Real Police vs. TV Police: What TV Gets Wrong About Police Work

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Real vs TV Police: What TV Gets Wrong About Police Work

A few hours of police drama on TV would convince anyone that America’s men and women in blue hold the toughest and most adrenaline-fueled jobs in the country. Because of all the action, police TV shows have been and continue to be popular fare. In fact, many of 2019’s most-watched shows are crime dramas or police TV shows, such as “Breaking Bad,” “Orange is the New Black,” “NCIS,” “CSI” and “Law & Order.”

However, while being a police officer is certainly exciting and rewarding, screenwriters commonly dramatize situations. Because of this, TV often gets the facts about police officers wrong. So, what are the differences between real police work and these dramatic depictions?

Misconception 1: Police officers spend a lot of time in court waiting to testify.

Truth: On television, officers are often seen in background of courtroom scenes, waiting as person after person testifies. Between patrol, responding to emergency calls, maintaining files and delivering warrants, police officers are too busy to sit in a courtroom. They usually come only to testify when needed and then leave.  

Misconception 2: The jury hears every detail of the case. 

Truth: A jury may move in and out of the courtroom several times during a trial while lawyers debate points of procedure in front of the judge. Shows such as “Law & Order” often semi-realistically depict attorneys having conversations in the judge’s chambers, but sometimes the stories demand dramatic clashes in front of the juries, too. However, in real life, such scenes are rare, if not nonexistent. 

Misconception 3: The courtroom is packed with spectators.

Truth: In nearly every TV show, the benches behind the lawyers hold an array of onlookers, including reporters, family members, police officers and random observers. Court in real life isn’t like that. A lot of cases never make it to trial and are instead settled between attorneys. The few that do end up in court typically don’t attract any spectators beyond family members and close friends.

Misconception 4: Police officers are frequently in high-speed car chases. 

Truth: High-speed car chases are a very dangerous and real part of a police officer’s job, and while they do happen, they don’t happen as frequently as they do on TV. There’s hope that car chases will become less frequent with the increased use of spike strips, which tear open the tires that pass over them.

Misconception 5: Last-minute choices between cutting the blue and red wire happen every day.

Truth: Aside from the officers of a bomb squad who are trained specialists, no one spends their days defusing bombs, and even they can go a few days without a bomb being called in. However, police officers do spend every day protecting neighborhoods, saving lives, building lasting camaraderie and helping people make better choices.

Where to Learn More

Take the next exciting step in your law enforcement career with an online B.A. in Criminal Justice from Notre Dame College. Our program is designed for working police officers and provides the training and skills you need to become proficient in industry topics, increase your salary potential and make a more significant impact on your field. You can transfer credits from previous education and receive 30 credits for your experience as a police officer.