February 04, 2011

Crime Trends or News Trends?

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Recently, there have been several shootings in the news both nationally and locally, leading several of my students to conclude that violence is on the rise.

The shootings in Tucson got the most national attention, when Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords was wounded and many others were killed or injured. People were shocked by the Arizona shooting and that context affected their reactions to subsequent local shootings. Just in Los Angeles the week following that event, there were three shootings at or near high schools, leading to the conclusion that high schools are extremely dangerous.

  • The first shooting happened when a gun in a student’s backpack accidentally fired and hit two other students. As of this writing, one remains in critical condition.
  • The second came a day later when a school police officer allegedly questioned a man estimated to be in his forties that appeared to be breaking into cars outside a high school. The man shot the officer, who was apparently protected by his bulletproof vest as the officer questioned him about what he was doing.
  • That same day, a student was shot and wounded at a fast food restaurant off campus.

News reports emphasized the similarities among the three shootings, noting that they all were on or near high schools. Thinking about these events more File:G20 police helicopter.jpgcritically, it’s clear that while all three examples involved shootings, none of them have much in common, nor do they indict high schools as highly dangerous places.

In the backpack incident, it is important to ask why that student felt the need to bring a gun to school. According to reports, the special education student was a victim of bullying and felt that he was in danger. The school is also located in an area often plagued by gang violence, which could have added to his sense of danger. This of course does not excuse him for bringing a gun to school, nor should the school’s security practices be ignored. But this story is clearly about more than just schools and security practices; it is also related to peer interactions and broader crime patterns.

In the second shooting, the apparent attempted car theft and officer shooting, proximity to the high school was the only factor related to the school. If someone is looking to steal a car, targeting cars parked in a large lot—any lot—is not uncommon if the would-be thief thinks no one will see them. This event led to the lockdown of nine schools in the area, and over 350 officers searched for the suspect who had apparently shot the officer. Helicopters hovered over the area for the rest of the day and residents had limited access to their homes if they were outside the area before it was cordoned off. Local news coverage focused on this event non-stop, interrupting scheduled programming for most of the day. (Although a week later the officer admitted that the incident was a hoax, that there was no alleged car thief. At this time it is unclear whether his gun accidentally discharged or he made it look like he had been shot in his bullet-proof vest.)

The third incident of the shooting at the fast food location got less news coverage. It took place off campus and unlike the second example, which took place in a middle-class suburb, this area has a higher crime rate and shootings in that area are not often covered in the news. This particular shooting made it onto the news because it happened while the ‘manhunt for the suspect for the second incident was taking place.

On the surface, news coverage may make it seem like schools are dangerous places. But this is largely an overblown concern. Take a look at the graphs below, from The 2010 Crime and School Safety report, released by the Department of Education each year. Schools have become progressively safer in recent years, and serious violent crime is all but absent at school (and more likely away from school). Also, crime in Los Angeles has dropped--the homicide rate is lower than it has been since 1964.


These incidents all sprang from different dynamics, yet we tend to focus on the most superficial issues, like location.

How might our society focus its attention on the difficult issues, such as mental illness, bullying, poverty, and violence perpetrated through gangs?


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I agree, violence is on the rise, people say violence in tv shows and video games are affecting teens and childrens decisions. They feel teens will take violent actions to solve their problems.

I agree, violence is on the rise. People believe teens and children's desicions are affected to make violent choices to solve problems. In this article all three shootings were close or by high schools. Kids need to learn to solve their problems without killing or violence. Many people believe Tv shows or the interant also strongly affect teens choices. Teens need to stop the violence and demonstrate better ways for handeling situations.

I agree with this article and jeff, I think violence is on the rise because of what people my age do for fun. Like alot of people my age play violent video games, watch violent movies,and watching people do violent and dangerous stunts. So by doing this or watching these things some think its cool or think by doing that they'll be cooler to others. But they do need to learn the differnce between beying cool and dangerous.

I agree with lily and jeff, but also news coverage makes articles more exaggerated to make people buy their newspapers or etc. Newspaper companies want to make things seem worse then they actually are just so you'll tune into their story. Like the shooting stories, they make the shootings relative to a school because it sounds better when so many young people are involved. It gets the audience to perk their ears up at the words "shooting" and "school" because of all the previous happenings at schools involving guns.

Newspapers and other media blow up a lot of situations dealing with crime. As the chart shows, crime is actually in a decline. Media also tends to blame crimes on things that were far from the truth just because it sounds good or it makes sense. We as civilians listen to the media and believe it.

The reason that we focus on superficial things such as location is that it enables the media to increase coverage and sales. No one would ordinarily care about three separate and unrelated shootings. However, when you add something such as "schools are becoming a dangerous place", people will listen and increase business for the news.

I agree that the media makes things seem more exciting than they actually are. The media outlets use articles to make money, so the facts of the stories are sometimes skewed. The author is right that there are more important things to worry about than whether or not schools are dangerous.

I agree, violence is growing in the united states. We only hear a very small amount about the violence that happens in America on the news. And when we do hear stories on the news about violence they make the story sound more exciting than it actually is. Connecting these three stories together and relating them to a school makes the story so much more interesting than if these shootings were each covered seperately.

I completely agree with this. I feel like the media makes a bigger deal out of a lot of these things than they should. People believe what they say though because they feel like they are getting the best information possible when really they aren't. They make it a lot more exciting than it actually is and connecting it to a school would make people listen a lot more because they start becoming concerned with it because then it relates more to them and they feel like they need to listen to be safer.

It's sad to say, but crime and shootings among teenagers have been going up and up. In my sociology class, we are talking about violence among teens and the possible cause for the rise in violence and just the cause in general. One of the reasons for this rise in public violence might be the media. Because of all the violence that is in video games, movies, and just about anything else you can find. Perhaps the reason is because the violence that those people are seeing through the media. I think this might be one of those things that we won't for sure. But this was a very insightful article. Thank you

...? Nearly every comment says violence is on the rise when this post specifically shows that it is not. Did you guys read it or am I missing something?

Looking at long term trends, North American society is actually less and less tolerant of violence with every passing decade. It used to be common to beat children, even babies, to get them to behave. (Look up Hannah Whitehall Smyth, who casually talked about whipping her 8-month old baby in the 19th century to get him to stop crying. It was common practice at the time.) Now, almost any form of physical punishment is very much taboo.

The article also shows that the homicide rate in Los Angeles is the lowest it has been since 1964. That is typical all across North America.

However, media coverage of violence is going up. A study on local news was done a few years ago (I don't have the information for it). Over a couple of years, even in areas where the homicide rate dropped or remained stagnant, coverage of homicides increased as much as 400%!

If you want to focus on violence, focus on the less noticed, less sensational, but much more common, pervasive, and systemic problem, which is domestic violence.

Personally, I think the media simply diverts our attention from the bigger issues, and make convenient scapegoats out of these virtually anomalous acts of violence, because it gets them better ratings. Politicians also like to use crime to divert voters and scare them into voting for the one who is "tough on crime". The truth is, if you want to know who is "out to get you," you're better off looking at a list of the Fortune 500 than the FBI's most wanted list. Corporations do far more harm to the economy, and far more harm to people, than do criminals, even the scariest of serial killers. Read "The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice" by Kappeler et. al.

As terrible as it is to say crime, shootings, and other forms of violence in teenagers is and has been on the rise. In my sociology book, I am reading about violence among teens, causes for this rise, and answers on how to stop this rise. A reason I found was media; Tv, internet, movie. The underlying factor is violence sells this media and just about anything else you can find. I think, in this case, there is no single factor for the violence. It is the culmination of many factors that cannot all be censored or stopped. We as a society need to work to try and find an outlet/alternative to the violence.

I think that this article has shown me that just because some crime events occur in a close amount of time that they are not involved with each other at all. This will help me in the future when I am watching the news or even involved in something that will effect others around me. Thank you for giving me this point of view to consider before I just assume some things are connected.

I agree with this article, and trisha. I think that violence is increasing because of what people my age to have fun. Like many people my age playing violent video games, watch violent movies and see people doing stunts violent and dangerous.

I'll be tuning in. Thanks for the heads up!

I agree with this article 100%. I think the crime rate is going up do to media and the crowds people hang out with. Now days it is so much easier to fall into peer pressure simply because someone doesn't want to be a "loner". I also believe that is people have a partner or in a certain crowd they have more courage to do things that they wouldn't do by themselves.

I believe it's mainly a "news trend". Crime has always been around us only we would hear about it less cause news broadcasts weren't playing 24/7 like today.

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