A lot of people only know about policing from what they see on TV. This is unfortunate because policing on TV is about as attached to reality as reality TV is attached to… well, reality.
If you want to know how different it is, just ask cops and they’ll tell you they wish their job was more like TV because:
The people on TV are better looking.
Cops see terrible things. Among them are the toothless grins and sagging skin of the department’s most regular “customers.” Somehow, when CSI: Miami finds crack addicts and hookers, they look like models! But when cops find them, they look like crack addicts. And there are no network standards to protect cops from their nudity.
(To be perfectly honest, most cops aren’t model material either. So, we should probably start there. Once we’ve got all the cops looking like models, then we can work on the crack addicts.)
TV cops can “Go get a warrant.”
The boss tells his detectives to go get a warrant. They go to a judge and he gives them a warrant. Due process is simple, fast, and easy. Boot the door, boys! Justice is just a moment away.
You have to write a warrant. It’s painstaking work. Then you have to take it to a judge who was probably a public defender before she got her black robe. If you’re lucky, she’ll let you wait in the lobby while she rolls her eyes at your affidavit. The judge will use all of her investigative experience (none) to decide if the information you’ve presented rises to the legal standard required to execute the search. Due process is slow, and justice is probably still a few hours away.
The equipment works on TV
I’ve never seen a procedural drama grind to a halt for three hours while someone tries to find an IT guy to get the network talking to the server to do whatever it is networks do with servers.
A murder investigation, on the other hand...
TV investigations have a compelling three act structure
Policing on television is neat, linear, and easy to understand. In fact, if you missed a couple minutes because you came back late from a commercial break, there’s sure to be some helpful dialogue to get you caught up.
At the best of times, real police work is a messy, disorganized affair. Even the most successful investigations leave unanswered questions. And there’s no such thing as closure on the least successful investigations.
TV bandits get what they deserve
Bad people do bad things. Good guys catch bad guys. Bad guys pay for their evil ways. It’s a very satisfying formula.
On the streets, imperfect people take actions ranging from ill-advised to downright evil. A second, less damaged, but nonetheless imperfect group of people try to catch them using a set of tools of varying effectiveness. If cops make a collar, it leads to judicial proceedings of an unpredictable nature with no guarantee bad actors will receive their just desserts. Results are a mixed bag for all involved. No one on either side of the law seems particularly satisfied with this status quo.
Leave a comment to let us know ways you wish your life was more like TV. (No fair saying you wish I looked like a model.)