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Captain Barney Miller
Played by: Hal LindenThe leader of the Ensemble Cast. Barney is an average family man trying to keep his sanity as he runs the 12th Precinct, a task made difficult both by criminals and his own officers. He emphasizes using compassion and perspective in dealing with the public, and his signature method is having the people involve talk it out until one of them decides to drop charges unless it's a really serious crime.
- Beleaguered Bureaucrat: On occasion.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Barney prefers to sort out conflicts with perspective and discussion, but Obstructive Bureaucrats and others have pushed him back the breaking point several times to a verbal explosion.
- A Father to His Men: Downplayed, since they're not too much younger than him, but he always goes out of his way when they're in trouble. Wojo in particular views him like this.
- First Name Basis: Although he usually addresses his squad by surname, they regularly call him Barney.
- Happily Married: For the most part, although his wife Liz wasn't seen onscreen (save for a couple of guest episodes) after the first season. They also had a brief separation in season 5, with Barney moving into a hotel for a while.
- Heroic BSOD: After being turned down for promotion a third time, he shuts himself in the office with the lights turned off to brood over the stagnation of his career.
- Informed Judaism: Wojo mentions that Barney is Jewish at some point, although Barney rarely mentions it himself and celebrates Christmas.Wojo: You don't wear the little hat.Barney: I have one.
- The Leader: Type Levelheaded. Barney is remarkably good at keeping calm, or at least calm enough to work towards a solution when the squadroom is going nuts around him.
- Nice Guy: One of his trademarks is getting suspects and complaintants to reconcile instead of pressing charges, although the squad occasionally gets fed up with "that compassion stuff."
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Serves as this to the squad as well as the local community. He'll almost always hear out his officers' concerns and tries to strike a good balance between doing the right thing and making the bureaucrats happy.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: In "Eviction" he insists on trying to mediate the situation instead of just assaulting a hotel to force the tenants out and is placed on modified duty (until the tenants demand him back as a mediator). In "Contempt", he's actually sent to jail over his refusal to name an informant in court.
- Straight Man: Inevitably to whatever zaniness was going on around him. Nowhere more prominent than in "Hash", where he's the only one who didn't eat one of the hash brownies.
Sergeant Nick Yemana
Played by: Jack SooNick is nominally Barney's Number Two. He's in charge of filing and coffee and has an extremely laconic approach to his job. He's good at it, but he can be fairly lackadaisical about the mundane aspects and repsonds to most insanity and annoyances with dry sarcasm. He's Japanese-American (born in Omaha) and served in the Nisei Regiment; consequently he's pretty annoyed when he has to deal with racism and uses his wit to make them look like fools.Tragically, Jack Soo died of stomach cancer in 1979. The cast filmed a retrospective episode in tribute to him, and in-universe references to Nick were made with a wistful air.
- Bad to the Last Drop: His coffee is legendarily awful. In one episode, he uses the water from the leaky (dusty, termite-ridden) roof to make it, in another he's surprised to learn that the "pattern" on the cups was actually mold and mildew. The ginseng tea he ambushes Barney with probably qualifies, too—hard to tell if it's just an acquired taste or if he's as bad at that as he is with coffee.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: Nick usually endures the complaints about his filing and coffee with stoicism, except on the day after his 20-year anniversary on the force. In response to their conflicting requests, he puts on his jacket, guilts them thoroughly, and goes to lunch.
- The Character Died with Him: Although Nick's death was never made explicit in-universe, the way other characters refer to him and his absence makes it clear that he passed on.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: His shabu-shabu. Everyone else is revolted by the smell and his list of ingredients (fish heads, celery tops, etc) and are pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be quite tasty... because he cooked it wrong.
- A Day in the Limelight: He's very rarely the focus of an episode's plot. "Loan Shark" and one of the Christmas episodes put him in the spotlight.
- Deadpan Snarker: He's the best at responding to a situation with an extremely dry quip.
- The Gambler: Yemana is a habitual gambler, though not destructively so (although he does annoy Barney by calling his bookie at work). Usually it's horse-racing, but he'll also bet on sporting events and elections.
- Gallows Humor: Sometimes.
- Ice-Cream Koan: The occasional piece of "Oriental wisdom" from his grandfather. Such as "many things look bleak at the moment of occurance, but at least we ain't got locusts."
- Identical-Looking Asians: Inverted. Nick claims to have difficulty distinguishing white people.
- You Are in Command Now: When Barney is briefly suspended from active duty. His response? "Oh my god."
Detective Stan "Wojo" Wojciehowicz
Played by: Max GailA Polish detective who struggles to pass the sergeant's exam for most of the show's run. He's chiefly characterized by his impulsiveness and hot temper—if Barney has a bureaucratic headache, chances are it's Wojo's fault. However, he's usually trying to do the right thing.
- The Big Guy: He's the most likely to have been involved in physical confrontations, kick down doors, etcetera.
- Character Development: He goes from being an impulsive hotdog who rarely thinks things through to a calmer and more thoughtful person. Lampshaded in the series finale.Harris: God, he is so much improved!
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Prone to making unusual threats to unruly suspects."So if you say that again, I'll pull your lips off!"
- The Dulcinea Effect: Most of his girlfriends are prostitutes; he's only attracted to women he feels a need to "save."
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Occasionally this results in a visit from Internal Affairs over a Police Brutality accusation.
- Hot-Blooded: It gets him in trouble a lot, either because Internal Affairs is investigating charges of police brutality on him or because he accidentally got himself involved in a political situation.
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: Struggles with homophobia through the show's run—he starts out as totally intolerant and clearly unnerved by gay people, but he starts to become more tolerant through Barney's influence and acquaintence with gay men.
- One Head Taller: And just plain big, too, which is why he gets volunteered for a lot of menial physical tasks.
- Raised Catholic: He hasn't been to church in ages. One suspect tries to play off of Wojo's guilt about this; when a police chaplain visits, there's this exchange.Chaplain: Been to church lately?
Chaplain: There's my answer.
- Really Gets Around: A Running Gag. He's always late because of who he was with the night before.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: In the eighth season he finds an antique rifle in the basement. This leads to the 12th Precinct being decomissioned and the building auctioned off as a historical site.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: He'll grant political asylum and often calls in high-level officials to deal with matters that might relate to their departments, much to Barney's chagrin.
Sergeant Ron Harris
Played by: Ron GlassHarris started off as a little bit Jive Turkey (being the squad's main African-American) but his characterization soon shifted into a struggling writer who aspired towards wealth, class, and high society. A studious investor and snappy dresser,
- Attractive Bent-Gender: He insists on having his outfit for mugging detail tailored (he does not buy off the rack). When he emerges in a tasteful lavender dress with matching gloves and hat, the rest of the squad is absolutely stunned—somewhat to his chagrin."I want to look good, but not better."
- The Dandy: Always dressed to the nines. Barney notes his "flashy efficiency" in one evaluation, and Harris even refuses to wear his blues on a mandatory uniform day because he prefers his own wardrobe.
- Debt Detester: Towards Dietrich at least. He insists on paying him immediately after Dietrich beats him at backgammon just in case he gets killed owing. And when Dietrich actually saves his life, he's absolutely outraged and goes to increasing lengths to repay him.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Harris tries to invoke this with his book-jacket portrait. The rest of the squad is quick to poke fun at him over it.
- Failed a Spot Check: He has the squad sign release forms consenting to their portrayal in his novel, but he fails to consider Ambulance Chaser Ripner.
- Her Code Name Was Mary Sue: His novel, Blood on the Badge. It's directly based on events at the 12th Precinct.
- It's All About Me: He really can be quite self-centered.
- The Rival: He considers Dietrich a rival for the squad Smart Guy. Dietrich responds by trolling the hell out of him.
- Smoking Is Glamorous: The Sharp-Dressed Man is also the squad's most avid smoker, although given the changing public attitudes towards smoking, other characters frequently poke at him about this.
- Strongly Worded Letter:
- When Barney is punished for not immediately clearing stubborn tenants from a condemned hotel, Harris announces that "someone is going to get a very hot letter."
- In a previous episode his writing really did expose another precinct's attempted hijack of an arrest by Chano and Wentworth.
- Unusual Euphemism: His many nicknames for Bellevue's mental ward are a Running Gag to the point where other characters are tripped up when he actually calls it Bellevue.Dietrich: My favorite was the "Disoriented Express."
- Waiting for a Break: Harris is waiting for one as a writer; he eventually gets his book Blood on the Badge (which he affectionately refers to as "Bob") published.
- Wardrobe Wound: A victim of this a couple of times.
- "Vandalism:" In the midst of all the considerable damage to the squadroom (upturned trash cans, spraypaint, files thrown across the floor), Harris is most outraged that the vandal cut up his alpaca sweater."There was no need for this!"
- In another episode Harris chases a suspect into the sewer and trips, falling into the waste.Harris: This will never come out!
Yemana: It wasn't designed to!
- "Vandalism:" In the midst of all the considerable damage to the squadroom (upturned trash cans, spraypaint, files thrown across the floor), Harris is most outraged that the vandal cut up his alpaca sweater.
- Write Who You Know: In-universe with his book, Blood on the Badge. This winds up being its downfall when Ripner gets a hold of it and sues for defamation.
Sergeant Phillip Fish
Played by: Abe VigodaThe oldest man on the squad; he's rapidly approaching the age of mandatory retirement. Fish has a host of health issues that make doing his job more difficult, a long marriage that he's tired of, and a general world-weariness. In spite of all that, he hates the thought of leaving his job. He left the show in Season 4 for a short-lived Spin-Off called Fish.
- Calling Your Bathroom Breaks: A significant percentage of Fish's time onscreen is getting up to go to the bathroom, coming back from same, or making some remark about it.
- Commuting on a Bus: During season 3 thanks to his concurrent role on Fish.
- Deadpan Snarker: Mostly through his Aside Comments on whatever's going on.
- Grumpy Old Man: He has little patience with his younger colleagues."Get away from me!"
- Henpecked Husband: He makes his relationship with Bernice out to be this, although she really doesn't seem that bad when she makes a cameo.
- Last Name Basis: His wife even calls him Fish.
- Mistaken for Prostitute: While on mugging detail, Fish arrests an elderly man for this. (Even after realizing that Fish is male, the man still offers to take him to a ball game.)
- Reluctant Retiree:
- When he's told to go on restricted duty because of his health, he contemplates leaving the force entirely. In the end, his pride wins: he declares that himself on restricted duty is worth more than any one of his younger colleagues on full duty.
- He deals with the actual day of retirement by refusing to acknowledge it, or attempting to. Barney has to argue him into accepting it.
Sergeant Arthur Dietrich
Played by: Steve LandesbergDietrich appeared in one Season 2 episode as a transfer from a closed precinct and became a regular character from Season 3 on. An incredibly intelligent and well-read man, the squad turned to him (with varying levels of exasperation) whenever something needed explaining. He possesses an extremely dry sense of humor, but he's more active in exercising it than Yemana.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Inverted. Dietrich is pretty enthusiastic about going on mugging detail, but Barney pulls him because he doesn't look remotely female.
- Comically Missing the Point:
Dietrich: I don't have one.
- When he's forced to give up his gun as part of his modified duty after attending an anti-nuclear rally.Dietrich: I almost feel like I'm being punished somehow.
Barney: You are!
- In the same episode we witness the one time his Berserk Button goes off. Dietrich usually speaks very quietly, but when a couple of inept punks invade the squadroom demanding everyone's guns:
Punk: Come on, you're a cop.
Dietrich: Restricted duty.
Punk: What's that?
Dietrich: I DON'T WANNA TALK ABOUT IT, AWRIGHT?
- When he's forced to give up his gun as part of his modified duty after attending an anti-nuclear rally.
- Encyclopedic Knowledge: He can always be counted on to know more than anyone else in the precinct about any obscure topic.
- Mr. Exposition: Whenever the squad deals with a situation involving an esoteric cultural/scientific/etc concept, Dietrich is the one who has to explain it. It becomes a Running Gag.
- The Munchausen: Dietrich is a low-key version because he's so deadpan. Among the things he's said about his past: he was married as a teenager, got a scout badge for protesting the Vietnam War, has a degree in psychiatry, briefly attended medical school... he's probably joking when he claims he was once a lumberjack. He's able to fool a lie detector when he claims to be alien. (By contrast, Wojo sends it into overdrive pretty much as soon as he's hooked up.)
- Pungeon Master: He's fond of Incredibly Lame Puns and will go to some lengths to set them up.Dietrich: [while spelling a suspect's name on the report] "E-I?"
Suspect: [nods] "E-I."
- Renaissance Man: While it's hard to know the true extent of Dietrich's past (see Munchausen above), he is legitimately knowledgeable about the things he claims to have formally studied, like psychiatry. He also appears to mainly have professors and/or other Renaissance Men in his social circle and will draw on them when he needs help with an unusual case.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: He attends an anti-nuclear demonstration despite it being against NYPD regulations and being explicitly forbidden by Scanlon. He also insists on being arrested along with his fellow demonstrators when it gets rowdy.
- Smart People Wear Glasses: Barney and Nick both wear reading glasses, but intellectual Dietrich is the only one on the squad to wear them constantly.
- Troll: Dietrich really likes to mess with people, usually by making absurd deadpan statements. For example, his response to an FBI agent who says he ought to work for them:Dietrich: I don't think I could work under a man like Hoover.
Agent: Surely you know Mr. Hoover died years ago.
Dietrich: Is that what they told you.
Inspector Frank Luger
Played by: James GregoryThe ol' Inspector frequently drops by the 12th to make Barney's day seem much longer than it actually is with his weird mannerisms and endless stories about the good old days on the police force.
- The Bore: He will trap Barney in his office for ages to keep telling him the same (often greusome) stories about his old partners Brownie, Foster, and Kleiner.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Luger is vocal about his distaste for the police force's new "wishy-washy" methods. When he has to walk a beat with members of the squad, they are highly disturbed by the way he slaps around a purse snatcher.
- Never My Fault: A few times he has forced Barney to counsel him and blamed him for the disaster caused by Luger's own behavior—getting temporarily demoted to captain rather than taking retirement, hating his new job as public affairs officer (a job that he guilted Barney into writing a letter of recommendation for), etc...
- Unwanted Assistance: Any time he ever gets involved in dealing with the public. He even causes a riot when he tells a crowd of angry Hasidic Jews to "go home and take a shave" as a piece of standard crowd-dispersal.
Detective Chano Amengual
Played by: Gregory SierraA Puerto Rican officer who was good at his job and rarely got on anyone's nerves (as the other officers were prone to doing). He was a regular cast member for the first two seasons, but Sierra left the show in the third.
- Heroic BSOD: After he shoots and kills a robber threatening hostages.
- Motor Mouth: He starts talking in really fast Spanish when he's agitated.
- Put on a Bus: He left early in the show, but it's not much acknowledged until several seasons later when his (short-lived) replacement is sent. Ah, bureaucracy.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: He surprises the first suspect of the series (who is Puerto Rican) when he starts talking in his normal voice—he affects a flagrantly formal American accent whenever he's faced with a Puerto Rican suspect because it's so embarrassing.
Detective Janice Wentworth
Played by: Linda LavinSince female officers were still pretty new in The '70s, the writers decided to add one to the squad. Wentworth was keenly aware of being in the boys' club and an extremely dedicated officer, but the actress took a role on another show and didn't become a regular.
- Angrish: After arresting a habitual confessor, she starts with "You know what you are? You're a—" before opening her purse and screaming unintelligeble curses into it.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: With Wojo, particularly when they have to go undercover to catch a hotel thief. They eventually start dating.
- Hot-Blooded: Having spent too many years writing traffic tickets, she's really eager to start making arrests.
- Put on a Bus: Her name still appears on the roster board through Season 3, but Lavin left to star in Alice.
- The Smurfette Principle: Discussed, as female cops—particularly detectives—weren't common and there's some friction around it.
Officer Carl Levitt
Played by: Ron CareyA uniformed officer who is constantly bucking for promotion to detective. He plys Barney with a combination of brown-nosing and guilting for four seasons. He was often temporarily assigned to the squadroom during manpower shortages, but his overzealous attitude often grates on the detectives.
- Butt Monkey: Tends to get stuck carrying the heaviest pieces of evidence, falling in dirty basement water, and burning himself on coffee.
- Character Tics: The little spin he did whenever going out the door.
- Height Angst: He's only 5'6" and believes that this is the main reason he's never made Detective. Played with in one episode where the perp is a little person note who complains to Levitt that "you tall guys get all the breaks."
- Hidden Depths: When everyone expects Dietrich to be able to communicate with a deaf prostitute, it's actually Levitt who starts speaking sign language to her. (His sister is deaf.)
- It's All About Me: He's completely offended whenever Barney interrupts a discussion about career advancement, even though it's usually because of an obvious crisis.
- The Mole: Becomes the field associate for Internal Affairs. They quickly figure out it's him from the litany of excessively trivial offenses he lists.
- The Napoleon: He can get very aggressive because of his height and his perception that it's the cause of his problems.
Lieutenant Ben Scanlon
Played by: George MurdockThe man from Internal Affairs. Scanlon is a vindictive, crawling, suspicious individual who goes out of his way to investigate the 12th on the slightest pretext, which always backfires because they are genuinely good and non-corrupt cops.
- Arch-Nemesis: He considers himself to be Barney's, seeming offended that the 12th is quite free of things to investigate.
- Internal Affairs: He's openly antagonistic about it. Among other things he spearheaded the search for gay officers, assuring Barney that he had no intention of discriminating against them.
- Jerk Ass: He never has any real reason to suspect the 12th of any wrongdoing. He's just vindictive. Hell, he's even upset when Barney's bank comes through with a loan Barney's been struggling to get.
- No Sense of Personal Space: He likes to lean in real close to people to make them uncomfortable.
- Stalker with a Crush: In one of his last appearances he falls for an attractive and obviously wealthy woman. A few days later she comes back to the squad to complain that he's harrassing her.
Played by: Dino NataliAnother uniform from downstairs who fills in Levitt's mail and other gofer duties whenever Levitt's in plain clothes.
- Coming-Out Story: Happens over the course of a few seasons. He writes an anonymous letter to headquarters saying that he is gay and should have not fear retribution if he signed his name, but he confesses his identity to Barney. After some bit appearances, he is standing right there when Mr. Driscoll's ex-wife starts ranting about how she doesn't want him around their son because it's "unnatural" and other such rhetoricnote and snaps, shouting "I'm gay!" Finally, Wojo accidentally outs him in front of Scanlon, but this results in him getting a promotion and a job at headquarters, implied to be from a fellow gay policeman.
- Foil: To Levitt, being thoroughly laid-back.
- Porn Stache: Has a prominent one. It is The '70s.
- Straight Gay: Nobody even suspects he's the writer of the anonymous letter since they're all looking for stereotypical "effeminate" mannerisms.
Mr. CottermanThe proprietor of Cotterman's Liquors and a "regular customer" of the 12th. He has been robbed a truly impressive number of times.
- Expy: In the first season, there was a Jewish shop owner who called himself a repeat customer, only he was played by a different actor and ran a deli instead.
- Marathon Running: Cable channel TV Land once ran a marathon of his episodes called "Welcome Back, Cotterman".
Marty and Mr. DriscollMarty appears from the first season as a habitual petty thief whose chief characteristic was being very, very gay. (Nevertheless, Barney's only issue was with his crime.) He manages to reform himself and appears later with his partner Darryl Driscoll. They supposedly moved to California, but that didn't stop them from showing up at the 12th again a few times.
- All Gays Love Theater: Marty recognizes a Russian defector (who is also gay) as a musician from a production of Swan Lake. Mr. Driscoll also takes his son to Broadway shows on visitation days.
- The Beard: Driscoll was married and had a son before coming out.
- Blatant Lies: Marty tries to explain his attempt to eat a small bag of marijuana with "I was hungry."
- Camp Gay: Both of them are very camp to start with. Mr. Driscoll later appears as further along towards Straight Gay, at least compared to Marty. In one episode he tells Marty to 'stop perpetuating the stereotype'.
- First/Last Name Basis: Marty is always Marty to the squad, but Mr. Driscoll is more often referred to by his surname. (Possibly because they haven't known him as long.)
- Good Parents: Mr. Driscoll is too good a parent for his ex-wife; he takes his son to so many Broadway shows and gourmet restaurants that she feels like the wicked witch in comparison.
- Loveable Rogue: Marty is a habitual petty thief, but he's not ill-natured or otherwise malicious and eventually cleans up his act.
Arnold RipnerRipner is a shamelessly sleazy lawyer who often trawls the squadroom looking for a client in the squad's cage.
- Ambulance Chaser: With absolutely no illusions about what he is. When suing Harris for defamation, Ripner says that his own mother would pick out the unflattering description as him.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Threatens to sue a lobotomist free of charge should he try to operate again on a patient who was rendered mentally incompetent by his amygdalectomy. (He then threatens Barney that trying to describe his actions as "noble" could be slander.)
- Hilarity Sues: His lawsuit against Harris, on the basis that a character in Blood on the Badge is obviously him under another name, single-handedly ends the detective's days of literary fame and fortune.
Bruno BinderAn abrasive, violent, and self-righteous proprietor of a sporting goods store. In his first appearance, he's brought in for putting up posters offering bounties for citizens who shoot thieves.
- Alliterative Name
- Domestic Abuse: He eventually marries. From his wife's fearful reactions around him, it's clear that he beats her. (It's Played for Laughs.)
- Jerk Ass: He has absolutely no sympathy for his fellow human beings, though they tried to turn him into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold in later appearances with a couple of Pet the Dog moments.
- No Sympathy: When Cotterman and another merchant are wracked with guilt over having killed a thief, Binder relentlessly congratulates them and doesn't understand why they're upset.
- Positive Discrimination: Kisses up from the holding cell when Wojo mentions Barney's Jewishness.Binder: Miller, you're Jewish? Hey, you people got a great air force!
- Vigilante Man: The posters. He's later the judge of a community court and takes it way too far by actually setting up a jail (which was not in the official plan).