How much impact do movies, television, and sensationalized reporting have on crime rates and the nation's thinking? More than we think, say a number of experts.
''Some of the most heinous crimes I've ever seen have been copied directly from TV shows,'' says Perry Johnson, Michigan's director of corrections, who also served on President Reagan's Task Force on Law Enforcement.
Mr. Johnson says such programs ''desensitize us. They lessen our natural revulsion to violence.'' Many of those interviewed provided examples of the kind of ''copy-cat'' crimes Johnson described. They say the link between video violence and real-life crime is undeniable.
Executive Deputy Chief James Bannon of the Detroit Police analyzed TV nightly news broadcasts aired by the three major networks. Forty-four percent of the stories dealt with crime - a figure he says is far too high, and breeds fear. ''There's no doubt,'' he says, that ''people are far more afraid of crime than they need to be.''
The solutions? ''Put things in context and report on trends,'' says Dr. James Howell, acting director of the National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. ''Give the facts and spare me the dramatics,'' adds Chief Bannon.
Others joined with Ira Schwartz, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs, in saying that the United States might be a very different place if ''the kind of ad techniques used to sell cigarettes were focused on the need for (crime) prevention programs , and the amount of media attention currently given to crime was focused on crime research and solutions.''
Some say that a large part of the public may prefer lurid tales to balanced, responsible reporting. Others dub this an acquired taste, one propagated by the media.
But whether the media create or merely cater to the public's appetite for violence, officials say it's a problem that must be faced.