News stories of police officers attacked and killed in the line of duty have become regular features of nightly news broadcasts, but this coverage does not reflect an increase in reality, writes sociologist Andrew Major of the University of Albany – SUNY on The Society Pages. Media attention to stories of police officers killed has increased dramatically since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Between one third and one half of all news stories that the “legacy” networks' (ABC, CBS, NBC) have done on this topic over the last ten years have appeared in the last year. Fox News has run more stories on it this year than it did over the four previous years combined. Actual incidences of fatal violence against police officers by civilians have been falling. The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund says that in the year after Brown's death, 43 police officers were shot and killed, significantly under the average of 54 police officer shootings per year over the last ten years.
The impression that civilians are targeting officers is a reflection of media coverage, not reality, contends Major. He says what's troubling is not necessarily that the media are putting killings by civilians on the agenda, but that they failed to do so earlier. Many more officers were killed in the line of duty in 2011, the most lethal year for police officers over the last ten years, and yet the news media gave scant attention to their deaths. Major suspects that the difference is due to media’s giving equal time to “both sides of the story.” Faced with questions and criticism after each high-profile event of police violence against civilians, police spokespeople remind us of the dangers faced by officers as a means of blunting those criticisms. Media have picked up the “dangers of policing” narrative.