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Ask a Cop: Real cops vs. TV cops

Ask a Cop: Real cops vs. TV cops

Estimated read time: 10-11 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Detective Hardy is a tough cop, he smokes too much and drinks more than he should. The lines on his face tell a story like rings around a tree. His general expression is of disapproval, regardless if you belittled his mother or gave him a puppy. He is quick to anger and can't stay in a relationship for longer than a speech by the president. His eye wanders so much he had to chip it.

Detective Hardy gets things done, however. It may not be by the book and sometimes may be illegal, but the bad guy goes to jail and the victim is safe. He can kill a guy earlier in the day after a prolonged chase through a busy city, causing a million dollars in damage, not do any paperwork and head home to his trailer on the beach.

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry
Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Detective Hardy always has an informant to go to and plenty of cash to pay him for information. He only works one case at a time and sees it through to the end. You never see the outcome of his cases because it ends with the bad guy in the police car driving away. No one wants to see the court case thrown out for lack of evidence or violating search and seizure laws.

In reality, detective Hardy would be in jail for charges ranging from manslaughter, felony criminal mischief, bribery, domestic violence, DUI, the indoor smoking act and felony tom foolery. He would have been fired about 20 different times and never been allowed to be a police officer again. This is why he is a television cop. He is entertaining, and that's where he should stay.

The unfortunate thing is that people watch these police dramas on the TV and assume that parts of it are true. They obviously don't believe the outlandish things, like us chasing criminals across roof tops and beating suspects into a confession with a bag of kittens. But they do tend to think we are all abusive, we have drinking problems, we can't wait to shoot someone, we can solve any crime if we cared enough and we are all humorless jerks. There are many more misconceptions about us, but let's start with these.

The great majority of us are not abusive at all. If we were charged and convicted of any domestic violence charge, we would lose our job as you cannot own a firearm with a domestic violence conviction. Don't think that the only reason we don't beat our wives is because we don't want to get fired.


For the most part, we are genuinely good guys who want to be happily married and raise kids just like you. I don't even like to raise my voice at home for fear of sounding like some of the people I deal with. I have never cheated on my wife and really haven't even thought about it. This is mainly due to the fact that she is too good for me and I don't want her finding out. Good thing that I'm anonymous!

Police officers on a repeated basis see people at their lowest. We see the worst things you can see, over and over. We have seen fellow officers get hurt and sometimes killed. We have seen people die in front of us or get mangled by a train. I have delivered the worst news you can deliver, telling a wife her husband had killed himself and their kids. Through everything, most of us don't develop any type of addiction to “kill the demons” in our head. We talk it out with each other. We joke, sometimes because it's a better option than crying. We go to counseling and have group sessions to talk about major incidents.

I will admit that there are a few who resort to “the bottle” or start taking painkillers or worse. To be clear, every guy I've known who started down this road ended up getting fired. As many avenues as we have to cope, it's tough to admit to yourself you need help, especially when you are a big tough cop.

My wife and probably a lot of cop wives out there are nodding their heads, agreeing that their husband is not the greatest at communication and can come home moody with no real reason. When they probe, they can get the same answer that you get from your teenager, nothing. We in law enforcement need to do better at identifying co-workers in trouble and helping them.

Tackleberry from Police Academy
Tackleberry from Police Academy

There are some cops who get into law enforcement for all the wrong reasons. This may shock you, but they want to drive fast, shoot guns, look cool and act tough. Whether they were picked on in school or always felt inferior, they give the rest of us a bad name. Every police officer I knew who was like Tackleberry from "Police Academy" has been fired. They all get fired eventually. There is just no room in today's law enforcement for gun-happy nutbags who think every call necessitates an assault rifle and a tactical helmet.

I know there are some officers right now reading this and getting mad. Too bad. Stop watching “SWAT” on Blue Ray every weekend and try gardening. Those Tackleberry cops are still out there, but not for long. When the bulk of us get into a shooting situation, it affects us. It is not a passing event like writing a parking ticket, and it's not something we high-five over and that's the end of it.

The investigation is a long, drawn-out process where regardless of the shoot, whether it was good or bad, you will second-guess yourself, sometimes for your whole career. I get asked this question more than any other, “You ever shot anyone?” or “You ever been shot at?” I can answer the first one as no. I've come close a few times, and that's good enough for me. The second one is also no, at least I hope. I don't have any holes in me yet. Don't get me wrong, I train at shooting whenever I can or remember, and I will gladly compete with anyone who offers.

Because of shows like "CSI," "Criminal Minds," "The Shield," "The Mentalist," etc., people think that we can solve any crime if we just took the time, dropped the donut we are eating and did some work. By the way, I think donuts are delicious, but I am not allowed to eat one for fear of ridicule.

Ask a Cop: Real cops vs. TV cops

Patrol officers can get call after call throughout the shift, with generally no time to write the case they just cleared before going on the next call. It seems that 70 percent of our time is spent writing out reports for issues that do not matter, just to cover ourselves, the department and the city from civil actions. Patrols respond to a large amount of calls from parents asking us to make their kids clean their room or behave, (I'm not kidding).

We go on more civil problems than I can count because Earl keeps flipping cigarettes in my yard and threatening my cat. The other part is racing from call to call, trying to help as many people as we can. Always to a caller who thinks we took way too long to get there. If we do drive too fast, we get a call from our boss advising us that our GPS says we were going too fast and are written up for it. Darned if you do, darned if you don't.

I am amazed every day however at how resilient patrol officers are and how they are willing to go the extra mile to solve a case, help fix a door or jump-start a stranded motorist. I know countless stories of officers changing someone's tire in the middle of a storm, helping to secure a house broken into by burglars or standing up for someone while they were off duty. They never expect a thank-you letter, nor have they received one. But for sure, if they were rude, a complaint will be made immediately.

Detectives have it hard too. They are not assigned just one case at a time that they can work till it's solved. They are assigned many cases, every day, all with victims who want something done. Property crime detectives (vehicle burglary, residential burglary, shoplifts, lawn gnome capers) can get 5-10 or more cases a day. It is not unusual for those detectives to hold about 30-70 active cases.

It is not unusual for those detectives to hold about 30-70 active cases.

Financial crimes detectives can also get slammed with cases, as you know identity theft is everywhere. I could go on about all detective squads, but I feel I need to explain that this is only relevant to larger departments. Most small departments that make up the majority of police departments in Utah do not have separate detective squads. The guy who investigated your mail theft may be investigating a homicide case next. If that doesn't concern you, ask your department how large their training budget is to send detectives to specialized schools. Utah does a pretty good job of providing free training to fellow officers, but most training is expensive.

Detectives start performing the best juggling act they can to solve the most cases possible in the shortest amount of time. Detectives cannot “enhance” video at will and have it come out crystal clear. I have never been able to type in my computer, “locate brown haired males with a scar on the face nicknamed Thud” and have it find anything. There have been bank robberies with unmasked suspects where we couldn’t make out the guy's face! You may or may not be surprised to know also that a large amount of the witnesses and victims to crimes cannot be bothered with showing up to court. Which makes us have to file that case in the cylindrical filing cabinet.

All of this is not at all mentioned or shown on the TV. Sounds pretty boring to me too.

Ask a Cop: Real cops vs. TV cops

People tend to think all cops have no sense of humor, “Just the facts ma'am,” and if they followed them to the station they would see we get plugged in at night to charge. We are all business and have no time for the public. This is not true. I'm hilarious. Everyone says so. Unfortunately, when we are in uniform we are taught to expect the unexpected, to keep our safety in the front of our minds and generally become a little paranoid of strangers.

We can have a regular person come up and in our minds we are thinking, “What's this person's angle?” even if they are just asking directions. I have caught myself a few times doing this, just ask my wife. She hates taking me to work parties. Nothing kills a party faster than me searching guests for weapons. Think about this though, the majority of the people we deal with day in and day out are criminals.

We do speak to true victims on occasion, but a lot of our victims were suspects the day prior. Most police departments stress the importance of positive and professional contacts with the public, and we can be written up and punished for complaints about our behavior. Every cop has a bad day and may do or say something they regret, maybe that was the time they dealt with you?

If you were the Facebook friend of most any cop out there, you would see how goofy we can be. If you run into one of us, let us prove that we are not our job. We shop at the same stores, go to the same movies and yell at our kids at the same T-ball games.

If you want to know how real cops are, go on a ride-along with your local department. Request to go to a citizens police academy. Both of these options are a great way to peer inside the police world without watching TV’s amazing police car chases, explosions and Tazer episodes.

This article is for entertainment purposes only. I do not represent nor am I speaking on behalf of any police agency. I am a law enforcement officer with apparently too much time on my hands.

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