by Gregory Saville
As we read the horrific daily news from the Russia/Ukraine war, usually somewhere close by are crime headlines. When we write about, work towards, and teach others how to use SafeGrowth to build safer neighborhoods, we run into local fears about crime. Sometimes fears are debilitating and residents are too afraid to leave their front doors. Other times, they are outraged by some local crime and it mobilizes them. In all cases, local perceptions are driven not only by experience, but by stories.
Local engagement hinges on the role of media in story-telling. I often analyze the content of a news organization’s headlines to see how reporting will help or hinder a SafeGrowth program in a new city.
With that in mind, Mateja, Tarah, and I decided to write three different blogs over the next month on media story headlines where we live. Tarah will write about reports in and around Hamilton, Ontario in Canada. Mateja will write about reports in and around her city of Ljubljana in Slovenia. Today in Part 1, I will write about reports in and around Denver, Colorado.
Our deep-dive will compare the latest crime stories in local and national news related to our cities. We will examine how media reports those crime stories (Blood and gore? Perceptions of residents?) And we will assess the police/law enforcement response or role in those media stories.
How do our different cities compare?
The United States is a country where firearms are easily available, so the chance that guns end up in the wrong hands is multiplied a hundredfold. A decade ago I wrote the Washington/BC murder mystery blog and reported that when a burglar breaks into a Washington home there is a 1 in 20 chance of finding a handgun versus 1 in 500 in British Columbia. There is a mass or school shooting somewhere in the U.S. a few times a month
Thus American crime stories focus on guns, shootings, and horrific firearms crimes.
This week, I read a Denver Post news article about “A 14-year-old was shot dead early Friday morning in NE Denver". The story had very few details. We learn only that juveniles were involved. We learn nothing about how juveniles got hold of firearms! (See my murder-mystery blog above). So while sensational murders show up on the front page, we learn little about them or what caused them. In this environment of perpetual fear-mongering, neighborhoods are, understandably, fearful of a wave of crime.
These types of stories are common in Denver in spite of the fact that Denver’s crime rate is significantly lower than many other American cities. Reality, it seems, plays little role in the reporting of crime.
IT DOESN’T DEFINE US
Another story in Friday’s headline documented the one-year anniversary of a grocery store mass killing in Boulder in 2021.
This journalism was an attempt at “investigative” reporting, although without a great deal of actual investigation. One resident described how he attempted to mentally recover by playing his cello at the streetside memorial to the victims. The Boulder mayor acknowledged the impact but said the shooting does not define their community.
The story ended by citing research about the harm to emotional well-being within neighborhoods after mass shootings. It is encouraging that there are news editors asking these more in-depth questions to follow up on the long-term neighborhood. Their message: People are resilient! Now THAT is something SafeGrowth can work with.
FOCUS ON POLICE
Sadly, the most alarming news coverage was not shootings. It was the coverage on police accountability. Yesterday’s media carried stories on “Unsealed memos reveal concerns by Denver police about internal “leadership failure” during 2020 protests”
The implication of internal police turmoil has as deep an impact on neighborhood confidence as crime stories. Most people want to be confident and trusting of their police and, in fact, most are. They might support police reforms, but research indicates they overwhelmingly oppose defunding.
But, perhaps the most disturbing of all recent coverage was not shootings or accountability, rather it was this local news video clip about the city of Wheat Ridge in suburban Denver.
Long-term motel tenants feel forced out by the new Wheat Ridge ordinance