Do you think it’s possible for Hollywood to improve their portrayal of police officers on TV and the big screen?
There are few television shows or movies with a law enforcement theme that I enjoy watching, because they are technically flawed and do not reflect reality. And I know a majority of my brothers and sisters in blue share this sentiment.
It is this sense of distortion that handicaps real police officers in the business since the public has an unreasonable expectation based upon their misguided education from Hollywood.
Television and movie producers are typically uninterested in authenticity, because it doesn’t sell like sensationalism. I get it. They are in the business of entertainment, where truthfulness doesn’t matter.
If by some slim chance there is a Hollywood producer, director, or writer reading this article, these are the beefs real cops have with your image of us:
Hey Hollywood, cops don’t “taste test” narcotics
This one kills me. Hollywood cops will often slide a finger across dope, dab it on their tongue and proclaim, “Yeah, its coke.” Are you kidding me? So when did we develop expertise as to the flavor of cocaine? In the police academy? I don’t recall that block of instruction.
Do they not understand that cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant? Can you imagine a narcotic officer doing that everyday? It wouldn’t take long before the detective would need to join Narcotics Anonymous.
Tip for Hollywood: We use presumptive chemical tests and then send the narcotics to the lab for analysis.
Cops don’t chamber a round the moment they head into danger
Police officers never leave their home, police department, or the range, without a round already chambered in their duty weapon. TV cops that rack a round at the moment they go tactical reveals how little they know about tactics.
Tip for Hollywood: Our weapons always have a round in the chamber.
Cops don’t surrender their weapon to bad guys
This one infuriates me. Every time I see an officer surrender a firearm to a bad guy, I grit my teeth. This is one of the dumbest portrayals ever.
Tip for Hollywood: There is no police academy that teaches an officer to surrender their weapon. If an officer chooses to do this based on personal circumstances; that is one thing. But it is not taught, and certainly not a standard practice.
Officer involved shooting (OIS)
After an OIS, the officer surrenders their weapon, clothing, etc. to investigators. They are met with legal counsel, and will eventually provide their version of events during a lengthy interview process—either voluntarily or through compulsion. They are also subjected to a litany of unpleasantries that lasts for hours following the OIS, just like a person in custody for a shooting.
Tip for Hollywood: The officer does not go to the next crime scene and shoot another bad guy.
Police cruisers do not screech sideways to a halt at a major crime scene
The best way to become involved in a collision is to lose control of your vehicle. Sliding sideways upon arrival at a crime scene demonstrates a motor vehicle operator that is out of control, not a skillful driving tactician.
Tip for Hollywood: Officers are trained to maintain control of the police cruiser, not driving like a 16-year-old trying to impress friends.
Cops do not park in front of a suspect’s residence
Why would you ever announce, “I’m here,” to a suspect? Regardless of the reason, police officers never park in front of a home that is their ultimate destination. This principle is so ingrained in law enforcement officers, that some cops will not park in front of the home of a friend when visiting off-duty. Why would you ever expose yourself in this manner?
Tip for Hollywood: Park at least one house away, or further depending upon the scenario.
Cops do not stand in front of a peep hole
For the same reasons they do not park in front of a residence, they certainly do not stand in front of a peep hole. Police officers are trained to stand off to the side of a door whether there is a peep hole or not. Standing squared away at the front door makes for an inviting target to someone that wants to cause harm to you.
Tip for Hollywood: Cover the peephole and stand off center.
Lights and siren
Real police officers do not respond with lights and siren nearly as frequently as TV cops. Code 3 driving is high risk. Cops in movies frequently cause collateral damage when driving in this manner. In reality, police want to maintain the element of surprise as much as possible. Even when lights and siren are authorized, the officer may shut it down early to avoid detection by bad guys. Furthermore, when driving to a tactical scene at night, rather than rolling in hot with lights and siren, police will oftentimes “black out” by disengaging headlights, taillights AND brake lights with the flip of a switch.
Tip for Hollywood: Real cops like to have the element of surprise on their side. Try having one of your TV cops arrive “blacked out” and quiet to a hot call for a change.
Everyone is an expert on Miranda (reading suspects their constitutional rights) because TV accurately portrays the application of the admonishment … or so they think. Right now, cops are laughing while citizens are bewildered.
If I had a dollar for every time a crook tried to educate me regarding Miranda, well, . . . you get the point. Police do not Mirandize suspects while mashing their face in the dirt. Furthermore, a police officer is not legally required to Mirandize an adult offender if there is no need for a custodial interview or interrogation. There are many reasons for this, but I will not get into them here.
Tip for Hollywood: Real cops want suspects to cooperate and talk. Using Miranda like a jackhammer is not the way to do it. And the crook doesn’t “walk” if we don’t Mirandize them for a myriad of reasons.
There are “bad apples” in the barrel, but not with the ratio portrayed on television. There are several shows involving a corrupt police officer or federal agent on TV every week. Sadly, these episodes portray more threats from within the agency than on the outside. This story line gets old. And every prison inmate wasn’t wrongly convicted because of police corruption. C’mon, get real.
Tip for Hollywood: The ratio for police corruption is about 99:1, not 2:1.
Uniforms and proper clothing
A cloth badge does not belong on the shoulder, and the agency patch does not go over the breast pocket. The Sam Browne (duty belt) should not be drooping like a western gunslinger. A person wearing captain bars in a big city should not be working as a patrol officer. Female detectives do not wear stilettos (unless working undercover) and their blouse is not unbuttoned exposing a portion of the breast. … And I could go on and on.
Tip for Hollywood: Learn what a gig line is, button the blouse of the beautiful female detective, dispose of the high heels, and figure out what rank should be on patrol versus working command.
If I could insert a meme laughing hysterically at this point I would. Forensic evidence takes weeks in a homicide case, and months or perhaps years in property crime. Instantaneous result are preposterous.
Tip for Hollywood: At least scroll “Two weeks later” for something more realistic.
Undercover cops are not required to identify themselves
This one actually comes in handy. While working undercover I told suspects I couldn’t possibly be a cop because I’d be legally required to tell them if they asked. It worked every time.
Tip for Hollywood: Keep this myth in place. It helps.
– Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today