Do video games create cop killers?

by on April 29, 2008 · 13 comments

Dennis McCauley of takes on that issue today in a column:

In the United States, the FBI tracks annual statistics on police officer slayings as well as assaults on police officers. I compared these figures to the various release dates for the three major GTA console game releases to date (GTA III, GTA Vice City, GTA San Andreas) and plotted the whole thing on the chart below. It’s a bit like the well-known video games vis-a-vis juvenile crime graph created by Duke Ferris of GameRevolution a few years back, although with a much narrower focus.The FBI statistics portray a much different picture than that painted by critics like Thompson and Grossman.

In the chart, I’ve plotted FBI figures for police officers feloniously killed (blue line) and police officers assaulted (red line, listed in thousands). As can be seen, police officer murders peaked at 70 in 1997 (i.e., four years before GTA III) and again in 2001. GTA III was released in late October that year, so if the game caused that year’s spike, it would have had only two months in which to do so. (also, the 2001 figures don’t count the 72 officers lost when the World Trade Centers collapsed).

The chart shows that since GTA III was released police killings have been trending downward to a low of 48 in 2006. Although the FBI has not yet posted 2007 numbers, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund lists 68 police officers as having been shot to death in 2007. But it’s worth pointing out that while there may have been a spike in police slayings last year, there was no corresponding GTA release. There hasn’t been a new Grand Theft Auto console title issued since San Andreas in October, 2004.

I’ve commented more on these issues in my essay on “Why hasn’t violent media turned us into a nation of killers?”

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