Criminal Law

By Satomi Hamon


Copaganda: Stay vigilant and critical

What is copaganda?

The team copaganda is a portmanteau of cop and propaganda and is used to describe any form of media, news coverage, or social media content that portrays police and law enforcement in favourable ways to the public. The intention of copaganda is to sway public opinion for the benefit of policing and serves to shield police from accountability and sceptical coverage. It works to boost the public relations of police departments and often portrays a version of policing that is dramatically different from reality, particularly in regard to the treatment of Indigenous Australians, people experiencing mental health issues and/ or drug addiction and other marginalised communities.

Examples of copaganda

Copaganda presents itself in various forms. A prime example is fictional, positive depictions of police in movies and TV shows where the role of the police is portrayed as one that protects the public, rather than being a government agency responsible for enforcing the law. These portrayals of police are often simplistic, presenting them as inherently good and heroic, whilst overlooking the violence and racism embedded into Western systems of policing.

Popular examples of copaganda in TV and movies include:

  • Law & Order (TV show)
  • Brooklyn 99 (TV show)
  • Paw Patrol (TV show)
  • Die Hard (movie)
  • Speed (movie)

Whilst there is little doubt Copaganda has its roots in America – which generally has a great deal more problems with police that Australia does, the Australian community is not immune.  Copaganda is also rife on social media and news outlets. A few years ago, NSW Police made headlines regarding their ‘funny and relatable’ social media posts. This was seemingly significant in increasing their engagements with users, particularly with younger generations.

The problem with copaganda

Most people in society have minimal contact with police, meaning their opinion is often formed by these portrayals in media. As copaganda circulates, particularly in the wake of high-profile police violence, it is important to think critically and question the motives of the media you consume. Police already have vast amounts of funding, power and immunity to promote their image to the general public, and it would be wise to push back on the narrative that bad police practice is the fault of individual bad police officers, rather than caused by fundamental, systemic issues.

Studies have found that viewers of crime dramas are more likely to believe the police are successful in lowering crime, use force only when necessary and that misconduct does not typically lead to false confessions.  None of which is actually true, particularly in America.  Law & Order, for example (with its various spin offs) has more than 2,000 hours of television and some believe it has shaped a generations understanding of the legal system.  In circumstances where the cops are always good, the accused is always guilty and their lawyers are always the evil ones – such an understanding is problematic.

The fact that individual good police officers exist, which they do, is not relevant to the real issue of Indigenous and other marginalised people being unprotected, targeted and even killed by police. Instead, we should wonder why good police officers aren’t or can’t doing anything to support Indigenous and other underprivileged lives.

Only recently was it revealed that Zachary Rolfe, the police officer who fatally shot Kumanjayi Walker, was sending texts using racist terms to describe Aboriginal people with fellow police officers. Even more recently, police have been criticised by Cassius Turvey’s family for failing to communicate with them about Cassius’ condition prior to his death and publicly denying the attack on him was racially motivated.

We would be wise to remember that systemic racism and violence is prevalent in Australian police forces and a positive portrayal of police in the media does not only not address these issues but creates a rhetoric harmful to Indigenous and underprivileged Australians.