Serial murder can be considered one of the most terrifying and fascinating phenomena in modern criminology. The horror instilled in people’s minds by the brutality of such crimes results in significant public and media attention to the investigation (Hickey, 2015). Consequently, law enforcement agencies have to be prepared to withstand the inevitable external pressure. Otherwise, exaggerations and distortions may spawn disinformation and sensationalist myths, which are harmful to researching, profiling, and preventing serial murders.
Law enforcement agencies can undertake three important steps to mitigate the adverse effects of public and media agitation. Firstly, the audience should be provided with regular updates on investigation results. According to Hickey (2015), the public and the media often attribute serial killers with virtually supernatural powers. However, the openness of law enforcement agencies during the investigation process would prevent the spread of dangerous myths and panic. The public and the media would not be able to start wild speculations if the investigators shared credible information pre-emptively.
Secondly, the openness in sharing investigation results with the public should be combined with emotional neutrality. The law enforcement agencies should deliver all updates on the investigation in a calm, non-sensationalist manner. Haggerty (2009) noted that serial killers are often treated by the media and public as celebrities (as cited in Hickey, 2015, p. 8). Considering this tendency, the law enforcement agency should demonstrate to the audience that serial murderers are criminals who make mistakes and get caught rather than invincible masterminds.
Lastly, the law enforcement agency should deploy victim specialists in order to protect the victims, victims’ families, and crime witnesses. According to Hickey (2015), victim specialists assist the victims with getting the necessary assistance services. These professionals would mitigate the external pressure on the victims by ensuring their privacy and psychological comfort. As a result, the law enforcement agency would gain complete control over communication with the public, reducing the chance of unwanted information leaks during the investigation.
Hickey, E. W. (2015). Serial murderers and their victims. (7th ed.). Cengage.