Findings from surveys of residents of Gainesville, FL, where five brutal murders occurred in 1990, were used to develop recommendations for use by police and the media in responding to serial murders.
The surveys gathered information from 164 Gainesville residents at three points in time: initially, 9 months, and 18 months following the murders. Data were collected regarding their psychological distress, coping responses, and perceptions of the media and police. Results indicated that 46 percent reported moderate to severe disruption of their daily lives, and 35 percent felt panicked or frightened in the weeks following the murders. The residents most affected were female students living close to the murder sites. Perceptions of the media and police were mixed, although both institutions were important to residents in terms of perceptions of safety. Media coverage was generally criticized as being sensational. Findings indicated that intervention activities should be most intense in the weeks to months immediately following the trauma. Although interventions should be targeted for the entire community, special attention should be given to residents who are most similar to the victims and therefore most likely to feel vulnerable. Workshops on home security, minimizing personal risk, firearm safety, and other self-defense measures might be the most useful. Cooperation between law enforcement and the media is also encouraged. Early and rapid disclosure of pertinent information by the police and media self-restraint regarding sensational reporting are also recommended. 42 references (Author abstract modified)