Created By: QuestionMarker on March 4, 2014 Last Edited By: QuestionMarker on July 14, 2014
Troped

Calling The Cops On The FBI

Hindering covert law enforcement by making them suspicious to regular cops

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Trope
So the Government Conspiracy is after you for a crime you didnít commit, or maybe you really did commit one and the Secret Service is on your tail. Either way, the Spies In A Van are parked outside your house and you canít leave. So what do you do?

Call the cops.

The weaponized version of Jurisdiction Friction, this is when someone chased by a covert branch of law enforcement blows their cover by making them suspicious to another branch and then escapes in the confusion. When captured, a similar tactic is Police Brutality Gambit, where the same effect is achieved by way of Internal Affairs. This trope is often averted when the Government Conspiracy creates a false criminal history for the pursued, so regular law enforcement is after them as well.

Alternatively, bystanders may call the cops if they see the covert agents behaving suspiciously, leading to an unintentional version of this trope. The odds of this happening are doubled if the agents are the good guys.

Compare Right Hand Versus Left Hand, where the law enforcers end up clashing without third-party influence.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • Thomson and Thompson of Tintin find themselves in police custody more than once due their bungling efforts at stealth.

Film - Animation

Film - Live Action
  • In at least one of the Bourne films, Jason Bourne calls the local police to confuse and deter the CIA chasing him. On other instances across the three movies, they show up on their own, because random secret service members probably shouldn't be able to go around shooting each other in France, Russia and the United States.
  • In Enemy of the State, Will Smith's character sees the Spies in a Van parked outside a house that he needs to enter unseen. So he calls the city cops and spins a tale about conspicuous men in a van who might be doing drugs. Queue the spies when they hear the call on the police radio:
    "Oh, eat me. Thatís us."
  • Used by Richard Kimble in The Fugitive when being chased by Marshal Sam Gerard.
  • Hackers. The title computer criminals harass their arch enemy, Secret Service agent Richard Gill, by creating a fake criminal record for him that causes the police to arrest him.
  • At the end of Mercury Rising, Cowboy FBI Agent Art Jeffries is able to prove that he (and the Idiot Savant kid that he's been protecting during the whole movie) are being chased by murderous members of the NSA. The final encounter ends with a Big Damn Heroes attack by a Hostage Rescue Team, which curb stomps the Big Bad's Dragon and provides a distraction for Art to save the kid.

Live-Action TV
  • Burn Notice
    • In the pilot Michael at one point loses his FBI tail by paying a couple kids to tell a Miami-Dade PD bicycle cop that the FBI agents asked him to get into the car with them, and then leaving while they try to sort it out.
      Michael: For fifteen [bucks] I wanna see some tears, okay?
    • In The Teaser of "Hard Bargain" Michael calls the police on a guy from the Central Security Services (part of the NSA) he's supposed to meet with. In this case he's actually just trying to get a read on the man to make sure he isn't an assassin sent to kill him.
      Michael (voice-over): Calling the cops on someone can teach you a lot: a foreign agent will run. So might an armed assassin. A bureaucrat's gonna ... act like a bureaucrat.
  • Columbo: In "Murder, Smoke and Shadows", when eating in movie shooting area cafeteria, Columbo witnesses a pair of actresses discussing what seems to be vital evidence to push forward his investigation of murder. The discussion is later revealed to have been staged by the murderer in order to actually derail the investigation. Later, because a security guard stops Columbo on accusation of stalking actresses, effectively preventing him from following the pair and verifying things immediately.
  • Graceland has a variation. The FBI discovers that a bounty has been offered by the Caza cartel for the capture of Mike "The Marine", one of Mike's undercover identities. They set up a meeting with the cartel thugs where Briggs will pretend to sell out Mike and then the FBI can swoop in and arrest the bad guys. However, the bad guys realize what is going on so they instead call the LAPD to bust up a dog fighting ring that is located in a building next to the meeting place. The resulting chaos makes a mess of the FBI surveillance and two thugs are able to abduct Mike right from under the FBI's noses.
  • In Torchwood the Cardiff Police and the titular organization have an...interesting relationship. The police have been called on Torchwood multiple times, only to end up grumbling about "bloody Torchwood" when they are legally obligated just to let them just do whatever and have them take jurisdiction over the weird stuff. Communication between the two gets slightly better once Andy gets promoted to full on Friend on the Force.
  • This happens from time to time on The X-Files, due to the strangeness of the cases that the main characters deal with. Like, for instance, when tracking down psychic children, onlookers thought that the Mulder and Scully were abducting them, and tried to call the police to stop them.

Real Life
  • In Real Life, cops get called on Private Detectives all the time, as this Cracked article describes.
  • One of the victims of Stalinist purges in 1930s USSR, one military officer named Primakov, tried this trick on the NKVD agents sent to get him from the train he was travelling on. He ordered his men to immobilize and disarm the agents, then, when the train stopped on a station, escort them to the local police as "suspicious men in disguise". Surprisingly, it worked, but then Primakov continued travelling on the same train. At destination, a much larger and better armed party of "suspicious men in disguise" was waiting for him.
Community Feedback Replies: 48
  • March 4, 2014
    DAN004
  • March 4, 2014
    KingZeal
    • Used by Richard Kimble in The Fugitive when being chased by Marshal Sam Gerard.

    Possible Page quote:

    Kimble: "Officer, officer! There's a man in a trenchcoat waving a gun around and screaming...at a woman!"
    *Gerard comes running around the corner screaming with his gun drawn, and is seized by officers*
    Policeman: "Let him go! He's a US Marshal!"
  • March 4, 2014
    Bisected8
    Also compare Police Brutality Gambit (which generally involves getting IA, the IPCC or whatever the relevant authority is on their case).
  • March 4, 2014
    robbulldog
    Live Action
    • The Scarecrow uses this trick in Batman Begins, when asked what to do about Batman in the asylum... "What anyone does when a prowler comes around... call the police.
  • March 4, 2014
    wanderlustwarrior
    In at least one of the Bourne films, Jason Bourne calls the local police to confuse and deter the CIA chasing him. On other instances across the three movies, they show up on their own, because random secret service members probably shouldn't be able to go around shooting each other in France, Russia and the United States.
  • March 4, 2014
    Larkmarn
    Wouldn't this be Calling The Cops On The FBI since you're specifically not calling the same organization? Current name sounds more like Who Watches The Watchmen where someone is trying to report a cop to the police and not getting anywhere.
  • March 4, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    In Torchwood the Cardiff Police and the titular organization have an...interesting relationship. The police have been called on Torchwood multiple times, only to end up grumbling about "bloody Torchwood" when they are legally obligated just to let them just do whatever and have them take jurisdiction over the weird stuff. Communication between the two gets slightly better once Andy gets promoted to full on Friend On The Force.
  • March 4, 2014
    frosty
    Is this only intentional stuff, or would it cover accidental incidents where a bystander calls the cops on a plainclothes detective or something?
  • March 4, 2014
    CobraPrime
    Happens on the first episode of Burn Notice, Michael bribes a kid to go to a police officer and accuse Michael's FBI tail of asking the kid to sit in their lap.
  • March 4, 2014
    StarSword
    TV:
    • Burn Notice:
      • In the pilot Michael at one point loses his FBI tail by paying a couple kids to tell a Miami-Dade PD bicycle cop that the FBI agents asked him to get into the car with them, and then leaving while they try to sort it out.
        Michael: For fifteen [bucks] I wanna see some tears, okay?
      • In The Teaser of "Hard Bargain" Michael calls the police on a guy from the Central Security Services (part of the NSA) he's supposed to meet with. In this case he's actually just trying to get a read on the man to make sure he isn't an assassin sent to kill him.
        Michael (voice-over): Calling the cops on someone can teach you a lot: a foreign agent will run. So might an armed assassin. A bureaucrat's gonna ... act like a bureaucrat.
  • March 4, 2014
    QuestionMarker
    @ Larkman: good point, since this trope only really applies to covert law enforcement anyway. I'll change the title and the laconic to reflect this.

    @ robbulldog: I'm not sure if Batman would count, since he's not part of any law enforcement agency, and that might be too broad a definition for a workable trope. Could use some opinions on this.

    @ frosty: accidental incidents definitely count.
  • March 4, 2014
    dalek955
  • March 4, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    Compare Right Hand Versus Left Hand, where the law enforcers end up clashing without outside influence.
  • March 4, 2014
    TheTitan99
    • This happens from time to time on The X Files, due to the strangeness of the cases that the main characters deal with. Like, for instance, when tracking down psychic children, onlookers thought that the Mulder and Scully were abducting them, and tried to call the police to stop them.
  • March 5, 2014
    DRCEQ
    • On more than a few occasions, Lupin and his gang from Lupin III has called the local police to mess with and slow down Interpol's Inspector Zenigata from chasing them down.
  • March 5, 2014
    Arivne
    Film
    • Hackers. The title computer criminals harass their arch enemy, Secret Service agent Richard Gill, by creating a fake criminal record for him that causes the police to arrest him.
  • March 5, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
  • March 5, 2014
    DRCEQ
    I'm not sure if this would count or not, or even if would be a subversion, inversion, what have you.

    • A subversion frequently happens in American Dad, where Stan has tried to use his status as a CIA agent to get muscle his way into or out of situations involving other agencies. For example, after he momentarily hijacks a plane just to deal with an issue with his mother's new boyfriend, the air marshal wasn't going to take any excuses and still took him down. Regular police investigations have also turned him away because it isn't his jurisdiction.
  • March 5, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    Italicized + namespaced an example.
  • March 6, 2014
    Chabal2
    Thomson and Thompson of Tintin find themselves in police custody more than once due their bungling efforts at stealth.
  • March 9, 2014
    ryanasaurus0077
    In at least one Lupin movie, Lupin does this in person by grassing on Zenigata to the local police while disguised as the old shamus himself.
  • March 9, 2014
    Lumpenprole
    Often averted when the Government Conspiracy creates a false criminal history for the pursued, so regular law enforcement is after them as well.

  • April 2, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    OK, that sounds like a good aversion note.

    And, yeah, Bump.
  • June 17, 2014
    QuestionMarker
    The American Dad example sounds more like Right Handversus Left Hand, for it to be this trope there needs to be a third party, either the pursued or bystanders, to initiate the conflict.

    Edit: clarified the description a bit: the bystanders version can also happen to antagonists.
  • June 17, 2014
    partner555
    I think the title is misleading, since it doesn't have to be the FBI.

    How about Calling The Cops On The Surveillance Team?
  • June 17, 2014
    nielas
    • Graceland has a variation. The FBI discovers that a bounty has been offered by the Caza cartel for the capture of Mike "The Marine", one of Mike's undercover identities. They set up a meeting with the cartel thugs where Briggs will pretend to sell out Mike and then the FBI can swoop in and arrest the bad guys. However, the bad guys realize what is going on so they instead call the LAPD to bust up a dog fighting ring that is located in a building next to the meeting place. The resulting chaos makes a mess of the FBI surveillance and two thugs are able to abduct Mike right from under the FBI's noses.
  • June 17, 2014
    NemuruMaeNi
    • Columbo: In "Murder, Smoke and Shadows", when eating in movie shooting area cafeteria, Columbo witnesses a pair of actresses discussing what seems to be vital evidence to push forward his investigation of murder. The discussion is later revealed to have been staged by the murderer in order to actually derail the investigation. Later, because a security guard stops Columbo on accusation of stalking actresses, effectively preventing him from following the pair and verifying things immediately.
  • June 17, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Removed the Lupin III entry for violating How To Write An Example (Keep it Specific) and Example Indentation In Trope Lists. Replaced it with The Castle Of Cagliostro, and alphabetized it in "Films", because it is an animated movie. Also name spaced Will Smith.
  • June 17, 2014
    Lumpenprole
    Suggest that title should read Calling The Cops On The CIA
  • June 17, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ it's more commonly FBI, tho.
  • June 17, 2014
    Quatic
    Well then why not Calling The Cops On The Feds?
  • June 17, 2014
    ryanasaurus0077
    Why not come to a quick consensus on the title and Just Launch It Already?
  • June 17, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Title is good enough. It isn't about "local law enforcement arresting federal law enforcement". It's about "local law enforcement sent to arrest plainclothes/covert agents".
  • June 17, 2014
    QuestionMarker
    I don't think the term used in the title has to be all-encompassing as long as it is indicative of the trope, that's what the description is for. Besides that, I just think FBI sounds better than the other variants.

    Also, shouldn't Anime films still be under Anime? That's how I've always seen it done.
  • June 17, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    No. All animated films go in the "film" section. "Film" can be split into "Film - Live Action" and "Film - Animated". See Media Categories.
  • June 21, 2014
    Bisected8
    What about Set A Cop To Catch A Cop (as a play on "Set a thief to catch a thief")?
  • June 21, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ it's more like framing a cop.

    Maybe Set A Cop To Capture A Fed.
  • June 21, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    Name's clear enough as is let's Just Launch It Already
  • June 21, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ agree...
  • June 22, 2014
    lakingsif
    @crazysamaritan I've always seen it done as animated films go under Western Animation, and anime films go under Anime. I believe that's how it says in the Wiki guidelines.
  • June 22, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ No, that's exactly the wrong way to do it. From Media Categories FAQ:

    What category do animated films go in?

    They get their own category, namely Films — Animation.

    Why do animated films get their own category?

    To avoid confusion over whether they belong under Films or Western Animation (or Films or Anime & Manga, for Japanese animated films). No, that's not how it works with the namespaces.
  • June 22, 2014
    lakingsif
    ^ I'll remember them. (There's an FAQ for that?) I know that I'm not the only one, as most examples I see are written the wrong way. I do clarify examples, when requested, if they're an animated or live action film, so maybe that rule was intrinsically rooted in my mind, anyway.

    Question, though, why are so many Disney and Pixar films in the Western Animation namespace, then (where I got the idea that's where examples are listed from)?
  • June 22, 2014
    QuestionMarker
    I'm inclined to say it's ready for launch, since there's no concensus about the title I'm keeping it as is. Couple more things:
  • June 22, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    ^^ because people do things wrong :) ~Paradise Snake and I have linked two pages that share that.

    Also: Animated films are animated films, regardless if they're made in India, Japan, or France.

    ^ Not Crime and Punishment. How many indexes do you want? I like a minimum of three, but this I can see finding a few more. An image would be pretty hard. I don't think I could figure out that one for this trope.
  • June 22, 2014
    aurora369
    Real Life: one of the victims of Stalinist purges in 1930s USSR, one military officer named Primakov, tried this trick on the NKVD agents sent to get him from the train he was travelling on. He ordered his men to immobilize and disarm the agents, then, when the train stopped on a station, escort them to the local police as "suspicious men in disguise". Surprisingly, it worked, but then Primakov continued travelling on the same train. At destination, a much larger and better armed party of "suspicious men in disguise" was waiting for him.
  • June 23, 2014
    randomsurfer
    I think the separate "Films - Animation" category is relatively recent. Tropers don't always know that they're supposed to be separate, and/or the trope page was written before that decision.
  • June 23, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    If by "recent" you mean "at least two years ago", then yes.
  • July 14, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Bump!
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=npnoxiykvs65orqcbgi1c83w&trope=CallingTheCopsOnTheFBI