Constructing Cops: Cultural Forces and Policing Practices

Alyce McGovern1, Murray Lee2
1School of Social Sciences. Centre for Crime, Law and Justice. UNSW Sydney, 2Sydney Institute of Criminology. Sydney Law School. University of Sydney NSW

Popular forms of media are replete with content that depicts crime, law and order, and in particular, the police and policing (Reiner 2010). Fictional and ‘reality’ television programming, true crime podcasts, nightly news broadcasts, and social media platforms – just to name a few media types – provide the public with an array of ‘police stories’. Moreover, images and representations of police and policing through these popular forms of media feed in to, reinforce and create particular cultural constructions of police and the work that they do. As we have argued elsewhere, police organisations themselves are increasingly playing a key role in the creation and dissemination of these constructs of policing too, actively presenting ‘preferred’ police images not only to external audiences – the public, the political sphere and the external media – but also to their internal audience, operational police (Lee and McGovern 2014). This paper explores the recursive nature of these representational processes suggesting that police cultures and practices now need to be understood as embedded in an increasingly image saturated mediatised context.


Dr Alyce McGovern is an Associate Professor in Criminology and Deputy Head of School (Learning & Teaching) in the School of Social Sciences at UNSW Sydney. She has researched widely in the area of crime and media, including police-media relations, police use of social media, young people and sexting, and craftivism. She is the co-author of Policing and Media: Public Relations, Simulations and Communications (2013 with Lee, Routledge), Sexting and Young People (2015 with Crofts, Lee and Milivojevic, Palgrave) and guest edited the Current Issues in Criminal Justice journal’s Special Issue on Crime, Media and New Technologies.


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