‘Car-chase TV’: The Legitimisation of Police Work?

Deane, James (2016) ‘Car-chase TV’: The Legitimisation of Police Work? Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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‘Car chase TV’ has become a staple of U.K. television schedules over the past two decades. Conveyed in a plethora of observational documentaries (ob-docs), mediated images of police vehicular pursuits (PVPs) are packaged as entertainment products. However, the rise of PVPs as a ubiquitous entertainment spectacle has taken place against a backdrop of concern around a steep rise in the human cost of PVPs emanating from police oversight bodies and widely reported in the national press.
This research investigates whether car chase TV tends to legitimise the police, their work, and specifically the problematic practice of PVP. Historical analysis is used to map the developing concern around PVPs from 1900 through to 2011. The thesis then presents the findings of a thematic analysis carried out on an archive of ob-doc ‘car-chase TV’ programmes broadcast in the UK between 1993 and 2011.
This analysis indicated that such programmes do tend to legitimise the police, police work and PVPs in particular. It also showed that the challenge to the legitimacy of PVPs expressed in official reports, the print media and elsewhere largely failed to permeate the mediated construction of PVPs in the ‘car-chase TV’ programmes broadcast on the commercial television networks, but did produce a limited response in the programmes broadcast on the BBC television network, a response which tended to (re)legitimise PVPs in the face of these concerns.
The research found that there has been an historical decline in the visibility of PVPs presented in the television programmes contained in the archive, due to various possible factors.
This research is significant in that it examines a hitherto under-developed area of criminal justice research and contributes a unique historical perspective on the issue of PVP. It makes a novel contribution to the literature on the legitimisation of the police in the mediated sphere of television.

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