Law & Order Stats: Gender and Computer Counts

LawAndOrder-Season20-Episode456-Rubber_Room-00h19m30s-00219

What are you looking at? From the final episode (season 20, episode 456).

Having finally finished all 456 episodes of “Law & Order” (totaling approximately 20,520 minutes or 342 hours or 14.25 days) I now have just under 11,000 screenshots of computers and people using them. While watching, I also gathered extra data: I recorded the victim and perpetrator’s gender, as well as the total number of computers per episode. Below are some thoughts on those stats, for those interested such ephemera.

PerpVictimGender

While the Law & Order Database has some great data, surprisingly it is missing the gender of victims and perpetrators. Since the show is “ripped from the headlines”, it is especially interesting to compare those numbers from the show with real murder statistics in the US.

PerpGender

According to this US Department of Justice report, the vast majority of murders are perpetrated by males – somewhere around 90% (7-times more likely), compared to Law & Order’s 70%.

(It is worth noting that while the NYC website does have historical crime statistics, these do not include gender.)

VictimGender

Even more skewed are Law & Order’s victim genders: in the US, men were 4-times as likely to be murdered than women (in 2008), whereas Law & Order is nearly 50/50. This “equity” on the show is more likely in order to sexualize murder (SVU is a great example of this taken to an extreme) than be an accurate reflection of actual crime in the city.

ComputersPerSeason

On a very different note, I also counted the number of computers captured per season, along with the number of episodes without any computers. The line above shows the average trend: a steady incline with a bump in the middle and skyrocketing towards the end of the show’s run.

A rise in the count is expected as computers became more common (the spike in the first season is likely the result of me being overzealous capturing images of computers). It was the bump in the middle and the subsequent dip that surprised me. After some thought, I believe this shows computers coming into daily life (and, for many, near constant use) in the late 90s. No longer was one computer shared among an entire office and most people were online – computers, the internet, and computer-related stories and crimes were on everyone’s mind and this was reflected in the show.

The dip that follows in the early-to-mid 2000s shows the result of ubiquity: we all got used to having and using computers. Computers mediated many daily tasks and the internet matured, giving us a feeling of comfort with these technologies. We had yet to see the explosion of Facebook and smartphones, which would help cause the sharp increase towards the end of the show. It is also unsurprising that the seasons with the lowest computer count also had the largest number of episodes with no computers.

A final spike in the last few seasons is the result of two things. First, the characters started using smartphones and laptops (by the end of the show, both the detectives had their own laptops), and were engaging more with social networking sites (Law & Order’s fake Facebook is called Faceplace, one of few domains NBC isn’t just sitting on). The second reason for this spike says less about computers and more about the state of media: Apple became a sponsor of many NBC shows. No longer did we see nameless beige computers or devices with their brand names covered. Instead, many of the computers (mostly in offices and labs) had prominent Apple logos.

11 thoughts on “Law & Order Stats: Gender and Computer Counts

  1. JS

    A few questions/thoughts:

    1) Where does your 70% male perpetrator rate come from? It seems as though 65% of perps are male (alone) and then nearly 20% have both male and female perps. My assumption would be that it is this latter group that is over-represented (for entertainment purposes). In single-sex crimes, it appears that about 80% of perps in the show are male (which is obviously closer to the average from the crime stats).

    2) Did you look at race? While gender is undoubtedly interesting, I’d love to know about the representativeness of crimes in Law & Order with regard to race. I would be quite surprised if they were more accurate than the gender statistics.

    3) I think that comparing Law & Order crime stats with national crime stats is somewhat misguided (even if based on the show’s claim that stories are “ripped from the headlines”). If anything, you should be comparing the show’s stats to those reported by major news sources (which is the idea behind ripping stories from the headlines). This would actually play into your sexualization of murder theory (which would undoubtedly be strengthened by looking at the types of sensationalized stories that are reported by the media).

    All in all, a very interesting article. Thanks for your time and hard work on this project–it’s definitely appreciated.

    -JS

  2. Jeff Thompson Post author

    Thanks for the thoughts, JS.

    1. The charts maybe could be explained better: a crime committed by a man and a woman, or against both, counts +1 for both genders. Keeping count of the exact number of perps or victims was pretty much impossible, so any crime or victim is counted as 1, even if there are multiple murders or many perpetrators. For example, if there is a bomb blast, we often don’t know the exact number of victims.

    2. Race would definitely be interesting, but also hard to track. Gender was difficult enough at times – when in doubt, I decided to count someone as the gender they identify with. Classifying someone’s race becomes a real guessing game in many instances.

    3. A side-by-side comparison of news reporting of murders and actual crime stats would be interesting in of itself, but I think finding those stats would be the hardest part (aside from watching a ton of television!) – any suggestions for existing studies on this? Even the NYC crime stats are quite slim on details, so most of these comparisons and conclusions are more about how Law & Order represents our society and how this differs from reality.

  3. WA_Reader

    I am in the process of consuming The West Wing and have been having similar thoughts, though not on your scale! It only spans seven seasons, but during a key time in the progression.
    One thing that strikes me is how peripheral the computers are at first and that sometimes they actually close their laptops. I found it amusing to note the phones: flip, razor, then of course blackberry with the trackwheel! I observe how they talk about the internet. Early on, the vice president quips, “I guess the internet is here to stay!” Then there’s the episode where Josh Lyman gets sucked into trolling about him on a blog. Later in the series, he talks with a blogger on the phone, asking to be off the record, and is shocked when his comments are immediately posted. “She’s not a journalist,” says CJ. Thanks for this!

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