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Cop show myths: Fact vs. fantasy

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Posted: Sunday, August 30, 2009 10:00 pm

One high-ranking member of our department has a brother-in-law who is a producer in Hollywood. He developed a hard-hitting cop show for a major network that was on the air for the past two seasons.

We all enjoyed watching the show, but I was a little perplexed when I saw the two stars (playing detectives) kicking in doors leading the SWAT team into buildings. In real life it's the other way around. And to make matters worse, the SWAT team members weren't wearing ballistic helmets.

My boss suggested I forward my concerns to his brother-in-law, and I did so. The next thing you know, the SWAT guys were wearing helmets. The stars were still in the lead, but I was told that's the way it has to be in Hollywood. I enjoyed my role as a technical adviser while it lasted.

That brought to mind some other Hollywood cop show myths that are still out there today, in modern shows and in syndication.

  • Officers never have to testify in court.

When was the last time you saw a TV cop spend a minute on the stand?

Real cops sit for hours in courthouse lobbies waiting to testify in court. They spend countless hours at the prosecution table as the investigating officer, or they come in on their days off just to spend a minute or two testifying that the only role they had in the case was that they were the one who transported the suspect to jail.

I guess it doesn't make for exciting television watching Baretta or Frank Poncharello field questions from the defense between commercials.

  • CSI. people don't actually conduct investigations.

Evidence technicians perform an extremely important job processing crime scenes. They deal with some very disturbing situations with resolve and professionalism.

But it doesn't matter if they work for Las Vegas P.D., LAPD, NYPD or Lodi P.D.; evidence techs don't grill suspects, chase people down the street or conduct investigations. They don't follow up on leads or fistfight with suspects. They collect evidence, take photos and write reports.

  • Cops shoot 60 or 70 rounds at the bad guy, dust themselves off, tell the boss they are OK, then hit the road.

In real life a protocol team responds to the scene, the officers are interviewed individually for hours, they are placed on administrative leave for several days, and they are driven home.

It doesn't matter if you're Denzel Washington or Mel Gibson; you would have to go home if you discharged your weapon and actually hit someone.

  • Plainclothes officers usually wear cowboy boots and tuck their guns into their wastebands.

Ever try to run after someone while you were wearing cowboy boots? How far do you think you'd get before you took a header and crashed into a Dumpster as you ran through some alley in the dark?

And there was a dramatic increase the accidental discharges of weapons in the '70s and early '80s as every narcotics officer worth his salt tried to do his best imitation of Starsky and Hutch by jamming his gun into his pants. Doesn't work out too well.

  • Car chases are cool. The longer the better.

Contrary to popular belief, police pursuits are tightly controlled and monitored. We always weigh the risks for the public and the officers against the importance of capturing the suspect. Each pursuit is documented and reviewed in detail.

If someone crashed cars as often as some of those guys on TV, they'd be looking for another line of work. And I've yet to see a car chase where the bad guy crashes through a colorful fruit stand at the same time the cop car does a complete 360 flip as they fly off a well-placed trailer sitting by itself in the roadway for no apparent reason.

  • All cops have partners who are semi-crazy with all kinds of quirks and weird habits.

Well, that one is sort of true.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov or mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240, phone (209) 333-6864.

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