All eyes were fixed on Auckland last week when a gunman entered a construction site and opened fire.
This incident comes after a year dominated by negative headlines about crimes committed by young people: ram-raids, smash-and-grabs and burglaries, just to name a few.
A Herald poll earlier this year found 67 per cent of respondents felt more unsafe now than they did five years ago.
Psychotherapist and co-host of The Nutters Club on Newstalk ZB, Kyle MacDonald, tells The Front Page podcast that once anxiety has taken hold, it can be very sticky.
“Once we’ve had these impressions of very frightening events, even if we’re not directly impacted by them, those fearful thoughts can stick really hard, because that’s actually part of what’s kept the human species wandering around the planet as long as we have.”
MacDonald explains our rapid response to fear is a survival mechanism that’s an entirely normal part of what makes us human.
Our levels of anxiety are, however, affected by the narratives we see coming from politicians and the media.
“There’s nothing more topical than crime in an election year, and fear is one of the most powerful ways to get people’s attention,” says MacDonald.
“It’s one of the most powerful ways to shift behaviour quickly, and this is something that journalists and politicians all understand. It’s a feedback cycle. It’s not necessarily blaming anyone in particular, other than to say these stories get eyeballs and political support.”
The sense of fear can also play a role in determining what the public and politicians deem an appropriate response to the issue of crime. That Herald poll mentioned earlier also found out of a list of seven options, harsher prison sentences and more police would make people feel safer, rather than more social workers or mental health support. This is despite the fact research has shown time and again the latter would have a better long-term impact on reducing crime rates.
“Taking the bad people away and locking them up will, in our imagination, make us feel safer, and it is going to generate a sense of safety that we can just make the problem go away magically,” acknowledges MacDonald.
“And more police is also another thing that makes us feel safe. On the day of the terrible shooting in Auckland, the football was on later in the day and the police had an increased presence at Eden Park. I thought this was interesting because they had repeatedly told us there was no risk. But the police were there to make people feel safer.”
- So, how exactly do we overcome our fear to focus on real solutions to crime?
- Why are politicians using crime as a political tool?
- Should the media change the way it reports on crime?
- And are so-called crime junkies putting their mental health at risk by consuming too much crime news?
Listen to the full episode of The Front Page podcast for a breakdown of all these issues and more.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am. It is presented by Damien Venuto, an Auckland-based journalist with a background in business reporting who joined the Herald in 2017.