Are Hollywood portrayals of policing detrimental to effective policing in the real world?


A question posted recently on Quora asked, "Are Hollywood portrayals of policing detrimental to effective policing in the real world?" Two former police officers gave their opinions on the topic, below. Check them out and add your own thoughts in our comments section.

Pat Alexander, Former Police Officer:
Not sure about "detrimental," but it sure can be annoying. 

For example, people expect every case to include DNA testing with results within the hour.

One aspect that used to make me shake my head was when some police TV show fan believed what they saw as accurate, factual, and proper procedure, then would try to dictate what they wanted us to do in their particular case. I've had victims tell me what needs to be dusted for prints, photographed, etc., wonder why I couldn't bring in certain types of equipment, or ask why we couldn’t call out CSI to investigate minor cases.  They seem to have no idea that restrictions such as certain rules of evidence, budget issues, or higher priority calls that need our immediate attention are reasons why we can’t call out CSI to cast footprints in their back yard after they reported the sound of someone jumping over their fences last night.  "This ain't Hollywood," unfortunately, became a frequent response to the public.

Tim Dees, Retired Police Officer and Criminal Justice Professor:
People are often "trained" by dramatic presentations of police behavior and procedure so that they come to believe that what they have seen is true, and the way things are actually done. For example, many police dramas are set in Los Angeles or New York City, where patrol officers typically work in two-man teams. They then conclude that all cops work in pairs, because that's what they saw on TV. In a discussion of the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson case, someone asked, "Where was [Wilson's] partner?" Most patrol officers work alone.

Because of the recent uprisings over police use of force, the public's misapprehensions of how police properly subdue resisting or fleeing suspects has come to light more than ever before. On TV, an attractive female detective of average size (say, 5-5 and 130 lbs.) can chase, catch, and handcuff a man over six feet tall, weighing 225 lbs. or more. This happens in seconds, and there won't be a scratch on either of them. They won't even be out of breath.

A short review of YouTube clips and episodes of ‘Cops’ will tell you that this almost never happens. Even when the suspect is outsized and outnumbered, there is still likely to be a prolonged struggle, with lacerations and concussive and skeletal injuries very common in all parties. There are no magic martial arts moves that render the adversary helpless in seconds, as least not at the stage of training most police officers receive.

By extension, people don't understand how a police officer might be justified in using deadly force against an unarmed person, suggesting that "unarmed" equates with "harmless." They believe that all police shootings involve slow, carefully aimed shots, often with dramatic dialogue between the cop and the bad guy at the moment of truth. I haven't known that to happen in real life, either.

People need to understand that TV and movies are entertainment, and not much more. Anything you see depicted as standard procedure probably isn't, and even when it is, procedures differ from one police agency to another.

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