20 misconceptions TV taught us about police

TV cops involved in deadly force incidents immediately return to duty, often without so much as filing a report


A question posted recently on Quora asked, "What are some differences between the way crime and law enforcement are portrayed in movies or on TV versus reality?" Police1 columnist and retired police officer Tim Dees provided his answer, below. Add your own thoughts in the comment box below.  

1. TV cops always answer the phone by speaking their last names, and nothing else. They seldom say, "goodbye" or anything customary at the end of the call. They just hang up. I've never known a real person to do this.

2. A person's complete pedigree can be obtained by typing only their name into a police computer. Even if your name is Aloysius Dingleberry, there is probably more than one person with that name. If the name is something more common, like "Joe Brown," there will be thousands.

Rookies will be involved in a shooting on their very first day. Experienced cops will get shot no more than three days from their planned retirement date.
Rookies will be involved in a shooting on their very first day. Experienced cops will get shot no more than three days from their planned retirement date. (Getty Images)

3. TV computer hackers, especially those employed by the police, can instantly tap into any video feed, satellite imagery, internal database or record ever created by man, even though the record exists only on paper and has never been digitized.

4. TV cops involved in deadly force incidents immediately return to duty, often without so much as filing a report.

5. Many TV cops carry their sidearms without a round chambered, so they can draw the gun and dramatically rack the slide immediately before entering a dangerous situation.

6. TV cops can transfer between law enforcement agencies totally unrelated to one another (e.g. Atlanta PD to NYPD) and pick up their careers where they left off, usually starting as detectives on their first day.

7. Cop show bombs always have large digital displays showing exactly when the bomb will go off and exposed lights so the viewer will know the device is a bomb and that it's activated. No one ever sees these lights until they go looking specifically for them.

8. People without any apparent source of regular income have access to a steady stream of military-grade firearms, electronics and explosives.

9. Rookies will be involved in a shooting on their very first day. Experienced cops will get shot no more than three days from their planned retirement date.

10. You can be knocked unconscious from a blow to the head with a gun or other heavy object and suffer no more than a bruise and a headache.

11. If the show is about a federal agent, federal agents all wear expensive suits and are pompous and incompetent.

12. TV cops, especially women, can carry and conceal large handguns, extra magazines, handcuffs and badges under the most fashionable outfits, and you will never see them until the moment before they haul them out.

13. One TV cop can tell another to obtain a search warrant, even though the cop doing the procurement knows little about the premises to be searched and cannot serve as the affiant for the warrant. The process typically takes about 20 minutes.

14. Women married to TV cops are especially prone to be killed by vengeful criminals or drunk drivers.

15. Cars involved in TV accidents often fly through the air for no apparent reason before crashing, then explode spontaneously.

16. Every TV law enforcement agency has at least one safe house ready at all times.

17. Sheet metal ventilation ducts are strong enough to support the weight of a large man crawling through them, are completely unobstructed by fans or baffles and are accessible by grilles that are easily removed without tools. This is true even in secure holding facilities.

18. A TV cop can be shot or stabbed repeatedly and still be fully functional, but he will cry out loud when a woman tries to clean his wounds.

19. TV cops always find parking immediately available just outside the entrance of whatever building they are visiting.

20. Any TV cop can pick a lock with no more than a bent paperclip.

This article, originally published 09/17/2013, has been updated.

Add your suggestions in the box below.

Police1 readers respond

  • Cops always taste whatever powdery substance is found on the criminal with zero consideration for what it might be. Fentanyl? Rat poison? Baking soda? Then, not only can they tell you what it is, but also the exact percentage of purity.

  • TV detectives just sit around waiting for one case to come, its the only case they work on, and it's solved in a day. And let's not forget DNA results take 6 minutes not 6 months!
  • All TV cops can tell by "tasting" what the powder substance is (usually cocaine).
  • Criminals spill their guts 30 seconds after you get them in the box. No long, frustrating interviews with criminals who deny involvement despite being confronted with incontrovertible evidence.

  • When they approach an address on a call, the partners will constantly dialogue with one another about their families or personal problems and not pay any attention to the address they are approaching. Perfect ambush scenario in real life. Then they will stand in front of the door when they knock or ring the doorbell which is right in the kill zone if somebody tries to shoot through the door.

  • Cops, particularly detectives, can knock on a judge's personal residence, and get invited in to discuss the case over a drink often the night before testifying.

  • The perfect fingerprints are lifted at all crime scenes and results come back within minutes.

  • Cops are experts in all forms of mixed martial arts and instantly take people in using the latest karate moves.

  • TV cops jump from rooftop to rooftop of multistory buildings to catch a thief.

  • TV cops can always get DNA back in a couple of hours thanks to a police lab that has never existed in a real-life station.

  • The biggest thing I have learned from watching TV cops is that whoever is writing knows very little about Police procedure and could care less how silly it seems to those of us who know. The outstanding exception was the shows with Jack Webb in control of production.

  • They show police sitting in the courtroom during the trial of their own cases. Dirty cops are commonplace.

  • TV cops can shoot a moving target dead center with one hand from 50 yards out.

  • Miranda rights mean automatic arrest.

  • Reports only take mins to complete and arrest only takes you off the street for 30 mins or less. Police vehicles are good cover for stopping bullets.

  • They have time to have a romantic escapade with some smoking hot co-star during work. Most are dirty in a criminal sense and are incompetent when it comes to a crime.

  • The door to every crime scene or suspect's apartment is always unlocked and ajar when the police arrive.

  • In a one-hour show, police officers get in 3 chases and 2 shootouts with no paperwork and no repercussions for wrecking cars or shooting citizens.

What misconceptions has TV taught us about police?

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