Local news media devote extensive coverage to individual criminal events, particularly crimes that involve atypical victims and offenders or severe acts of violence. Exposure to incident-based crime reporting commonly leads the public to an inaccurate assessment of crime facts, fear that is disproportionate to actual victimization rates, and increased support for punitive sanctions with offenders. There are other aspects of criminal justice news coverage that may have greater value for citizens, including reports on crime prevention, crime trends, the underlying factors that contribute to crime, and efforts by the community and police to reduce offending. Understanding how the public perceives crime reporting can help public safety agencies develop effective communications strategies.
How do people feel about crime reporting in Portland, Oregon?
Data for the current report were drawn from the 2012 Portland Criminal Justice Survey conducted by the Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute at Portland State University. A multi-stage sampling procedure was used for the survey. Households were mailed: a postcard alerting them to the forthcoming survey, then the survey instrument, a reminder postcard, and then a final reminder. Residents were asked to have the adult with the most recent birthday complete the survey. Researchers received 2,461 completed surveys for an overall response rate of 42.2%.
- Three quarters of adults in Portland watch the local TV news and/or read the area’s major newspaper on a regular basis.
- While two-thirds of Portlanders rate media coverage of individual crime incidents as “good,” all other forms of crime reporting are evaluated much less favorably. Residents feel that news organizations are doing only a fair to very poor job of reporting on the underlying causes of crime in our community, longer term crime trends, crime prevention tips, and police/community efforts to reduce crime.
- Younger residents and people with a college degree are more dissatisfied with the overall quality of crime reporting.
Criminal justice agencies have a responsibility to help communities feel safe and encourage their participation in crime prevention efforts. One way of meeting these responsibilities is to educate the public about the causes of crime and things people can do to reduce their risk for victimization. While some education may be achieved through expanded collaboration with the traditional news media, criminal justice agencies should also consider alternative strategies for communicating crime information directly to the public. Using social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) may help these messages get heard. This is particularly important for younger and college-educated residents, who appear to be especially dissatisfied with current crime reporting on TV and in newspapers.