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This Idaho scholar concludes ‘cop-aganda’ is largely to blame for unrealistic expectations of police

Dr. Cody Jorgensen is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Boise State University.
Boise State Public Radio, Boise State
Dr. Cody Jorgensen is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Boise State University.

A just-published survey gauges Idahoans’ expectations of law enforcement. Two primary questions were posed, one of which read:

  • On a scale of 0 to 100%, what percentage of crimes must police in Idaho solve in order for you to say that they are doing a “good job” at solving crime?

Idahoans were asked separately about property and violent crimes.

“The expectations of the Idaho public are unrealistic. They're very high,” said Dr. Cody Jorgensen, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Boise State University.

“[Police] are nowhere near meeting the unrealistic expectations of Idahoans.”

With growing scrutiny of Idaho police in general, and police in the cities of Boise and Moscow in particular, Jorgensen visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about his findings, recommendations and something called “cop-aganda.”

Read the full transcript below.

More from this series:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. On any given day, in any month of any year, we have plenty of conversations about law enforcement. But of late, the interest and… well, the concern of law enforcement may be at an all-time high in Idaho. We have seen scandal in the past year, a relatively new Boise Police Chief being asked to resign, and then a former captain on the force revealed to give voice to outright racism. And then that triggered an independent investigation. And then there is the tragedy that has rocked Moscow and the campus of the University of Idaho. And all of this leads to more day-to-day conversation of how best to serve and protect. So, let's bring in Dr. Cody Jorgensen. He is associate professor of criminal justice at Boise State University. Dr. Jorgensen, good morning.


PRENTICE: We are particularly interested in your most recent research on Idahoans’ expectations of police performance when it comes to solving crime. Can you break that down for us.  How do you begin that? Do you begin that with a thesis or a series of questions?

JORGENSEN: So this idea actually comes from teaching classes when I'm teaching classes. Oftentimes, I bring up the topic of clearance rates and clearance rates is basically in late terms. When police solve a crime, I pose questions to my students like, “What percentage of crimes do you think that the police solve?” and “What percentage of crimes do you think police have to solve in order for you to say that they're doing a good job?”And the answers I get from students are very consistent  - that they expect the police to solve almost all crimes. And Then I tell them that it's not even remotely close because, on average across the nation, police solve about 45% of violent crimes and less than 20% of property crimes. Students mouth just drop open. They're very surprised by that. And so, I've been posing this question to all my classes to tell my students in my classes for years now when I talk about clearance rates. So, then the opportunity came up to pose this question to a representative sample of Idahoans with the Idaho Police Institute statewide survey. So, I got my questions in that survey, and then that's how I got the data. To understand Idahoans expectations of police performance when it comes to solve crimes.

PRENTICE: So, could you give us those questions?

JORGENSEN: What percentage of violent crime do you think police have to solve in order for you to say that they're doing a good job at solving violent crime? And then the same question is posed, but for property crime.

PRENTICE: So, what did you find?

JORGENSEN: That the expectations of the Idaho public are unrealistic. They're very high. So,46% expect the police to solve more than 75% of violent crimes. And that's just not realistic. It's even lower for property crimes. And Idaho police do much better job than police nationally at solving crime. They're nowhere near meeting the unrealistic expectations of Idahoans.

PRENTICE: And when we talk about police, do you use that term generically as far as whether it's municipal or county or state?

JORGENSEN: Yes, just all law enforcement.

PRENTICE: So, what do you do with that data then? Do you line that up with the facts or does it point you to conclusions or recommendations?

JORGENSEN: Well, in my paper, I do contextualize the Idahoans expectations to reality and show where they really don't line up. Then I talk about some possible ways to move forward with this. And one of the things that I say is it's it may not be in stakeholder's best interest to placate unrealistic expectations. What I would argue, though, is that there could be some better communication on the part of law enforcement to be more kind of open and transparent with the limitations of investigations in that way, that that can help the public align their expectations with something that's realistic.

PRENTICE: But indeed, there's a disconnect here, right?

JORGENSEN: Yeah, I think so.

PRENTICE: At whose feet can we lay this, as far as better communication and transparency?

JORGENSEN: Well, I do think it is incumbent on any government agency to be very transparent, very forthright with how they communicate with the public, police included. That way, they can better manage expectations of the public. However, the unrealistic expectations from the public are the fault of the public. People get their information about law enforcement from Hollywood, TV shows, movies, even the so called reality TV shows like Cops or True Crime. They distort reality. Very rarely do you ever watch a program or a movie on TV where the cops don't get the bad guy.

PRENTICE: True, Law and Order rarely screws up.

JORGENSEN: We call those kind of shows “cop-aganda.”

PRENTICE: Wow, I've never heard that before, but I think that's appropriate.

JORGENSEN: Yeah. You know, like Law and Order, you know, those kind of shows, it's it is a very pro-police bias programing. So, we call it “cop-aganda.” It is kind of a play on words, but you get the idea.

PRENTICE: I guess we should say that when we have a tragedy such as we have had in the city of Moscow, our hypersensitivity dials up even higher.

JORGENSEN: I would say that's a fair assessment, especially when it's something that's as rare but also as kind of serious as is what happened up there.

PRENTICE: …and has gotten as much attention and as much scrutiny.

JORGENSEN: Yeah, and this is just a kind of a side comment on that investigation. It's like because a lot of people were really haranguing Moscow PD and ISP about not being able to solve that crime instantly. But these whodunits are hard for police to solve and they are a slow burn. Those investigations do take much longer than your run of the mill homicide.

PRENTICE: He is Dr. Cody Jorgensen and he teaches criminal justice at Boise State University. By the way, what we referred to here, you can also access at the Blue Review, and I will link to that as well on our website. Dr. Jorgensen, great stuff. I can't wait to talk to you again, but for now, thanks for giving us some time this morning.

JORGENSEN: Sure thing.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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