Another way cop shows are affecting our view of the police is by setting impossible standards. Most TV cops need about 40 minutes to solve a double homicide in which the perpetrator has left few clues. And they can usually do this without filing a single piece of paperwork or setting foot in a courtroom. Of course, this is not how the real world works, but if your knowledge of the justice system comes from television, then you may wonder why every case doesn't hinge on a fingerprint or a DNA sample.
Consider that in 2002, 64 percent of murder cases in the United States were solved. This represented the highest success rate among violent crimes , but a TV show in which the main character succeeded only slightly more than half the time would likely have trouble capturing an audience [source: Federal Bureau of Investigation].
One of the more popular trends in current cop shows is the science-based procedurals, such as "CSI," "Cold Case" and "Criminal Minds," that focus more on how science can help solve crimes. These programs provide a compelling, if dubious, insight into how forensics can help collar the bad guys. And these shows are wildly popular, spawning so many knockoffs and spin-offs it's hard to imagine getting away with anything in TV Land.
These shows have created what has become known as the CSI Effect, shifting the way people view law enforcement based on these hyperstylized shows. This is happening in three ways. First, the public is more knowledgeable about forensics, and juries are more capable (or at least think they are more capable) of understanding scientific testimony than they were before these shows inundated the airwaves. Second, juries expect an open-and-shut case from the prosecution because that's how it happens on TV. They have an expectation that their local police force can reproduce the sophisticated techniques of their favorite detectives; and if they can't, jurors are less likely to hand down a conviction. Finally, since jury members watch these TV cops hypothesize who committed the crime before any evidence is presented in court, it gives them the sense that they know how real cases will end. Obviously, for a juror, this represents a serious threat to justice [source: Ramsland].
So, the next time you're bathing in the television's warm glow, watching a suspect sing like a canary, remember that real-life cops don't have the advantage of script writers and make-up artists. Their job is to make crime entertaining and sexy, two things real crime is typically absent of.
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- "CRIME IN THESE UNITED STATES: FBI works with state and local law enforcement to create the big picture of crime in 2002" (April 14, 2011)http://www2.fbi.gov/page2/oct03/ucr102703.htm
- Curry, Kathleen. "Mediating Cops: An Analysis of Viewer Reaction to Reality TV. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture. (2001)http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol8is3/curry.pdf
- Danielson, Wayne. "Television Violence In 'Reality' Programming." University of Texas, Austin Study. National Television Violence Study. Mediascope, Inc.
- Giles, Howard. "Law Enforcement, Communication, and Community." John Benjamins Publishing Co (June 2002)
- Lesce, Tony. "Cops: Media vs. Reality." Loompanics Unlimited (April 2000)
- McNeely, Connie L., "Perceptions of the Criminal Justice System: Television Imagery and Public Knowledge in the United States." (1995)http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol3is1/perceptions.html
- Podlas, Kimberlianne. "Guilty on All Counts: Law & Order's Impact on Public Perception of Law and Order." (2008)http://elr.lls.edu/issues/v27-issue2/documents/06.Podlas.pdf
- Ramsland, Katharine. "The CSI Syndrome." TruTV Crime Library. (April 10, 2011)http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/psychology/csi_effect/2.html