Police Stories


As I’ve written here before, I’m a big fan of TV cop shows, even calling myself a Law & Order Leftist for my affection for the various shows created by Dick Wolf under that banner. But recent actions by too many police officers has made it incumbent on me to explain how a progressive could feel as I do.

After all, I came of age during the late 1960s, when cops were “pigs” within the us vs. them atmosphere of the times. As my social consciousness evolved, I did come to understand that policing is a challenging and sometimes dangerous job. Hence I was able to respect the police officers with integrity, who pursued the job under the maxim “to protect and serve” with integrity.

That perspective was severely tested in the late 1990s when I was arrested for possession of marijuana. It happened when I had a tire blow in Dallas, Texas. I pulled into an apartment complex parking lot, grumbling about my misfortune. When I saw a police car pull up behind me in my rearview, my first thought was positive: “Oh, help.”

That notion quickly went south when the female officer who approached my car was immediately nasty and demanding. Another squad car pulled up soon after with two more cops. They stood with me while the first officer started rummaging through my car without cause or the right to do so.

Then she went through my pockets and found two joints and a rather large roach from another. It was, again, without cause, a clearcut case of illegal search and seizure. I ended up spending about 16 hours in jail (where, much to my amusement, I was the only person who admitted as I talked with others in the holding cell that I was, at least according to the letter of the law, guilty of the crime for which I was arrested).

When I went before the judge, I discovered the officer had lied in her affidavit. She also lied on the stand. (I got some small satisfaction in mouthing “You’re lying” to her as she did so and watched her squirm in her seat.)

But as much as the injustice angered me – even if, yes, I was in violation of the law – I’d still been able to retain what I think of as a fair and balanced view of the police. In part this is because, with one exception, any dealings and encounters I had with police in the city where I live, Austin, Texas, were fine. They were professional and respectful, with the exception of the rude and arrogant motorcycle cop who ticketed me for running a red light he couldn’t even have seen from across the Interstate (I didn’t, and when I went to court to fight it, it was dismissed because the officer “didn’t remember the pullover”).

But the spate of shootings and abuse of Black Americans by police in the last few years has me outraged. And I feel like a rot has set in with too many police across the nation.

Cop shows, however, are where the ideals of police serving the public and pursuing justice can still be admired and enjoyed. No matter how we may parse the reasons why, there are people who do bad, violent and evil things. And the public does need protection from them.

Police procedurals can be fascinating puzzles. And crime stories are morality tales by definition. And the best storytelling is almost always morally based. Plus police stories are almost never mindless escapism. And they are often stories with an edge. It all adds up to engaging entertainment.

So I will keep enjoying them, and hope that perhaps real life might in the future verge closer to the fiction.

Populist Picks

Here’s a few of the latest police shows I’ve started watching on my smart TV:

Southland – This L.A.-based series that ran for five seasons from 2009 to 2013 is hard-hitting, close to reality, and expertly plotted as it follows multiple teams from patrol cars to detectives through multiple crimes in each episode. There’s a richly human element to the show as well as gripping drama.

New Tricks – As I’ve said before here, the English do police procedural TV best. This series about a special squad of retired detectives brought back to investigate cold cases is both amusing and fascinating.

Scott & Bailey – A charming series, also from the U.K., about a team of two female detectives.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2017


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