Media, crime and public

The public expectations and perception of the police

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2. The public expectations and perception of the police
The public has some general expectations from the police. If positive expectations of the police are met, the relation between the public and the police will stay at the same level or become better but if the police do not meet the expectations of the public it will result in the citizens’ distrust, bad judgement and bad feelings towards the police which will not help resolve social problems. The police can have difficulties in performing their tasks: with the expressed public antipathy it is impossible to perform police duties without the partnership with the citizens.
The first and main expectation the society has from the police is that they are present and available. This expectation is clearly defined: the police must be available for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the whole year. To be constantly available is probably the source of any other expectation of the citizens from the police. All members of a society can expect that, at some stage of their lives, things will “go wrong” and that they will find themselves in certain critical situations when they will need help. The modern society offers a wide range of help to its members and there is almost no problem which does not fall into the area of social workers, psychological advisors, support groups, self-help groups, crises centres, etc. Namely, together with the process of family atomization, people need to ask for support and help outside the family, i.e. depending on what the state has to offer.
The state has a few services which are available to citizens for 24 hours a day. Those are usually services for urgent interventions, such as emergency medical service, fire service, rescue service and police service. Citizens very often call the police although they know that the reason for their call is not strictly related to the police job. However, they call the police because no one else is available and because they expect fast and authoritative reaction from the police. Punch and Naylor (’73 at Reiner ’02) questioned 30 people about their reasons for calling the police and came to the conclusion that only 5 people had a clear and justifiable reason to do so while 12 people said that they knew some other service was authorized to deal with their problems but they could not contact or locate it. Generally speaking, it seems that the police, rather than any other social service, are easier and quicker to call. Finally, the police will always respond to their call regardless of its nature.
Bittner (’90 at Reiner, ’02) performed a useful analysis of the phenomenon which can be called “calling the police”. When the situation gets out of control, the citizens call the police to solve the problem. Police officers have powers to use force and this fact is actually hidden in the essence of the phenomenon called “calling the police”. This potential to use force makes the police more valuable in critical situations rather than any other social service.
On the contrary, the image of a police officer as the provider of services not related to the crime stays vague and incomplete and actually does not exist in the perception of wider public (Reiner, ’02).
The public perception of the police is complex but nowadays the perception of the police as an institution for crime control still prevails. As it was previously mentioned, this perception depends on the citizens’ encounter with the police officers but largely on the media of mass communications. Firstly, the citizens are the source of information about the events important for controlling crime. Secondly, it is sometimes necessary to perform the controlling function through the effective care for citizens which cannot be accomplished if the citizens do not accept it. This seems like a vicious circle because if the citizens do not accept the police as the source of potential services and care they will not ask from the police to perform these tasks.
That is why the police work must be controlled and the media are in the best position to do it in the name of the society (J. Pečar, ’98. at Corel,M. &Pagon, M. ’02). Without the media reports on police events these events would not have existed as social events. The public is sensitive and concerned for its safety. Therefore, safety issues capture the media attention and are an important factor for quality of life.
In the Republic of Slovenia during the year 2002 Police Operation Poll conducted the research in cooperation with the Institute for Social Sciences of the Republic of Slovenia based on a telephone survey about the basis on which Slovenian citizens form opinions about the police. The results are as follows: 44,7% citizens responded that they formed opinion about the police based on personal experience, 38,5% on TV information, 32,7% on information from the daily press and 9,1% on radio reports.

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