Do TV/movie cops influence real police officers?

Admire and honor Chicago PD Detective Dennis Farina, but do not emulate or copy his character from “Law and Order”


“Just the facts, ma’am.” If you’re on the job and older than Justin Bieber, you probably remember that line being attributed to LAPD Sergeant Joe Friday — even if you only saw “Dragnet” in reruns! In reality, Joe never uttered those exact words, but for years he was the poster boy for police professionalism.

So much so in fact, that an old LAPD bud of mine told me that the agency retired badge #714 in honor of Jack Webb, the actor who played Joe Friday for all those years that “Dragnet” aired. I’m not sure if he influenced many real-life detectives, but his penchant for policy, procedures, rules and regs had to be admired.

Which raises the question, “Do TV/movie cops influence real police officers?” I suggest they do.

Where Did You Learn That One?
During my years as a detective, I’d seen more than a few potential interrogations shut down prematurely because some “uni” decided to Mirandize a perp within seconds of (or contemporaneously with) affixing the cuffs to the mope’s wrists.

Now, I know they never learned that in the academy, but it can be seen countless times in “Law and Order” reruns. Every cop knows (or should know) that Miranda is only required when custodial interrogation takes place.

Likewise I’ve seen a few guys put on the Andy Sipowicz mask during both suspect interviews and street contacts.

Of course, they can’t understand why IAB took such an interest in their most recent arrest, or why the ADA got such a rash when she read the arrest package and had to toss the confession. You see, Detective Andy Sipowicz was an invention of actor Dennis Franz and the “NYPD Blue” creators.

However, one of the funniest moments during my career came when I was a watch commander/lieutenant and I heard one our narcs make the comment that he thought “Miami Vice” ought to be shown in the academy as a how-to training film on drug investigations.

This guy was college-educated — a fairly good street cop and not exactly a baby narc. He had a few years in the squad before he donned Don Johnson garb, complete with pastel clothes and loafers without socks.

Now that might have worked in south Florida, but our turf was upstate New York. It didn’t come as a surprise when he was reassigned from street drug work to “ridin’ the pine” in Ad Narc. However, not before he videotaped every episode and spent hours perfecting the conduct and mannerisms of Detective Sonny Crockett.

Where Did You Get That Tattoo?
Is it still happening? A quick peek in or around today’s squad rooms or in-service training classes suggests it is. Most of the students/attendees in the High Liability Use of Force classes I teach are billboard cops — sharp looking, well spoken, and true ambassadors for their agencies.

But others? Not so much. Here are a few examples. Quite a few departments have policies about tattoos — they’re permitted but cannot show outside of the uniform. Others obviously do not. Inked arms from shoulder to wrist (aka “sleeves”) may look cool in the gym or at the beach, but in my opinion they have no place in the squad room or the street unless you’re assigned to deep cover (“I’m not supposed to be a cop”) UC work.

I recently caught a glimpse of a bike unit cop in dark blue biking shorts, a white, short-sleeved agency polo, and a huge bleeding skull, complete with a snake crawling out of the eye socket, visible on his left calf.

Last month, I was in court out of state testifying for an officer in a civil rights case. He had a sea of support in the gallery. But I hoped in my heart that none of the jurors saw one of his buds wearing a gray T-shirt with a caricature of a big burly uniform cop dragging a handcuffed arrestee by the hair with the words “Just taking out the trash” across the front.

“Blue Bloods” and “Chicago PD” are just TV shows. Hey, you want to watch them and enjoy the moment, be my guest. But calling a suspect a “shitbird” or sticking your piece in his ear to get his attention is not — and has never been — proper police procedure.

Where Do You Want Your Career to Go?
Here’s the bottom line, folks. You are a professional police officer. Regardless of what your assignment is or where you work, you are always in the public eye. Chances are you’re being videotaped without your knowledge in just about every street contact or arrest or even while dining at a restaurant on duty.

Sure, the recently deceased actor Dennis Farina was a real cop in Chicago before he became Joe Fontana on “Law and Order.”

Admire and honor Chicago PD Detective Dennis Farina. But Farina’s tough-as-nails character was just that — a character — so do not try to emulate it.

About the author

Dave Grossi is a retired police lieutenant from upstate New York now residing in southwest Florida. A graduate of the State University of New York, Dave has served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics investigator, detective, sergeant, and lieutenant. For 12 years, Dave was the lead instructor for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. He has instructor credentials in virtually every force discipline and has testified both in the United States and abroad as an expert witness in use of force cases. He is a combat veteran of Vietnam, and a member of the Force Science Research Center.

Contact Dave Grossi

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