Leading Article: Police must not feed a lurid taste for crime

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The Independent Online
IT IS ironic that, just as Britain's high crime rate seems to be in decline, television programmes, books and magazines about violent crime are proliferating as never before. One possible consequence is that law-abiding citizens come to live in fear of calamities that are unlikely to befall them. British police forces are right to wonder how much they should co-operate with an industry that makes money from real-life crimes and their solutions.

A policy paper thought to have the blessing of Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, puts forward two reasons for forces to withdraw their co-operation from makers of real-life crime reconstructions. First, helping television producers can be an improper use or waste of police time; second, the programmes as a whole may do a disservice to society by unnecessarily increasing the public's fear of crime.

An important distinction is drawn, though, between those programmes that harness the curiosity of the public to help with continuing investigations, and crime reconstructions, which merely indulge the curiosity of the public to expand a producer's bank balance or a controller's viewing figures. The latter - programmes such as Michael Winner's True Crimes and Crimewatch File - generally operate under a cloak of public interest, as such catchpenny enterprises always have done since the heyday of the broadsheet ballad. In truth the only service they are likely to offer is to prospective criminals, providing an informal Open University course in how not to get caught.

The police should not be under any illusion that by withdrawing their co-operation they are likely to put an end to such programmes. They will continue to be produced and continue to be watched. They may well be worse - without the restraining hand of a policeman, who knows what horrors Mr Winner's creative imagination will visit upon his eager public? But the more they look like lurid fiction the better. Such programmes should not be given a spurious authority by the presence of serving police officers, who would be far better employed solving fresh crimes than creakily re-enacting the old ones.