Public fear about rising freeway violence in Los Angeles is “perception, not reality,” said Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, reports the Los Angeles Times. California Highway Patrol officials said they are concerned about growing public apprehension. They fear that heavy media coverage may be build on itself and inspire copycat attacks. “We need to try to get ahold of this before it starts snowballing,” said highway patrol assistant chief Art Acevedo. “To be quite truthful and frank with everyone, this is not that highly unusual. This is just a fact of life in the cities of America.” Recent shootings have left four motorists dead. Officials say there is no evidence the actual number of attacks is up. Los Angeles figures show a slight decline in freeway shootings so far this year.
“The media is a double-edged sword,” Acevedo said. They can “play a real positive role in educating the public on the dangers we face” but also create “an atmosphere of fear that is not warranted.” Bratton said that in a city with 500 murders annually, he was perplexed about why the freeway shootings get so much attention while other crimes receive scant notice. Researchers have tried to determine whether intense media coverage of freeway violence had influenced later shootings. They concluded there would be no accurate way to pin down a connection. “The way to do it in clinical medicine would be to have intense media coverage of the shootings for 1 million people and no coverage for another million and then determine if one group was more likely than the other to be involved in an attack,” said one expert.