The Cop Column

August, 2005

Sgt. Rick Hord, Public Information Officer

Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office


TV Cops: Fact or Fiction?


            From Car 54, Where are You? to CSI, law enforcement has long been popular on television. Yahoo! lists fan web sites for 91 police TV shows.

          Many programs do try to depict authentic police procedures and techniques. But, on TV, excitement trumps reality; a totally faithful show would fail. TV producers would gladly air video of an officer dragging a kicking, screaming drunk into jail. But they would not show the same officer sitting at a desk for a couple of hours filling out paperwork after the excitement was over.

          What other liberties do the writers, directors, and producers take? Here’s one cop’s personal Top Ten list:

          10- Flawless Driving. Real cops are actual human beings and would never attempt most of the fancy driving tricks of their TV counterparts.

          9- Lots of Shooting. More bullets fly in a single episode of some shows than all the deputies in Okaloosa County have seen in their whole careers… combined. Real-life shootouts usually involve only a few bullets and are over within five seconds. On the average, two thirds of the bullets fired by police miss their target.  

          8- Few Dead Ends. Showing all the meticulous but ultimately fruitless work real investigators perform would require the entire season to cover one major case.   

          7- Nothing Else to Do. TV cops don’t seem to suffer from the distractions of their real-life counterparts. In Okaloosa County, for example, the pending workload is usually several dozen cases per investigator.

          6- Conflict with the Feds. On TV, FBI and other Federal agents muscle into the scene and start bossing around the local cops. That’s baloney. 

          5- Technical Wizardry. In real life, fingerprints, photographs, audio recordings, and other evidence are often poor quality and useless. The magic computers that fix those problems on TV are fiction.

          4- Jack of All Trades. On TV, the star single-handedly performs the jobs of several specialists: collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, comparing fingerprints, tracking down suspects, making arrests, and more.  

          3 Knock-Knock… Who’s There? The rules real cops must follow get in the way of storylines. Solution: ignore the rules and procedures for search warrants. 

          2- Why Did You Do It, Scumbag? The aggressive, confrontational manner of talking to suspects seen on TV could get a real cop fired. More likely, such an officer would quickly learn that technique doesn’t work. He’d either change his way of doing business or find another career.

          …and my Number One example of Artistic License in Cop TV Shows:

          1-You Have the Right to Remain Silent. The TV shows have the Miranda warnings all wrong. We do NOT “read their rights” to every person arrested. We read the Miranda advisement when we are asking questions that might produce an incriminating response and the person might not feel free to stand up and walk away… whether they are under arrest or not. Jack Webb’s  invention of using the Miranda Warning as a dramatic device to signal an arrest is pure Hollywood.