The role of police officers in society is a hot discussion topic: specifically, what is considered appropriate cop behavior and what crosses the line into criminality or fuzzier gray areas. One aspect that makes this discussion even more complicated is that the popular cop image in movies and TV is usually not a depiction of what being a police officer is really like. The portrayal of police officers in entertainment tends to help shape public opinion, so when Hollywood gets it wrong, scores of movie- and TV-viewers are getting it wrong, too.
It's easy to forget that movies and shows featuring cops are, first and foremost, entertainment. Accuracy often takes a backseat to dramatic tension and high-stakes storylines. And while this can make for nail-biting, sometimes thrilling viewing, it shouldn't be relied upon as a realistic peek into what it's like being a law enforcement officer. Ask any officer, and you will likely be given a long list of what movies get wrong about being a cop; below are some of the more common inaccuracies that pop up on the big and small screens.
Suspects Don't Always Talk
On the TV show Castle, mystery writer Richard Castle and NYPD detective Kate Beckett were often seen interrogating suspects. Many of these suspects talked: some confessed, some told what they knew, some lied. But they almost always talked. Real interrogations aren't usually this straightforward. It takes a lot of cajoling to compel a suspect to talk, and when they do, there can be considerable deflection and avoidance of the questions being asked. Plus, a suspect who has been arrested can invoke their Miranda Rights and choose to remain silent until they've met with a lawyer. Some experts even advise people to never talk to cops…ever. So, initiating a conversation with a suspect is incredibly difficult, despite what Castle led viewers to believe.
Where's The Paperwork?
In Die Hard, Bruce Willis's NYPD officer seems to destroy most of Los Angeles, but not one scrap of paperwork or documentation is completed. This simply would never happen in real life. Police departments are required to do a mountain of paperwork on each and every call they receive. All of this red tape is the reason there are desk-cops whose major responsibility is to process the paperwork needed to make the precinct run. But all cops, regardless of position, must complete the appropriate paperwork. One statistic suggests that cops spend as much 85% of their time on this crucial administrative task. Clearly, John McClane didn't get the memo.
Guns Being Drawn On The Spot Isn't Glamorous
This is a prevalent mistake that, in a movie, ups the story's ante quickly and ratchets up the action. A gun is drawn, so we automatically assume a showdown is coming. In real life, however, cops don't walk around with their guns drawn, their fingers on the trigger, and they certainly don't dramatically cock the weapon. Unfortunately, there have more reports in recent years about cops drawing guns prematurely, leading to controversy surrounding race, police, and the justice system. But some movies have pushed gun use to its absolute extremes in a glamorized way. Take the Lethal Weapon movies, for instance. Murtaugh and Riggs frequently have their guns pulled and at the ready. Danny Glover even has his gun drawn in the movie poster. Does it make things exciting? Yes. Is it accurate? No.
Kicking In Doors Is A Lot Harder Than It Looks
We're all familiar with the classic image of the cop busting down a door. In Straight Outta Compton, it made for a thrilling start to the opening scene. But kicking in a door is no easy feat, regardless of how strong you might be. Those who work in law enforcement as well as fire and rescue undergo extensive training to knock down doors quickly and effectively, and though it's often dramatically stylized in movies, it's not like every other response is going to end up that way. In police or search and rescue circles, it is commonly known as "door breaching" or "forcible entry."