Crime, either true crime or crimes from movies and literature, fascinate people. Public execution of death penalty always attracted a great number of observers. Public galleries at the court have always been full, and some criminals have been not only famous but popular as well. Therefore, the public is fascinated by criminals and their crimes and also by those whose task is to combat crime and the ways of doing it. History of almost every nation remembers some “legendary” criminals and also “legendary” policemen, and some of them have gained international popularity and “glory”. The reasons for that are as follows:
1) One of the factors that influences the public attitude to crime and the way in which the public perceives crime is the fact that crime became a political issue in the last quarter of 20th century. Crime as a general phenomenon, and a criminal offence as a particular phenomenon, became frequent media topic at the same time.
2) Since crime became a political issue, the public interest in crime has got a new dimension. Not only are perpetrators of criminal offences in the centre of attention, but those in charge of their detection and punishment as well. The functioning of the police and judiciary came under the influence of some additional factors such as: intense media coverage of police managers, General Attorney, presidents of courts, counsels for the defence, managers of penal institutions; informing the public about the measures which the police and judiciary are about to undertake for the purpose of combating crime and their responsibility towards the public. Due to the limited material resources which are the reality of every country, these issues get the practical meaning.
3) Although crime statistics has always been published and police managers have written annual reports, they have attracted little attention and publicity so far. Nowadays crime is a topic about which the politicians express different opinions in order to obtain votes from potential voters in the same way that the media constantly search for information in crime which will better sell their products. Besides, there is a growing number of advertisements for safety equipment and the public gets the impression that the citizens themselves have to take care of their own safety.
4) The public gets most information through the media of mass communication. However, the press, radio and television are parts of a very competitive industry. It is expected from them to make profit as is the case with every other industry. This profit, of course, depends on the number of citizens who are won over into buying a certain publication and not any other. In order to attract people’s attention, the media must transform available information into an interesting story. In that sense, cruel murder, multiple rape or criminal offence committed by a famous or popular person present an excellent plot for a story which will attract the attention of the wider public. Such isolated and excess cases fill newspaper columns and create radio and TV broadcasts while information about usual “common” crime is disregarded or shaped in order to sound more important or exciting. It is obvious that the media of mass communication are not primarily the service of informing the public and that, when reporting on crime, the objectives and the ethics of journalism do not require information released for the purpose of crime prevention.
5) The wider public favours interesting and valuable information about unusual and serious crimes and expects such stories from the press. If we bear in mind the fact that reporting on the majority of crime in a certain area is inadequate, it is clear that the population gets a misleading picture about the crime in their living area. For example, the large national survey in Great Britain (British Crime Survey, 1997) showed that 75% of respondents believe that the crime was on the increase although the actual data showed that the crime rate dropped by 8%. Similarly, the majority of respondents believed that violent crimes made approximately one third of all criminal offences although the exact data from the crime statistics for that period accounted for only 6% of violent crimes compared to the total number of registered crimes.
Last year in Croatia there were about ten cases of committed murders and approximately the same number of attempted murders committed by juvenile delinquents, but they are the topic of such an intense media coverage that we can read about them for weeks after their commission. Such practice does not only influence citizens, but professionals in the criminal justice system as well, who then begin developing ideas about changes at the legislative level, which would enable harsher sanctions for juvenile delinquents who committed serious criminal offences.