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FALL2020.SO430.1 - Empirical Research Capstone


Dr. Dina Pinsky


Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice; College of Arts & Sciences


Much like the CSI effect in forensic crime dramas, portrayals of law enforcement in crime media can potentially skew a viewer’s perception of what the profession actually entails. Many studies address the depiction of law enforcement in the media, but few solely examine the use of force by television police officers, and the impact this may have on frequent viewers. In an era of calls for accountability over growing attention towards police brutality and misconduct, the media as an influencer has the potential to play a role in how real-world instances of brutality are perceived, and more importantly, how it is justified. This paper serves to analyze the portrayal of use of force and normalization of violence in popular police procedurals and how characters within the context justify their use of force. Using a content analysis, a full season of the shows Chicago PD, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Blue Bloods were analyzed for the use of force by law enforcement against persons of interest. The portrayal of force was found to be, in a majority of cases, justified or considered necessary. Consequences for actions were few and far between, rarely lasting beyond the scene. As crime drama viewers were not surveyed as part of this study, the impact of a positive, justified portrayal of the use of force and excessive force can only be speculated. However, accompanying literature demonstrates the portrayal of excessive force as a necessity plays a role in viewers justifying real-world instances of police use of force.