find little support that African Americans are less
satisfied with police effectiveness. They find that both African American and white
suburbanites are more satisfied with police performance than African American and
white urban residents. In addition, Albrecht and Green (1977) find that low-income
African Americans living in inner cities possess the least favorable attitudes toward
the police. Similarly, Parker et al. (1995) find that African Americans who reside in
high crime areas, and who have low incomes are more likely to have negative attitudes
toward the police.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

This study reveals that regular viewing of crime drama is not significantly related to
perceived police effectiveness. Similarly, the print media as the primary source of
crime news and hours of television watching is not significantly related to perceived
police effectiveness. Nevertheless, a few limitations with the measures of media
consumption need to be addressed. First, we do not know what type of crime
dramas the respondents are viewing. There are numerous types of crime dramas that
may focus on different aspects of the criminal justice system. For example, crime
dramas may focus on police, courts, private investigators, lawyers, and sometimes
even the criminals (The Sopranos). In addition, some dramas are more realistic,
while others routinely portray violence, and consistently misinform viewers about the
nature of the criminal justice system and criminality. It would be prudent to know
which dramas the respondents are viewing. Second, employing television hours is
problematic, we have no way of telling what type of programs the respondent is
viewing. There are a number of different programs that may or may not address
criminal justice issues and address them in substantially different ways. Second, when
we examine newspapers as the primary source of crime news, we are assuming
236 K. DOWLER

that only the print media influences respondents. It would be naive to suggest that
respondents are not affected by a number of sources; for example, respondents
who receive their primary crime news from newspapers may also be affected by
presentations of crime from other sources such as films, television and/or personal
experiences. Third, there is an interactive relationship between attitudes toward the
police and media consumption. Simply put, respondents may have preconceived
ideas about the effectiveness of the police. Prior audience attitudes may have a direct
and profound impact on viewer attitudes. Finally, the direction of the relationship
between attitudes toward the police and media consumption may be reversed.
Respondents with pro-police attitudes may be attracted to programs (crime dramas)
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that display police work. However, it is likely that the relationship is reciprocal, with
both influencing each other. For instance, respondents with pro-police attitudes may
be attracted to crime dramas; conversely viewing these dramas may strengthen or
reaffirm these respondents pro-police attitudes.
Despite these limitations, the results are thought provoking, as well as important.
In general, we find that perception of police effectiveness is not related to media
consumption, which supports the limited effects model of media consumption. The
limited effects model suggests that the viewing audience have preconceived views of
the world. The mass media reinforce existing attitudes or opinions, and audience
members are attracted to messages that are favorable to their predispositions or pre-
existing attitudes. Proponents of the limited effects paradigm suggest that social
factors (such as group membership) mitigate the effect that media portrayal has on
viewers and that the media has a limited effect on the audience (Katz and
Lazarsfeld, 1960; Kappler, 1960; Berelson and Steiner, 1964). Nevertheless, for
respondents with prior police contact, there is a relationship between television viewing
and perceived police effectiveness. Those who watch increased levels of television are
more likely to rate the police as ineffective. There are three possible explanations for
this finding. First, we may assume that high television viewers may be inundated
with violent images. As a result, they may hold negative views toward police, who
they suspect are not doing their job by not protecting the public from crime. Second,
we may make the assumption that police are more likely to be negatively portrayed
on television. As a result, high television viewers may be filled with images of police
corruption, police ineffectiveness, and police incompetence. Third, police may be
positively portrayed on television, which may cause the television viewing public to
adhere to unrealistic images of police work and/or performance. In other words, real
life interactions with police may disappoint the public who believe that the police
should behave and act according to how they are presented on television.
In addition, we find that respondents who report a high number of problems in their
neighborhood are more likely to give negative evaluations of police effectiveness.
Future research should examine how the media influences these attitudes. The media
may produce feelings that local neighborhoods are problem filled or dangerous.
For instance, local news broadcasts may focus on highly sensational, violent and
disturbing crime that occur in the neighborhood. It may be possible that media presen-
tation will affect attitudes toward the neighborhood.
In this study we find that African Americans are more likely to give poor ratings of
police effectiveness. However, when we divide the sample and control for satisfaction
with police contact, we find that race is not significantly related to perceived police
effectiveness. It appears that satisfaction with police contact is a more important
MEDIA AND CITIZEN ATTITUDES ABOUT POLICE 237

determinant of public confidence in police officers. This is similar to other research that
finds that personal contact is the most important determinant of satisfaction with police
(Scaglion and Condon, 1980). Nevertheless, this data set provides no information on
the type or context of the police contact. Future studies should examine detailed
descriptions of interactions with police and how that affects satisfaction rates.
In conclusion, employing regression techniques we find little support for media
influence on public attitudes toward police effectiveness. However, we find a positive
relationship between hours of television viewing and police effectiveness for
respondents with prior police contacts. We speculate that this is the result of both
negative and positive portrayals of police on television. Nevertheless, satisfaction
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with police contact is the most important factor in public attitudes toward police.
Police departments have a vested interest in maintaining positive public images and
priority should be placed on establishing effective community relation strategies.
Strong community relations may help facilitate positive police interactions and dispel
myths associated with police work and activities.

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