Real women? Gender and race in prime time police shows

Rondrek Juwayne Cowans

Abstract

For the past 25 years, reality shows, in particular, police reality shows has figured prominently in American culture as a true representation of police/criminal interactions. This dissertation is a case study that examined the portrayal of African Americans as criminals on the police reality show entitled The Police Women of Cincinnati, Memphis, Dallas, Maricopa County (Phoenix, AZ) and Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale, FL). The cities were chosen because they represent the entire five seasons that the series has been on television. This particular police reality show was also chosen due to its mirror image of local and national television newscasts. In other words, they both convey stories of crimes being committed in society but one uses anchors and reporters while the other uses narratives from female police officers. The purpose of this study was to determine if African American are overrepresented as criminals on The Police Women of Cincinnati, Memphis, Dallas, Maricopa County and Broward County when compared to the aggregate crime data originating from the five aforementioned cities. A content analysis was conducted that compared the quantity and types of crimes being committed by African Americans on The Police Women of Cincinnati, Memphis, Dallas, Maricopa County and Broward County reality shows against the quantity and types of crimes committed by African Americans from the crime statistics from their respective cities. The Police Women of Cincinnati and Broward County season series were recorded over a five month period in 2010, while The Police Women of Maricopa County, Memphis and Dallas season series were purchased from The Learning Channel (TLC) Network in the summer of 2011. A content analysis consisted of all five seasons of The Police Women of Cincinnati, Memphis, Dallas, Maricopa County and Broward County. Each season consisted of eight weekly episodes which were one-hour each. Each one-hour episode contained eight crime segments in which four female police officers where shown conducting daily crime interactions with suspects twice per episode. The unit of analysis consisted of forty episodes multiplied by eight individual crime segments for a total of 320 crime segments. There were nine segments that did not pertain to crime segments, therefore they were not coded in the quantitative analysis of the study. Hence there were 311 crime segments that were analyzed for this study. As the study revealed, African Americans males were overrepresented as criminals in only one of the five cities analyzed (Maricopa County), when compared to aggregate crime data and were overrepresented as violent criminals in only one of the five cities that were analyzed (Dallas) when compared to aggregate crime data. Similarly, the study revealed that African American females were overrepresented as criminals in only one of the five cities analyzed (Dallas), when compared to aggregate crime data but were not overrepresented as violent criminals in any of the five cites when compared to aggregate crime data. In addition, the study revealed that African American males and females were shown committing violent crimes more frequently than White, Asian, Hispanic and Indian males and females that appeared on The Police Women of Cincinnati, Broward County, Maricopa County, Memphis and Dallas . The study also revealed that African American female police were more frequently involved in crime segments that involved African American suspects than white, Asian, Hispanic or Indian suspects. The qualitative data gives specific examples of how racial stereotypes are oftentimes formed from viewing television and a feminist perspective of female police officers.