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Critics Say Media Focus On Street Crime, Downplay Many Violations

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The U.S. news media’s coverage disproportionately focuses on serious crimes at the expense of reporting on other significant issues, contends a new report from an organization called The Center for Just Journalism.

The report says that the narrow subset of crimes that police most closely track obscures the broader landscape of safety in different ways.

News stories are often sourced from police reports or press releases and capture the instances of crimes taken seriously by the police. The majority of sexual assaults and acts of domestic violence are never reported to the police, often because people do not trust the police to do anything about what happened to them.

Most assaults, rapes, and murders committed by the police themselves and those committed inside the more than 6,100 local, state, and federal jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers don’t make it into police reports.

"Policy choices also skew the crimes tracked by police," the report says. For example, in public schools with embedded police officers, minor altercations between students are often recorded as crimes, while in private schools, similar fights are rarely brought to police attention.

The report concludes that, "the traditional crime beat paints an incomplete and biased picture of even the small subset of crimes on which it focuses."

It notes that violations of civil and criminal law that affect millions of people each year, such as wage theft, housing discrimination, price fixing, building code violations, tax evasion, and illegal chemical emissions, are not routinely tracked by the police and command far less news coverage than what the FBI traditionally has classified as "index crimes."

Most news outlets do not choose to have dedicated beat reporters reporting on these legal violations each day.

The report contends that, "The vast majority of these crimes are simply lost to history. The public does not learn about and therefore does not treat with the same urgency these threats that affect their safety as much or more than index crimes."

The Center for Just Journalism offers a series of recommendations for the media, including:

--Dramatically reduce the number of anecdotal stories about index crimes, especially those focused on arrests and allegations.

--When individual cases are covered, cover the case from beginning to end, ensuring that dismissals are covered as prominently as convictions.

--Focus on the causes of crime.

--When using crime data from police departments, "provide context to counter the incomplete and highly curated nature of the information being released by authorities."


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