Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Experts Blame Cop Show For Educating Criminals

The NBC TV station in Chicago, Illinois (USA) has an online article about anecdotal evidence that forensic crime dramas, such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", have educated some criminals in ways to limit (the amount of) or destroy the forensic evidence in order to conceal their involvement. This behavior is reportedly seen in planned crimes - typically against family members or business partners - and not in more spontaneous criminal acts.

There are positive benefits from such TV shows, such as
  1. creating positive role models for our youth,
  2. encouraging students in the sciences and mathematics,
  3. educating the public in basic legal and forensic concepts that form the foundation of many investigations and judicial procedings, and
  4. building support for local law enforcement.
That being said, things have probably gone too far. Reasonable people can rightly be troubled by how some vendors and retired law enforcement personnel have willingly divulged and displayed once sensitive technology and techniques. And what for? It is hard to believe that having one's surveillance or forensic product shown on one of these shows really causes any significant increase in sales. Its not like the next day a forensic scientist says "Hey boss, we need that Acme XYZ gadget they had on TV last night to solve this case." Purchasing lab equipment is not typically a spontaneous thing (admittedly, occassionally there is some last minute "found money" at the end of the fiscal year, but I certainly hope for all of our sakes that a television "product placement" doesn't influence the decisions even then).

As a matter of public policy, there is a tradeoff between the benefits I listed above and possibly educating criminals, as well as confusing the public by building up unrealistic expectations for the detectives, forensic scientists/technicians, and prosecuting attorneys (a.k.a. solicitors) to have to meet.

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