Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Policeman at the Dinner Table

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  • Paul Campbell,

    When they visit my friends from the US are aghast by crime in New Zealand, they look in the media and are horrified - "look at all this terrible stuff" they say, "why did you want to move back here?".

    I have to explain that unlike where I used to live in the US our media covers ALL the violent crime here at once - in Oakland where I used to live, a city the size of Christchurch, there was a murder every 3 days, 100+ a year - most never even made the newspaper unless they were particularly horrific or involved someone famous.

    We look in our media and do the same - say "how horrific" - yet the stats say that crime is going down - I guess the media expands the crime to fit the empty space.

    Then again I can still look in the local paper and read the court news - growing up having your grand mother (and her friends) read your name in there was something of great shame - maybe the real problem is that we're just trying to turn everything into such a big deal (to fit the empty space ...)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2622 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    People want to believe that crime is on the rise, at least in part because they want "that nice Mr Key" to swoop in and render unto us the rose-tinted utopia in which the media is trying to convince us we existed prior to the rise of Helengrad. I had someone trying to insist the other day that NZ has a murder rate 2.5 times higher than that of the UK. Apparently if you take a 15-year perspective it shows up, but since the best I could find was data going back 10 years I just cannot see it. However, if you were to go by the reporting we get it's entirely believable that we're on the verge of turning into Washington, D.C. (which, for the uninitiated, has just about the highest murder rate of any city in the US). Of course the reality is that one has to look at US cities with populations under 500k before anywhere in that stupidly violent country has a murder rate as low as ours.

    The Libz are a funny lot. Many adherents to the faith would be utterly fucked if their desires came to pass, since they frequently lack the kind of unique skills that would allow them to command an income necessary to be able to afford life in a libertarian dream state. I'm even more amused by the Libz voters who work in the public sector, since in the event that they got their way they'd all be getting paid far less than they are now, assuming they had jobs at all.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    People want to believe that crime is on the rise

    Nah, I'm not buying that.

    I think we are apes, programmed at a fairly low level to watch out for leopards. In a handy shortcut, if we see an image of a leopard we are aroused (anything that looks like a leopard IS a leopard).

    If the silly apes see a lot of pictures of leopards, they will not distinguish them from real leopards, and will think about them all the time, and be extremely careful in case there is a leopard about. There is an abundance of research out there showing that your brain makes irrational shortcuts which are very useful to your survival as a savannah ape, and somewhat of a hindrance in a technological environment, and this sort of fear partly stems from that.

    If you have a semi-normal media diet, then unless you take the time and the trouble to investigate the odds for yourself, you would think that there's a lot of violent crime about. Maintaining a sanguine and rational view of every aspect of the world takes a lot of effort that many people don't have the energy (or the education) for, and we sensibly limit our rationality to our immediate sphere.

    And the news media, particularly television exploits this. That's why we're going to see a lot of emotional porn about poor Austin Hemmings - our arousal sells ads.

    I don't think people like being irrationally scared, per se, I just don't believe many people step back to evaluate their feelings against empirical evidence.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I just don't believe many people step back to evaluate their feelings against empirical evidence.

    Difficult when you're an ape and your best achievements in life are the opposable thumb and using twigs as a tool to eat bugs.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    There is an abundance of research out there showing that your brain makes irrational shortcuts which are very useful to your survival as a savannah ape, and somewhat of a hindrance in a technological environment, and this sort of fear partly stems from that.

    Kathy Sierra had some related stuff in her Webstock presentation earlier in the year. She also cautioned against having a muted TV flickering in the corner of the room/in your peripheral vision. It will raise your anxiety, she reckons.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    If the silly apes see a lot of pictures of leopards, they will not distinguish them from real leopards, and will think about them all the time, and be extremely careful in case there is a leopard about.

    although in cresswell's case it's probably parnell ladies with leopard-skin handbags. he's become so agitated by seeing them all swinging that he's gone home and whacked out his frustration on the keyboard?

    that or he's using a tragic death to try and generate some traffic...

    i'd expand on russell's advice. drop your tv viewing to only what's absolutely necessary. most news i see these days is as hysterical as that cresswell quote.

    me? the picture of chillaxed.

    mostly.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    If people succumb to the temptation to enact Dirty Harry or Death Wish, chances are they won't count on the potentially deadly reprisals. I'm probably not the only one to suspect there would be major civil meltdown just waiting to happen, if the string-em-up brigade/penal-industrial complex have their way.

    On a side note regarding the Libz, Bioshock is set in an Ayn Randian utopia gone haywire.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Savidge,

    Really good post Russell. And it'll be interesting to see what response you get from PC, if any.

    It genuinely surprises me that someone with such apparently tasteful consideration of all things architectural, artistic and beer-tastic can be so rabidly myopic about the ability of the state to control the effects of human emotion.

    I wonder if you've embarrassed him with this.

    Somewhere near Wellington… • Since Nov 2006 • 324 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    drop your tv viewing to only what's absolutely necessary.

    It's astonishing to me how going without TV re-regulates your brain, and also astonishing how long it takes and how quickly it can be undone again.

    We've been cold turkey on broadcast TV for a couple of years now (for various reasons -- cost of cable access, children who can operate a remote, my need to get some work done, and for some reason our TV set doesn't get free-to-air channels). We make do with DVDs of things we actually want to watch. Quite a lot of DVDs, and YouTube for news and classics. But no commercial TV.

    After watching the Presidential Debate at a friend's place the other night, the TV stayed on through the post-debate news broadcasts. I was stunned. The TV news looked like Kabuki to me. Not just the heavy make-up and the weird costumes and sets, but the stylized gestures, the elaborate turns of phrase, the heightened artificiality of the whole thing. Opaque, and utterly foreign. I almost felt like I needed subtitles to make sense of what was being performed, because it clearly wasn't regular speech, and was communicating to the audience at some whole other level.

    Alas, the effect wore off after half an hour and the things on the screen began to seem normal again.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    Mediawatch did a story on crime reporting in NZ several months ago*, of which the tl;dr version is "NZ media reporting on crime stories seems on average to be greater than other comparable countries". Which plays nicely with the always popular viewpoint that things are going to crap, no matter how much evidence states categorically that this isn't the case.

    But at least this does give me the chance to spam the Ted video, A Brief History of Violence from Steve Pinker.

    * 27 July 2008

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1027 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    We've been cold turkey on broadcast TV for a couple of years now...The TV news looked like Kabuki to me. Not just the heavy make-up and the weird costumes and sets, but the stylized gestures, the elaborate turns of phrase, the heightened artificiality of the whole thing

    oh, i hear you. i find that every time i get near a tv now it magpie's me. so i actively ignore it.

    but living without it is easy, and lowers my blood pressure. and when you can get tv on demand in from teh interwebs, why worry?

    the last police drama i watched was "the wasp and the unicorn".

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    People want to believe that crime is on the rise, at least in part because they want "that nice Mr Key" to swoop in...

    Oh, fucking hell Matthew... Do you just go to your happy place every time Phill Goff starts chuntering on about prison numbers?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Concretely, deaths by road accident outnumber homicide deaths in NZ by over 7 to 1 (around 360 car deaths and 50 murders). But I can tell you that I have been gathering statistics on news reporting in NZ for some time now, and the reporting ratio is not just reversed, but even more so. Murder is far more than seven times as prominent in our news coverage.

    Every murder in NZ receives lovingly detailed coverage. Fatal car accidents do not unless there is some aspect to the case that really tugs at the heartstrings. Yet car accidents are a much more present danger to every one of us than murder.

    My guess is that we have a perception of control over our risk of death in a car - I'm a safe driver, it's a safe car - whereas we imagine a stranger bursting out of nowhere to kill us. Furthermore our daily lives pretty much require driving, and if we had to think about it the way some people freak out about murder, we'd go mad with the strain.

    Anyway, if our fears and outrage about causes of death were driven by a cool analysis of risk, murder would not figure.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Correction: those figures were off the top of my head. In 2007, there were 407 road deaths and 45 murders, a ratio of about 9:1.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • ConorJoe,

    People: don't forget the intriguing research widely reported now that rightwingers are more fearful, more anxious, more prone to extreme solutions to everyday problems?

    EastCoast • Since Sep 2008 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    From the Herald this morning, quoting a researcher on something that has always been apparent to anyone prepared to look up the numbers:

    Crime rocketed in the 1970s and has been trending down since.

    I blame the baby boomers.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    I don't think people like being irrationally scared, per se, I just don't believe many people step back to evaluate their feelings against empirical evidence.

    Hence my comment about "want[ing] to believe that crime is on the rise". Nobody wants to believe they're irrational, so feeling unsafe and believing that crime is going up tie in together. One feeds off and validates the other.

    Craig, my comment was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but a number of the people I know who like John Key insist that crime is totally out of control regardless of the evidence. Similarly, they honestly believe that National will do something about it. I'm far from convinced, not least because last time National promised to do something like increasing police numbers we ended up losing dedicated traffic cops. I expect solutions to crime to be just that, solutions, not simply acts of listen-to-the-fascists wankery that do nothing to actually address the problem but everything to help the politicians get reelected.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen,

    From the Herald this morning, quoting a researcher on something that has always been apparent to anyone prepared to look up the numbers:

    Crime rocketed in the 1970s and has been trending down since.

    I blame the baby boomers.

    Well the usual retort to this is: crime down is great but violent crime has shot up in the last few years, no?

    Auckland • Since Apr 2008 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    Those in Wellington who are interested in this subject might want to get to the following lunchtime lecture by Kim Workman, Senior Associate at the Institute of Policy Studies (@VUW):

    Politics and Punitiveness: Overcoming the Criminal Justice Dilemma

    It's on Monday 20 October in LT2 of Old Government Buildings.

    More on the IPS Lunchtime Lecture Series (pdf).

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    My guess is that we have a perception of control over our risk of death in a car

    strangely, what both car crash and murder have in common is the invasion of my personal space by another individual.

    but as you say, there is the misnomer that we can control car fatalities.

    maybe we need to listen to cresswell and start installing intrusion airbags on *everyone*. and maybe some catalytic converters. i for one could use some help with my flatulence problem...

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Stevens,

    Great post Russell. Clear and accurate - thanks.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 230 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Stephen: have a look here.

    Basically, there's been a small increase in violent crime reported in the last 10 years.

    However, I wouldn't take that at face value.

    The most serious violent crime is murder. It's also the most indisputable and reliable statistic. Murder just doesn't go unreported.

    Now see this graph from the Sensible Sentencing Trust. (They're hardly going to be biased in favour of understating crime, are they). See that the murder trend since 1990 is clearly downwards, while convictions for violent crime are steady. That doesn't make sense. Here are some theories:
    - Medical science means more people survive serious injuries (I doubt it).
    - The police are much more efficient at securing convictions than they used to be (I doubt it)
    - People are reporting more violence to the police, resulting in more convictions (my pick).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    (Also, note that the SST's graph doesn't adjust for population size, or mention the great blip when the Wanganui police computer system was replaced).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    It's astonishing to me how going without TV re-regulates your brain.... But no commercial TV.

    Same. We've been sans drivel for about 3 years.

    The trigger for me was moving into a job where I am exposed to raw information about the criminal, social and economic landscape in NZ, specifically in a global context.

    Basically I couldn't resolve the outright lies presented as news with my understanding of the facts. So I had to turn one of them off. It wasn't a hard decision.

    And I don't just mean the news: documentaries and particularly fiction got to me too. I know we're meant to understand that a movie is just a story, but honestly, I suspect that lots of people think deep down in side that the Death Wish theory that crime had dropped because of a vigilante on the streets was actually true (it isn't of course, and you can figure out why without research).

    One of the most important pieces I've read in some time suggests that the media industry is forgetting that with rights come duties and that freedom of expression is an individual right, not that of an institution.

    Have a look at Baroness O'Neill's Reith lecture here

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    - People are reporting more violence to the police, resulting in more convictions (my pick).

    I think there are two main factors.

    One is the increased likelihood of the reporting of family and household violence. This seems to have been driven by the public awareness campaigns and a change in police practice around this kind of offending.

    Also, any fool could have predicted an increase in less serious violent street crime, because the "baby blip" generation of 1989-91 has reached the age of committing street crime.

    You could also surmise along these lines with respect to the 1970s crime wave: the baby-boomer cohort reached crime-committing age.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

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