Ask a Cop

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Dear SLUG Cop,
I’m like, OBSESSED, with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I’m not really into any other “cop” shows, unless you count Dexter, but as you know, there are a lot of ‘em out there. What I like about SVU is that it seems pretty real. When Det. Stabler or Benson shoot someone, it’s not a walk in the park like a lot of violence is portrayed in films and television. They’ve gotta go to counseling, take some time off, and the cops who regulate other cops come in and take a statement and do their own investigation. I also love to see how closely they work with the Assistant District Attorneys (Alex Cabot will always be my favorite), the FBI psychiatrist and lab techs in the forensics department. Not to mention, the show has completely squashed any thoughts that I’d ever get away with murder—they almost always find the culprit. So my question is, do you watch any cop shows? Maybe even Homeland? How true to life are shows like SVU, and do you think they help or hurt the public’s perception of real-life law enforcement, specifically the ones in which the good guys are cops (which isn’t always the case in Hollywood)?
-Mikey TV

Dear Mike,   
Nope, I don’t watch them. Once in a while, something will pique my interest, but I’m usually disappointed or bored and turn it off. Why? I don’t know, because I know cops who love cop shows, but there really is almost nothing realistic about cop shows or movies.

The problem for law enforcement and defense attorneys is that the public often genuinely believes the shows are accurate. For example, a victim of a car burg thinks a fingerprint is going to identify the suspect, right then and there. First, it’s a one-in-a-thousand chance you’ll even get a fingerprint, let alone an AFIS hit, and second, no police department has the personnel or money necessary to take fingerprints on every car burg with almost zero return. Cops in the SL County area, and especially the West Side, generally run from call to call. There is no time for fingerprints on any of the thousands of vehicle burgs that occur each year. A problem for the lawyers, both prosecution and defense, is seating a jury whose members watch these shows and expect to see and hear about super- science forensics. That doesn’t really exist. It only exists on a show where in the space of one hour, the crime is committed, the cop catches the perp and the jury acquits or sends the puke to prison.

People watch Training Day or End of Watch and think that’s the way it is. Sure, there are little pieces of reality in there, but the gist of these movies is not accurate.

There was a series on HBO a few years back called “The Wire.” It was probably the most authentic cop show I’ve seen. It even displayed some of the actual equipment used by law enforcement when they’re up on a wire. But, it still had many BS events and effects in order to appeal to a larger audience.

The next time there is a glaringly tragic and offensive crime in the news, read the comments posted by all the “experts” out there. Mike, those are the people who believe cop TV shows and movies are accurate.
If you’re really serious about seeing the real justice system at work, here are my suggestions. Go on “ride alongs” with an agency that still does them. You’ll see actual crimes and cases where real people get arrested. Follow up on one of those cases and watch the defendant either plead out or go to trial. Go to the trial and sentencing. Other than the initial call to the scene, you’ll quickly discover there is very little excitement and that the process is monotonous. Other than the start, a case is boring and months or years long, not an hour.

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