As Killings of Police Decrease, Media Coverage Increases

Friday, September 18, 2015
(graphic: Getty Images)

In the wake of numerous documented incidents of police officers killing unarmed black men, network news coverage of police being killed in the past year has given the impression that such events are on the rise. But some observers studying the matter contend the perception is false, driven by increased media coverage of such killings.


Aaron Major, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany – SUNY, says his research shows the news programs for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox have ramped up coverage of police fatalities even though statistics show such killings are not on the rise.


“Between one third and one half of all of the news stories” that the networks “have done on this topic over the last ten years have appeared in the last year,” Major wrote at Sociological Images. “Fox News has run more stories on this topic this year than it did over the four previous years combined.”


But since the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, actual incidences of fatal violence against police officers perpetrated by civilians have not increased, according to Major.


Using data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Major found that 43 police officers were shot and killed since August 2014. This total “is significantly less than the average of 54 police officer shooting per year over the last ten years,” Major wrote. “Looking back even further, policing is much safer now than any time in the last 45 years.”


Major added: “The impression that civilians are targeting officers, then, is a reflection of media coverage, not reality. This is a phenomenon called agenda setting, a process by which the media put an item on the public agenda.”


Unfortunately, the untruth has been capitalized on by certain politicians, such as one of the Republican presidential candidates, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In his article on the website Hot Air, Walker blamed President Obama for the “disturbing trend of police officers being murdered on the job.” He said that that because of Obama’s “racially divisive attitude” the United States no longer resembles “the America I grew up in.”


James Woods of U.S. Uncut countered that “a review of the decreasing number of police being killed every year shows that when a young Scott Walker was growing up under President Reagan, there were almost twice as many police killed on the job than under the current administration.”


“Despite what the media would have you believe,” Woods continued, “2015 is actually the safest year for police officers in 20 years [from shootings]. Meanwhile, police killings of citizens are at a 40-year high.”


The leading cause of police officer deaths during the past three years has been car accidents, according to the Memorial Fund. Additionally, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that policing work is far from the most dangerous job in the country. On a list of the 18 deadliest jobs in America, police officers rank at the bottom, below such professions as bartenders, farmers, and garbage collectors.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Media Spin on Violence against Police (by Aaron Major PhD, Society Pages)

5 Facts Exposing the Media’s Lies about Police Shootings (by James Woods, U.S. Uncut)

Garbage Collectors are more likely to die on the Job than Police Patrol Officers (by Gwynn Guilford, Quartz)

4 Police Violence Lawsuits Filed in One Day in 4 Different States (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

More Police Charged with Murder in Past 5 Months than Average 2-Year Total (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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