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A Badge and a Halo: the TV COP Cliche

If the occupy Wall Street protest has taught us anything, it’s that cops are not always playing by their own rules. Viral videos of unprovoked police brutality against innocent people have shown the world what minorities in this country have always known, cops don’t protect and serve everyone equally.

I’m not condemning all police officers, there’s good and bad cops just like there’s good and bad people. But being a police officer comes with power that not a lot of other jobs offer; they have authority that the average citizen is compelled to obey. They are a pseudo-military unit charged with keeping the peace of their area. This is a big responsibility and should not be entrusted to the mentally unstable.

There have been several cases of off-duty police shooting unarmed men. One such case was the murder of Tyrone Brown outside of a Baltimore nightclub in 2010. Brown (pictured above) was a marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq. He was killed by an intoxicated off-duty Baltimore police officer who had shot another man in the foot while off-duty five years prior.

It’s interesting, you never see cops going out to the club on the thousands of police procedural shows on television. Why are TV cops always portrayed as being 100% committed to their job? I know The Wire was an exception, but that show did a lot of things that no other show would do. Occasionally, Law & Order might have an episode about a dirty cop, but the cop often started out as great only to turn evil due to some sympathetic circumstance. Plus, the show was on for fifty years and they ripped their stories from the headlines anyway. In a majority of the episodes, the detectives and district attorneys were up at all hours of the night (holding empty Chinese food cartons) trying to get the right guy or build the right case. (I wish the DMV was this committed)

No regularly occurring character on a cop show is allowed to be apathetic. The comic relief may pretend like he doesn’t care sometimes (DiNozzo from NCIS) but deep down inside, he’s as committed to being a warrior for justice as all the other characters.  You will never see a cop just trying to punch in and punch out because that wouldn’t be compelling television.

Again, I know nothing about being a cop and I do respect the men and women who put their lives at risk to protect others. But these TV shows practically put superhero capes on these characters and that’s just unrealistic. Even when the cop is an anti-hero, he’s bad for the right reasons.

Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is an emotionally imbalanced bully. He may get rough with a suspect, but it’s Ok as long as his gut tells him that the suspect is guilty. I’m not saying that a pedophile-murderer should not be beaten to the pavement, but at least make sure the suspect is actually guilty first.

In the end, it’s the viewers that decide which formulas work. We vote by watching the shows; and the people have spoken. We Americans love to see public servants go above and beyond the call of duty to protect us. They work for the state, so we know they aren’t making that much money, but they do it anyway. They’re our guardian angels; ever diligent in their quest to catch the bad guys. We want to believe this so badly because broadcast news constantly tells us that scary people are out to kill us. We don't want our protectors to be in it for the money; then they're just mercenaries. We want our cops to protect us because they have a higher calling. We want them to be our shinning white knights in this dangerous modern world even if it's just on TV for an hour.

But all joking aside, there are some real hero cops out there. R.I.P. Jeremy Henwood.




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