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.
This is a prevalent mistake that, in a movie, ups the story's ante quickly and ratchets up the action. We automatically assume a showdown is coming when they reach to defend themselves. In real life, however, cops don't walk around with their fingers on the trigger, and they certainly don't dramatically cock them either. 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.
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.
Because most cop movies and TV shows are aiming for a largely male demographic, they don't see a lot of flesh, and when they do, it's usually a naked lady. But cops are forced to deal with naked men on a surprisingly regular basis. To name a few, there's the naked man who maced a cop; the naked but armed man; and that time the cops got the wrong nude guy. Onscreen, from True Detective to L.A. Confidential and at all points between and beyond, there are countless examples of female nudity, most typically portrayed as a sexual relief of sorts or counter to for male officers. Male nudity, however, remains rare.
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."