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Media Power & Information Control: A Study of Police Organizations & Media Relations

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2001
244 pages
This report discusses the influences police officers have in creating the image of law enforcement through media relations and public information offices.
Focusing on the extent to which individuals and groups influence the content of media messages, this report describes the influence police officers have in creating the image of law enforcement. Addressing media relations and public information offices, the data in this study were generated from a questionnaire distributed to municipal police departments nationwide. With 76 percent of distributed surveys returned, the author obtained information regarding the nature and frequency of police interaction concerning police dictating police-media relationships, and focusing on police perceptions of their department’s image within the news media. Following an introduction highlighting the power of the media, the author presents a discussion of police work and the way that police “performances” are represented through the media. Discussing the ways that police have been represented in the news, this paper argues that media relations offices comprise an important component of modern policing. Describing the research methods used in this study, the author discusses the survey concerning media relations, sent to police departments serving areas with populations of 100,000 residents or greater. Survey data led the author to select four police departments to serve as case studies to understand the political and administrative context within which police-media relations occur. Findings from the surveys and case studies indicate that the quality of a police department’s media image is related to how departments manage crime news and information and is not related to the municipality crime rate. Furthermore, those police departments that encourage the most frequent and active communication with reporters, including television appearance, receive the most favorable media images. The author suggests that since the dynamics of media-police relations shift during times of police involved accidents and scandals, the more media savvy police departments are those best able to make damaging news stories disappear quickly. An extensive reference list and appendices containing copies of the survey form and codebook complete this report.

Date Published: May 1, 2001