Reel Cops: Exploring the Representation of Policing on Police Ten 7
Cop shows have been a perennial on prime time television for the past fifty years. Over the past two decades, however, the increasing popularity of reality television means that it is now competing for ascendency with traditional police-centered “soap operas”. For example, at the time of writing a search of the television scheduling by genre on TVNZ on demand reveals 92 reality television programmes compared to 65 dramas, 36 comedies and 22 news programmes. New Zealand, despite its limited production capacity has also cashed in on reality television with recent New Zealand offerings including Motorway Patrol, Illegal NZ, Drug Bust and Emergency 111. The most popular, award winning reality crime programme currently screening on New Zealand television, now in its 20th season, is Police Ten 7. The principle research question driving this thesis is: “To what extent does Police Ten 7 reflect the actual reality of contemporary policing in New Zealand?” This research question was explored through a content analysis of the entire 2010 season of Police Ten 7, consisting of 15 episodes. To assess the extent to which Police Ten 7 reflects the known realities of policing, the content analysis was broken into three main components. The first examined the demographic makeup of police. The second explored types of offences and offenders featured and the third explored the types of police activities depicted on Police Ten 7. These were then contrasted against the known realities of police, offenders and offending patterns in New Zealand. In short, the focus was on who was featured on Police Ten 7, what were they portrayed as doing and how this compares to what we actually know about crime and policing in New Zealand. The main findings were that while some aspects of policing and offending were depicted reasonably accurately, for example gender and ethnicity of police, other aspects were significantly skewed. Police Ten 7 consistently misrepresents the types of offences most commonly committed in New Zealand, over-representing traditional “street” crime such as drug and antisocial offending and violence and under-representing and even ignoring completely other common offences such as dishonesty crimes. Similarly, white individuals depicted in Police Ten 7 are much more likely to be police than offenders, while the opposite is true for non-white individuals who are also depicted more commonly as being involved in violent offending than their white counterparts. As a vehicle for the presentation of the reality of policing Police Ten 7 was found to significantly misrepresent the work undertaken by the typical police officer, over-emphasising the exciting and action-packed aspects of the job and under-emphasising the service and administrative functions of police. The conclusion reached as a result of this research is that Police Ten 7 does not in fact show audiences “a glimpse into the real working lives of New Zealand police” (TVNZ, 2011b). Instead it creates a specific, pro-police vision of policing and crime in New Zealand which features real police and offenders but as a result of the symbiotic relationship between the producers and the police combines to misrepresent the reality of both policing and offending for the majority of police and offenders.