Topics & Tactics for Law Enforcement
with Scott Buhrmaster
New report shows dramatic increase in TV violence. Cause for police to worry?
A PoliceOne.com Special Report
By Scott Buhrmaster, PoliceOne Columnist
According to a new report released by the Parents Television Council Dec. 9, TV programs are getting more violent. Not necessarily a surprise, until you realize that there were nearly TWICE as many violent incidents depicted on TV counted during the first two weeks of the November 2002 ratings sweep than were counted during the same period four years earlier.
According to the report, six major networks aired 534 violent scenes in the two week sample period in 2002 compared to 292 violent scenes that were aired during the same period in 1998.
It's important to know that we're not talking pushing and shoving here. Of the violent incidents aired during the sample period in 2002, 156 of them involved the use of a gun or other weapon, more than twice the number of weapon-involved incidents four years earlier.
Here are a few examples specifically cited in their report:
Examples from the 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. time slot:
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" – 11/05/02, 8:00 p.m., WB
Buffy and a demon are fighting. She throws a hatchet at him, which becomes planted in his chest. He falls to the ground.
"Providence" – 11/01/02, 8:00 p.m., NBC
A man is shown with a knife in his chest. Blood is spreading around the wound. Kim yanks the knife out of the man's chest.
"Charmed" – 11/10/02, 8:00 p.m., WB
A warlock named Bacarra needs a fresh human heart to complete his potion to vanquish the witches. He puts a witch to sleep and takes her heart while she is still alive. Her eyes widen as Bacarra reaches into her chest. The sounds of his hand penetrating her flesh can be heard. He is shown holding her heart in his hand.
[Remember, this is 8:00 p.m. ... at night (7:00 p.m. Central). Do you know what YOUR kids are watching?]
Examples from the 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. time slot:
"C.S.I." – 10/31/02, 9:00 p.m., CBS
Gil cuts a finger off a dead man's body, takes out the bone, puts the finger over one of his own and makes a fingerprint with it.
"The District" – 11/02/02, 9:00 p.m., CBS
In a flashback sequence a man inside a subway kills Mannion's friend by shooting him at point-blank range.
"Angel" – 11/03/02, 9:00 p.m., WB
Charles kills Professor Seidel by breaking his back and pushes him into a portal that will send him to a hell dimension.
Examples from the 10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. time slot:
"Boomtown" – 11/03/02, 10:00 p.m., NBC
Fearless shoots Vadim in the head. He falls with a bullet wound in the center of his forehead.
"C.S.I. Miami" – 11/04/02, 10:00 p.m., CBS
Adam shoots at his brother underwater with a spear gun. Blood flows out of the wound. The brother turns on Adam and stabs him in the stomach with a knife, killing him.
According to the report, Fox aired the most violence during the test period coming in at 151 scenes compared to CBS, which placed a close second with 148 incidents. Interestingly enough, Fox grabbed the top spot even in light of the fact that they broadcast for one hour less than competitors ABC, CBS and NBC. ABC, Fox, WB and UPN each more than doubled their violence stats from the earlier study. NBC was the only network that showed a decrease in violent episodes during the test period dropping to 42 incidents from 51 in the prior study.
So what's the big deal? Is there really a correlation between "make believe" TV violence and real-world violence? Aren't statistics showing that the murder rate is actually down?
Maybe so, but it's not because society is less violent, according to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (ret.), a former West Point Psychology Professor, Director of the Killology Research Group and a respected law enforcement trainer and author. Grossman, one of the numerous prominent figures who spoke out in support of the PTC report, points out that it's science, not reduced violence, that's resulting in lower murder stats.
"Violence in our society is at unprecedented levels," he said in a statement provided to PoliceOne by the PTC. "Medical technology is holding down the murder rate. A 2002 University of Massachusetts/Harvard study tells us that if we had 1970s-level medical technology, the murder rate would be three to four times what it is."
"People have a tendency to be dismissive when it comes to media violence versus real life violence," Melissa Caldwell, Director of Research and Publications for the PTC, said in an interview with PoliceOne. "They tend to say, ‘Look how many kids grew up watching Gunsmoke and didn't become violent criminals.' But they're overlooking some of the psychological impact that a steady flow of graphic violence has on young people. We see things like the ‘Mean World' affect characterized by a worldview based on the idea that society is inherently hostile," she continued. "We also see kids growing up desensitized to the suffering of others. They may not turn around tomorrow and fire on their classmates, but they are certainly changed for the worse in other ways."
Dr. L. Rowell Huesmann, co-author of the groundbreaking 1972 study that influenced the Surgeon General to issue a warning about media violence, agrees. "The telecommunications revolution of the 20th Century has created a new environment for our children," he wrote in a statement to the PTC. "In this environment television, movies, videos, internet displays, and electronic games have assumed central roles in socializing our children while parents have lost influence. For better or worse the mass media are having an enormous impact on our children's values, beliefs and behaviors. In particular, the widespread portrayal of violence in these media is having an insidious effect on increasing violence in society."
So what does that mean to law enforcement? Seems obvious. More violence on TV and through other media channels equals more violence in society perpetrated by desensitized individuals who have been raised to find violence acceptable, maybe even expected, instead of tragic and shocking. "The media helps create this atmosphere of violence and law enforcement ends up dealing with it," says Caldwell.
It appears that the graphic sounds and images of TV violence that drone and flicker in the background of so many homes may be determining the probability of violence during your next field encounter. In fact, the amount of exposure to media violence a subject you may have had in his lifetime could actually impact his ability to rationally decide whether to comply with your commands in a confrontation.
"We now have brain scan studies showing the impact of media violence on children's brains," said Lt. Col. Grossman in his PTC statement. "Indiana University Medical Department Research has demonstrated that children with high levels of media violence exposure have reduced frontal lobe processing, and reduced ability to conduct left-brain, rational decision-making."
So is there any hope or are we destined to sit back and wait for the TV producers to come up with the next creative way to disembowel a human being, spark schoolyard conversation and pump up the ratings?
Keep the faith. There is hope in the form of education and parental control, and a Stanford University study proves it. Based on the premise that less TV equals less violence, the study demonstrated a 50% decrease in verbal aggression and a 40% decrease in physical aggression after doing one simple thing: asking kids to turn off their TVs and video games.
A description of the study provided on the Web site of the Center for Successful Parenting (www.sosparents.org) explains that the testing was done using sample groups from two California grade schools. "Researchers carefully assessed the baseline level of aggressive behavior in 192 third- and fourth-graders through playground observations and interviews," the description reads. "Then, they introduced a curriculum at one school meant to encourage children to cut back on video games and to watch less TV."
Two-thirds of the pupils participated in an initial 10-day, parent-monitored effort to completely eliminate television watching and more than one half of them agreed to watch less than seven hours of TV per week for the next 20 weeks. After 20 weeks, researchers reported the reductions in violence.
"The children who were the most aggressive at the outset of the study had the most to gain, and they showed the most benefit," reads the description. In his statement to the PTC, Lt. Col. Grossman notes that the study also found that if kids are educated about the harmful effects of media violence, "most of them will turn it off."
"Studies have shown that the vast majority of adults agree that there is too much sex and violence on TV, yet about one half of kids today have TV sets in their rooms," says Caldwell. "There appears to be a real disconnect here between the perception of the problem and efforts to remedy it. Many parents seem to be of the opinion that TV will have a negative impact on someone else's children but not on their own because they ‘know' that their own children are being raised by responsible parents. That may not be the case."
According to Caldwell, one of the best things law enforcement officers can do is to educate both children and adults in their communities about the realities and life-destroying impact of real-world violence while educating them on the dangers of being victimized by the draw of media violence. Encourage parents to have their kids turn off the TV and when it's on, encourage them to monitor what's splashed across the screen. If it's blood, it's time to grab the clicker.