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APSU undergrad presents research on crime shows at national criminal justice conference

reeves
Cassidy Reeves presenting her research.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Last spring, when Austin Peay State University student Cassidy Reeves decided to get serious about her studies, she knew what she had to do – watch TV. Watch a lot of TV. Specifically, she spent the following summer completing a Directed Study course while entranced by popular crime shows, such as “Criminal Minds,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “NCIS” and “White Collar.”

She worked under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Whiteford, APSU assistant professor of criminal justice, and Whiteford had only one response to Reeves’ work in front of the TV over the summer – “I’m so proud, so very proud.”

Whiteford knew Reeves wasn’t a couch potato. In fact, she’d assigned the student the television shows to watch as part of a directed research study, and in March, they presented their findings at the National Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Conference in Las Vegas. Reeves was one of the few undergraduate presenters at the event – a conference catering to faculty and graduate students in the field of criminal justice.

But let’s back up a minute. The fact that Reeves was there at all is pretty amazing.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll convert you’

Reeves, a Clarksville native, originally arrived at Austin Peay several years ago, but when her grades suffered following a traumatic semester, she was forced to take a break from school.

“My dad had passed away and I didn’t handle it correctly,” she said. “I was put on academic probation, and then I was academically suspended.”

After a short break, she worked her way back into college, majoring in psychology, and one afternoon she found herself taking an elective class in criminology. That’s where she met Whiteford, who is always on the lookout for potential criminal justice students.

“I always tease the students on the first day of class, ‘Who’s a criminal justice major?’” she said. “If no one raises their hands, I say, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll convert you.’”

That’s exactly what happened to Reeves, who was mesmerized by the field. She ended up adding a criminal justice minor, and after she graduates in August, she’ll join Austin Peay’s new master’s degree in criminal justice program.

reeves
Dr. Sarah Whiteford and Cassidy Reeves at the conference.

Seeing Reeves’ interest in the field, Whiteford proposed they work together over the summer on a research project. That’s how the APSU student ended up watching so much television.

“What she did was a five-year follow-up of data I had gathered with students years ago where we had analyzed 11 different crime shows,” Whiteford said. “To get a more recent measure, I said I would love to do a five-year follow-up of any shows that are still airing. We ended up with those four. And she did data collection over the summer, learned how to use SPSS (statistical software), enter data, analyze it, and how to write up a report of her findings.”

‘Oh! This is an important part’

After her training, Reeves found a comfortable spot on her couch and began taking notes while watching the crime shows. Her finger usually remained on the remote control.

“I would go, ‘Oh! This is an important part,’ and I’d have to pause it,” she said. “There were 93 variables that coded per episode. We focused on the demographics of the police officers, the victims, the offenders, the crimes being portrayed, the murder weapons they used and many other details of the crime. Stuff you would think would happen in a real-life case, just portrayed through media because that’s how people who aren’t getting an education in criminal justice are informed, what their idea is of the criminal justice system.”

What did they find out from these shows? One point of interest is that police procedurals are including more female investigators. In the past, these shows usually focused on two male detectives investigating a crime. Think Starsky and Hutch or detectives Lennie Briscoe and Rey Curtis from Law and Order.

“It’s nice to show the progression from the five-year follow-up that they are incorporating more women officers,” Reeves said. “As a girl, I grew up watching CSI: Las Vegas. I love a strong female role.”

‘I enjoyed the opportunity and the privilege.’

Whiteford saw the potential in Reeves’ work, so the two began work on an academic paper. Reeves received one of Austin Peay’s Undergraduate Research Enhancement Fund grants, which covered her airfare, hotel and registration to the National Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Conference in Las Vegas.

“It was very exciting but also rewarding knowing I was one of the few undergraduate students there,” she said. “The pressure was cranked up then, but I enjoyed the opportunity and the privilege.”

Reeves plans to pursue a career in criminal justice, either as an academic or with a local law enforcement agency.

For information on APSU’s criminal justice programs, visit https://www.apsu.edu/criminal-justice/.

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