‘Help us solve crime’: Analysing a Crime Stoppers media strategy

L. McGillivray1*, R. Lincoln1

1 Faculty of Society & Design, Bond University, Gold Coast.

*corresponding author: lmcgilli@bond.edu.au

CCTV footage of ‘real-life’ criminal activity is a popular commodity in the mediascape. The technology has fostered closer symbiotic partnerships between police services and media platforms via agencies like Crime Stoppers. While there has been much concern about public space CCTV and its surveillant capacities (Welsh & Farrington, 2009), less attention has been devoted to how camera footage has been re-purposed and co-opted by media organisations.

This paper presents findings from a content analysis of a weekly ‘On The Beat’ page published by a city-based tabloid newspaper, from its inception two years ago. The page generally hosts four to six photographs and short descriptions of incidents allegedly involving offending behaviours from petrol drive-offs and shoplifting to credit card fraud and assaults. Quantitative data were extracted from the 400 plus incidents depicted and coded for content (e.g., type, location, date) and quality (e.g., image, colour, visibility). Qualitative analysis was also conducted on the accompanying texts and on the overall rhetoric of the page.

Despite claims that this page solved ‘one in five matters published’ the picture quality is generally poor, the incident descriptions are of variable detail, and the selection process tends to concentrate on minor property offences. The broader implications include the abrogation of the presumption of innocence (labelling those depicted as ‘thieves’); the potential to exacerbate fear of crime by repeated reference to the ‘low-life’ (Lee, 2007); the narrow range of offence settings suggests that private enterprise attracts greater police attention (Lippert & Wilkinson, 2010); further evidence for the notion of the banality of CCTV (Goold, 2013); and the capacity to engender more punitive public attitudes with the featured epithet to ‘help solve crime’. Greater research is needed in the absence of robust evaluations of these police-media marriages and the public acceptance of CCTV.

Biography

Laura works as a Teaching Fellow and Senior Research Assistant at Bond University. Her research and teaching focus is on the nexus between media and crime, with keen interest toward this within green criminology. Laura has also been involved in research on illicit drug use and attitudes and tertiary pedagogy.

Robyn has research interests in Aboriginal crime and justice, miscarriages and forensics, and crime prevention. She has co-authored books such as Justice in the Deep North, The Last Woman Hanged in Australia, and Crime Over Time; as well publications on workplace violence, DNA evidence, forensic interviewing and ‘naming and shaming’.

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