Are fictional good cops actually bad cops?

Should we be seeing so many ‘good cops’ on screens?

In light of the recent BLM movements, police forces both in the UK and across the pond have come under scrutiny. After the producers of Brooklyn-99 announced they were scrapping the new series and starting again, the question around the role of the media in police representation arose – should we be seeing so many ‘good cops’ on screens? By Sadia Nowshin.

In case you’re not familiar with Brooklyn-99, the show follows a tight knit group of New York detectives. The team is headed up by Captain Holt, a black, openly gay detective who many have highlighted offers a representation not often seen in police shows.

The main point is: the officers in B99 are presented as objectively ‘good’ cops. I’m a fan of the show and have rewatched the whole thing a few times; however, when you look beyond the ‘loveable’ characters, you can understand why the producers made the decision to start the new series from scratch.

These detectives aren’t perfect, and the show doesn’t pretend that they are. However, there are some particularly shady points that are glossed over in favour of the personal lives of the characters.

The protagonist gets a man deported to save the feelings of his best friend, arrests a perp without sufficient evidence and scrambles desperately to find the proof to charge him, and his stint in prison where he experiences police brutality in the system is instead made into an opportunity for a joke.

Though the show addresses some “real world” problems, like racial bias in the force and corruption in the NYPD hierarchy, it falls into the “not all cops” argument. Cops can be bad, sure, but we love these ones enough to excuse their behaviour.

Andy Samberg, who plays the main character Jake Peralta, announced that they would be taking a “step back” from production so they could “rethink” their plans and make a show they felt “morally okay about”. Terry Crews shared that producers had the scripts for four episodes but “just threw them in the trash” and that they would now “start again”.

B99 isn’t the only detective show where the audience are compelled to believe the characters are the good apples in an overwhelmingly ‘bad’ basket of fruit – but the question recent BLM movements has inspired is, what role does the media have in the representation of the force?

Arguably, the role of the media can’t be underestimated. So much of how our opinions, impressions of groups and conversations around issues are shaped is influenced by the media we consume.

Police representations can range from the comedy of B99 or Hot Fuzz to the dramatic scenes in Line of Duty or Luther. The pattern across them all is that the situations that form one part of the plotline – a stop and search, police brutality in prison, the drugs war – have real victims in reality, who aren’t addressed. As has become even more apparent, those victims are disproportionately black, and that’s no laughing matter.

As with any entertainment medium, we have to remember that while these characters and their actions are, after all, fictional, such shows can still massively influence people’s opinions. Knowing that the shows don’t necessarily represent an objective reality is important to keep in mind – which is where those who responded to the BLM calls to defund or reform the police force with “but this fictional cop is good!!” missed the mark.

Applying a made-up scenario to try and devalue the struggles of those in reality just proves the power of the media in shaping people’s perceptions on these issues.

To gain a more rounded image, you have to take the time to look at the other side of the coin. It’s the side harder to see, where police aren’t the loveable goofballs saving the day, but are actually implicit in a system that many feel is irreparably broken.

Here are a few suggestions:

🎥 The Stanford Prison Experiment film
🎥 Whose Streets? – Ferguson following the murder of Michael Brown Jr
🎥 Copwatch – on citizens filming police activity
🎥 The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson – a pivotal figure in the Stonewall riots
🎥 13th and When They See Us – on the racial bias of the justice system