Policing the Media: Street Cops and Public Perceptions of Law Enforcement
Olson, Kathleen K., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly
Policing the Media: Street Cops and Public Perceptions of Law Enforcement. David D. Perlmutter.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000. 160 pp. $74.95 hbk. $22.95 pbk.
It is no surprise that Americans' views of the police are shaped by the media. While most of us have grown up watching police shows on television, relatively few have had frequent or sustained contact with real-life cops. Just as scholars have shown regarding other groups, Perlmutter in Policing the Media demonstrates that the public's media-fueled perceptions do not accurately reflect the reality of police work.
What makes Policing the Media unique, however, is Perlmutter's focus on the cops' own relationship to the interaction between "mediated reality" and the reality of their day-to-day work. In essence, he examines the cops both as subjects of the media and as the audience of their own mediated images.
The book is based on an extensive ethnography of the police department in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Perlmutter accompanied patrol officers for three years, observing, taking notes, and photographing the cops as they went about their duties. Eventually he expanded his participant observation by becoming a reserve police officer on the force. The result is a captivating look at the real-life demands on a small city police force as they struggle to negotiate the stereotypes, both good and bad, that the media create. Cops are very aware of the media messages that are sent, but as Perlmutter explains, awareness is not liberation. The police live in the same "media stream" as the rest of us and are not immune to its currents.
While cops complain that people expect them to be like their counterparts on TV, they have internalized many of those values themselves. When Perlmutter attempted to photograph them, for example, they assumed he would be interested only in "action shots" and were embarrassed to be photographed doing paperwork or other mundane tasks.
This ambivalence toward their media image reflects the double-edged sword it represents in their daily life. …