Created By: Sterling7 on August 24, 2011 Last Edited By: marcoasalazarm on September 25, 2013
Troped

The Lopsided Arm Of The Law

Where were all these cops during the well-established Crime Wave?

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Trope
Do We Have This One?? * Needs More Examples

A sub-trope of the Police Are Useless trope; Related to Arrested for Heroism.

The city is in chaos. Crime is rampant, surging, and shows no signs of diminishing. Bad guys walk the streets openly, assuming they don't masquerade as upstanding pillars of the community to get away with bigger crimes. The police are outnumbered, out-gunned, and completely powerless to even begin to address the city's crime problem.

That is, until the hero shows up. No, they're not going to help him. They're going to chase him down as either a traitor, a vigilante, or a loose cannon.

In the process they're going to display such a show of force and numbers that it becomes truly baffling that the crime problem has reached these levels.

Examples:

Comic Books

  • Justified in several Garth Ennis stories about The Punisher, where gangsters pay off the police or blackmail politicians to ignore them and focus on catching the Anti-Hero Frank Castle. Also subverted in that most of the police actually side with the vigilante and don't exactly work overtime trying to catch him.

  • Zig-zagged during Marvel Civil War: some comics had the "Cape Killers" ignoring actual villains to go after heroes violating the Super Registration Act, while the main series and some other comics claimed that the heightened presence of both registered and unregistered heroes was causing a record roundup of supervillains. The fact that villains joined both sides probably confused matters even further.

  • In The Dark Knight Returns the Mutant Gang practially controls the entire city, killing whoever they want whenever they want. The Mayor goes to the leader to negotiate, and the leader kills the Mayor by ripping his throat out with his teeth. The new Mayor still is open to negotiating. Meanwhile Batman, the one person standing up to the crimewave, is wanted by the police for his vigilante activities, and after he is mistakenly thought to have killed the Joker a full scale SWAT Team manhunt is on for his arrest.

Film

  • The Death Wish series of movies depict the police as having given up on controlling gang crime, yet hounding citizens who actually defend themselves.

  • Batman: The Joker is able to murder a man in broad daylight and walk away with minimal henchman intervention. But when the Batmobile guns through the streets, the Gotham City Police Department remembers how to make roadblocks.

  • The Crow: Detroit has a one-night surge of arson the cops can't do a thing about. A double-murder of a public advocate and her boyfriend rates a couple of squad cars that only show up long after the violence. Start killing off criminals, though, and we have multiple squad cars, a large armed response, a _helicopter_...

  • The Dark Knight Rises had a particularly bad example. Batman is chasing Bane's men and the police go after him instead. Robin John Blake actually calls out his superior on it.

  • Justified in The Film of the Book Kiss Me Deadly, where the police go after Mike Hammer and ignore the true villains because Hammer is unwittingly complicating matters related to a miniature A-bomb...and because the police hate him with good reason.

  • In Last Action Hero the villain realises he is in "the real world" because this suddenly applies. He can shoot someone and then yell that he has shot someone with no consequences.

  • Robocop: The second-worst beating poor officer Murphy gets during the course of the movie is from the armory's-worth of guns of his own fellow officers when the Big Bad declares him a rogue. The same officers who are mysteriously absent during the crime wave in Old Detroit.

  • Sin City: The police are incredibly corrupt and as such, pretty useless. However, they sure shouldn't be able to send off 20-30-plus-men kill squads in full SWAT gear so freely...

  • Terminator: Salvation: Though not technically cops, the human resistance has a similar problem, barely able to summon a poorly-armed token force to deal with the machine incursion but sending out a battalion to deal with the mistakenly-villified hero.

Literature

  • In the magazine Cracked, a bunch of baddies are about to rob a bank. A Clark Kent lookalike thinks it's a job for "Cracked Man" (non-recurring character). "Clark" enters a phone booth to change costumes. But when an older lady sees Clark in his boxers and screams, two cops immediately appear on scene and arrest him.

Western Animation

Video Games

  • In Earthbound the Onett Police do nothing about local gang the Sharks, but they zealously oppose Ness after he defeats the Sharks by arresting him under false pretenses and forcing him into a Mook Chivalry battle.
Community Feedback Replies: 33
  • August 24, 2011
    BuckRivera
    I wouldn't frame it as a syndrome. How about just Gotham PD?
  • August 24, 2011
    jaytee
    ^I wouldn't name it after a specific fiction PD at all. There are a lot of attributes that apply to Gotham PD, the title doesn't indicate which the trope is about.
  • August 24, 2011
    CommanderPanda
  • August 24, 2011
    cocoy0
    In Robocop, this is slightly intended.
  • August 24, 2011
    jaytee
    ^^None of those really get the point across that they have plenty of forces to get "batman" and not enough for the real criminals.

    Plot Convenient Police Budget?
  • August 24, 2011
    CommanderPanda
  • August 24, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In The Dark Knight Returns the Mutant Gang practially controls the entire city, killing whoever they want whenever they want. The Mayor goes to the leader to negotiate, and the leader kills the Mayor by ripping his throat out with his teeth. The new Mayor still is open to negotiating. Meanwhile Batman, the one person standing up to the crimewave, is wanted by the police for his vigilante activities, and after he is mistakenly thought to have killed the Joker a fulll scale SWAT Team manhunt is on for his arrest.
  • August 24, 2011
    OmarKarindu
    Vigilantism is the only crime that receives attention: to modify an earlier suggestion, perhaps Vigilantism Is The Only Crime? Or perhaps Hero Specific or Hero Focused Law Enforcement?

    Comic Books
    • Justified in several Garth Ennis stories about The Punisher, where gangsters pay off the police or blackmail politicians to ignore them and focus on catching the Anti Hero Frank Castle. Also subverted in that most of the police actually side with the vigilante and don't exactly work overtime trying to catch him.
    • Zig-zagged during Marvel Civil War: some comics had the "Cape Killers" ignoring actual villains to go after heroes violating the Super Registration Act, while the main series and some other comics claimed that the heightened presence of both registered and unregistered heroes was causing a record roundup of supervillains. The fact that villains joined both sides probably confused matters even further.

    Film
    • Justified in The Film Of The Book Kiss Me Deadly, where the police go after Mike Hammer and ignore the true villains because Hammer is unwittingly icomplicating matters related to a miniature A-bomb...and because the police hate him with good reason.

    Western Animation
    • The rest of the Metro City police only turn up at the end of the episode, except for the two or three shows where Inspector Gadget is framed; then the entire department turns up to arrest Gadget himself.

    Video Games
    • In Earthbound the Onett Police do nothing about local gang the Sharks, but they zealously oppose Ness after he defeats the Sharks by arresting him under false pretenses and forcing him into a Mook Chivalry battle.
  • August 25, 2011
    Sterling7
    Thanks for the examples, Omar Karindu and randomsurfer. "Arrest the Cape Then The Crook" isn't bad, but it isn't exactly elegant or fully descriptive. (Whereas "Gotham City Syndrome", as has been pointed out, isn't sufficiently descriptive at all.) Sometimes these matters are hand-waved, usually with vague explanations about corruption, but sometimes they merely seem to be reality-bending to give the hero a hard time. Maybe something like "Level-scaling Antagonist Police"... Hm, doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. "Inverse Police Response"?
  • August 25, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
  • August 25, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    In Last Action Hero the villain realises he is in "the real world" because this suddenly applies. He can shoot someone and then yell that he has shot someone with no consequences.
  • August 30, 2011
    Sterling7
    What do people think of The Lopsided Arm Of The Law?
  • August 30, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    ^ Brilliant. I've been wracking my brain over this one, normally my name suggestions are at least somewhat decent, but on this one I started thinking that there just wasn't a tenable name out there. Way to prove me wrong. :)
  • August 30, 2011
    Ultrayellow
    ^^I vote for that.

  • September 11, 2012
    Freud
    That's an awesome name. I clicked on this link because of the name alone.

    Also, Comics should be above Film. Do you think that the novel Gone might apply? True, it's not so much a matter of randomly attacking vigilantes as attacking minor threats before major ones, but the same disorganization is there, isn't it?
  • September 11, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • The Dark Knight Rises had a particularly bad example. Batman is chasing Bane's men and the police go after him instead. Robin John Blake actually calls out his superior on it.
  • September 11, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    The first example: which Batman film is that?
  • September 12, 2012
    abk0100
    I assume it's Batman
  • September 14, 2012
    Freud
    It might be The Dark Knight. That movie was all about this trope, as I recall.
  • September 25, 2012
    Sterling7
    Yes, Batman (the 1989 Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson film.) Thanks for the continued revisions and suggestions.
  • March 9, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    The Death Wish series of movies depict the police as having given up on controlling gang crime, yet hounding citizens who actually defend themselves.
  • April 2, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    Sin City: The police are incredibly corrupt and as such, pretty useless. However, they sure shouldn't be able to send off 20-30-plus-men kill squads in full SWAT gear so freely...
  • April 4, 2013
    SquirrelGuy
    In the old "Cracked Magazine" (a MAD Magazine knockoff, and ancestor of Cracked.com) a bunch of baddies are about to rob a bank. A Clark Kent lookalike thinks it's a job for "Cracked Man" (non-recurring character). "Clark" enters a phone booth to change costumes. But when an older lady sees Clark in his boxers and screams, two cops immediately appear on scene and arrest him.
  • September 8, 2013
    dspeyer
    Lampshaded in hpnat20:

    a police response time second to noneā€”an unfamiliar concept to Milo, who was used to a city watch response of roughly 1d6 rounds (if the PC did it) or 1d100 hours at best (if it was anyone else).
  • September 8, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Might this count?
    • In an episode of Barney Miller a couple come to the detectives complaining that their daughter has joined a cult. After investigating, Barney says that since the daughter is of legal age, as long as she isn't being held against her will there's nothing they can do about it. The couple leave and a few minutes later there's a call about a disturbance at the cult's HQ: the couple went there and tried to force their daughter to leave, so the cops arrest the couple. They complain that the cops said it was out of their hands. Barney responds that their previous complaint was out of their hands as nobody had broken the law; but attempted kidnapping, even of your own daughter, is a crime.
  • September 9, 2013
    JoeG
    @Random Surfer. The Barney Miller example doesn't count because Barney has an excellent legal reason for not going against the cultists. They weren't committing a crime. Also, one crime does not equal a crime wave. This trope is for when the police seem powerless to oppose the criminals, but come out in full force against the vigilantes.
  • September 10, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Fair enough. I was just thinking that, from the parents' point of view the cops refused to right the wrong, but when they did something the law came down on them.
  • September 23, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    There's another YKTTW, "Police Death Squads", which may have one or two examples to use... maybe. Dunno really.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=okz59j7xhe4aucsz51y0dvaf

    In any case... one of those ideas could be The Blues Brothers. While it could be justified under the Rule Of Funny, we're still talking about sending the entire police force of the City of Chicago, a good number of National Guardsmen, the collective forces of at least two county sheriffs' offices (from different states no less) and God knows what else, authorized to use Police Brutality, to catch two singers in a speeding car.

    Even if the Blues Brothers had already made the police look like suckers on one car chase already, it's just overkill. The riot concerning the Illinois Nazis' march had a lot less policemen.

    The second movie mobilizes an even bigger manhunt for a simple (unknowing) kidnapping and pickpocketing charge (admittedly, the pickpocketing of the Chicago Police commissioner's wallet, but still...))
  • September 23, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    Double Post-Ok, sorry. But possible example is The Simpsons. This changes from episode to episode, but while in a lot of them the police is flat-out useless (a quote by Wiggum is even the page quote of Police Are Useless), on other episodes (ex. "Simple Simpson", a.k.a. the "Pie Man" ep), the moment someone else takes law into his own hands (or the episode calls for extreme Police Brutality or Corrupt Cop show-offing), suddenly the Springfield Police Department has some degree of competency, fully-equipped SWAT Teams (and/or more men than Wiggum and Those Two Guys, period), automatic weapons (and automated batons), chopper support, freaking tanks...
  • September 23, 2013
    JoeG
    ^^ I don't think Blues Brothers example counts. While it is a definite example of police overreaction, it's missing two important components of this trope. The Blues Brothers were not vigilantes, and the police were not previously shown to be unwilling or unable to respond to a crime wave.
  • September 23, 2013
    DAN004
    Launch?
  • September 25, 2013
    Speedball
    Looks good to me. I say launch!
  • September 25, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    Launch. Any additional examples can be added later on.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=bohstpwvv8oe4fdicicejy31&trope=TheLopsidedArmOfTheLaw