22 November 2011

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Is a Career in Criminal Justice like the TV shows?

American television is saturated with cops. From Detective Elliot Stabler on Law and Order: SVU to Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS, America has fallen in love with modern day crime fighters. Crime procedurals have dominated the ratings. After a long day of work, Americans turn to television to unwind with the classic story of the good guys catching the bad guys. However, you don’t need a criminal justice degree to see that a career in criminal justice is not like the TV shows. Just take a look at the CSI Effect.

When CSI: Crime Scene Investigation premiered in October of 2000, it taught Americans about the world of forensic science. It used flashy graphics and gory animation to recreate crimes and explain how fingerprints and blood spatters can help solve horrific murders. It exposed viewers to the concept of DNA, showing how blood or hair samples can help link a suspicious perpetrator to a crime. Although forensic scientists are thrilled that the public now understands their work, legal experts are worried that the public is confusing a flashy television show with real forensics practices.

Donald Shelton, the chief judge of Washtenaw County, Michigan, decided to conduct his own study to see if the CSI Effect is real. After surveying 2,000 jurors, Shelton found no direct correlation between television viewing habits and a demand of forensics evidence. However, jurors who owned the latest technology had a higher demand for sophisticated scientific evidence. As jurors, we might not be demanding DNA evidence in every murder case because we saw it on TV. It might be because we know technology is rapidly improving, so we expect forensic technology to be sophisticated as well.

The CSI Effect might not cause a demand for DNA evidence in our courtrooms. However, studies have shown that as people increase their television viewing, it plays a greater role in shaping our perceptions of reality. But how does this affect our views of the criminal justice system? Dr. Connie L. McNeely of the University of California, Santa Barbara believes that we need to conduct more research to determine if viewing crime procedurals affects a person’s perception of reality. She writes in her research paper titled, “Perceptions Of The Criminal Justice System: Television Imagery and Public Knowledge in the United States,” “I propose that we use television programs to determine public images of the criminal justice system itself and to determine how those images might or might not affect public learning…Moreover, we can compare those images and perceptions with ‘reality’ in order to contribute to our understanding of the law and society relationship.”

We all know that not every crime scene has DNA evidence. We know that murder cases are not solved in an hour. But how are crime procedurals affecting us on a subconscious level? Is a career in criminal justice as exciting as it is on television? Next time you see a police officer on the street, ask them how much they relate to Detective Stabler, Special Agent Gibbs, or even Sherlock Holmes. A career as a police officer might be more boring than we think.

About Today's Guest Writer:
Jessica Reedy is a journalism student currently working as an intern for National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.

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