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Police Brutality

Q: How many Metropolitan Police officers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. They just beat the room for being black and arrest the bulb for being broke.

When police aren't useless, then they're sadistic bullies.

Even though nobody likes being bossed around by the police, it's their job and they have to do it whether we like it or not. Some types of policemen, however, are thugs who take a cruel pleasure in beating and tormenting people they don't like, for no reason at all.

Though Truth in Television to some extent, this is often exaggerated in fiction. Sometimes to make a statement about ethnic relations (Do the Right Thing); as part of a gloomy Film Noir-type Wretched Hive setting (Sin City); or as part of a futuristic Dystopian State Sec setting (1984).

In movies, this was originally a portrayal only American films got away with. For example, the critics responsible for French New Wave Cinema famously complained about censorship that forbade French police being portrayed as anything but professional and competent.

A quick breakdown of police brutality trends in fiction: the LAPD beats your ass and then decides what crime you committed; the NYPD shoots you a few dozen times then pronounces you innocent; 1930s cops are drunk Irishmen who beat you up for being Italian; 1960s cops are sober Irishmen who beat you up for having long hair, or are old White evangelicals with a thick drawl who beat you up for being not-White; old-fashioned Bobbies beat you up for being a foreigner or minority suspected of loitering; big town cops beat you up for being a foreigner or minority suspected of terrorism; small town cops pull you over, tell you that your tail light is busted, and then bust your tail light with a nightstick when you ask which one (and give you a ticket for it). Of course, all might not be as it seems.

Note: Now and again, American movies filmed in or set in the 1930s and 40s will show a cop shooting at an unarmed, running suspect. Though shocking to us now, this was not considered brutal or excessive at the time.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a relatively free country and unfortunate to witness police brutality, surreptitiously filming it is a good way to back yourself up.note 

A common way to make a Rabid Cop character. Not to be confused with the Police Brutality Gambit (although its users hope you will). See Killer Cop for when the police officer goes a bit beyond brutality. A combined subtrope of this and Hellhole Prison is when correctional officers/law enforcement in a detention setting such as a jail or prison are just as bad, if not worse, than the other inmates for brutality.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Ginza in Speed Grapher likes to "self-defense" suspects (it's her catchphrase and she actually uses it as a verb). This means that if she arrests you and you aren't cooperative, she's likely to shoot off at least one of your extremities.
  • Revy mentions this while monologuing about her past in Black Lagoon.
    When I was a brat, crawling around in that shithole city, it seemed God and Love were always sold out when I went looking. Before I knew better, I clung to God and prayed to Him every single night — yeah, I believed in God right up until that night the cops beat the hell out of me for no reason at all. All they saw when they looked at me was another little ghetto rat. With no power and no God, what's left for a poor little Chinese bitch to rely on? It's money, of course, and guns. Fuckin' A. With these two things, the world's a great place.
  • In One Piece, there's one division of the Navy that, in an organization of Knight Templars and Well Intentioned Extremists, absolutely relish in this; The G5 branch. The sailors in the unit are basically thugs who love to torture pirates.
  • In Sakura Gari, Masataka's brother Takafumi dies after being tortured by the police.
  • Though the general police in Death Note are perfectly reasonable (and one is even the protagonist's father), they're being shuffled around like chess pieces by the less-than-softhearted L. And, of course, the chief of police managed to spawn the protagonist.
  • Practically enforced in AKIRA. All the police go over the top on people, arrest protestors in droves, and work for the fascist government hand in hand which is why they aren't stopped.

    Comic Books 
  • As mentioned above, the Basin City Police Department. When Cardinal Roark or some other Big Bad wants somebody gone and the evidence removed, they send in an out-and-out death squad. And these aren't even the worst in the world... the ones working for Stalin were worse.
  • Transmetropolitan.
    Spider: I can see a blatantly unarmed Transient man with half his face hanging off, and three cops working him over anyway. One of them is groping his own erection. I’m sorry. Is that too harsh an observation for you? Does that sound too much like the Truth?
    • The cops get back at Spider by beating the shit out of him outside his apartment. Of course, Spider being who he is, he just laughs off the brutal beating and threatens to bite their testicles off if they come near him again.
      • Of course, it's not like Spider doesn't deserve a couple of blows anyway.
      • Or that he wouldn't carry out the threat.
  • Sam & Max, in all their incarnations, do this a lot. And if they weren't freelance police, they'd probably compensate with just plain ol' 'brutality' instead. Since they're both prime Heroic Comedic Sociopaths, all of it is, of course, Played for Laughs.
  • In Transformers: Robots In Disguise and Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, this is one of the worst flaws of Autobot authority. One of the reasons Megatron became a Big Bad was because he was brutalized when he was an innocent prisoner. The entire Autobot-Decepticon War started because of Police Brutality.
    • Robots in Disguise Sideswipe and Whirl, the guy who caused the spoilered incident, police the now neutral cybertron and casually mention hating and beating on the neutrals. Prowl is the security director and has a fanatical hatred of them, and later deploys the Decepticons for crowd control (at this point the neutrals had erupted into a violent riot, and had even shot their leader), and two of them, Needlenose and Horri-bull, stay on as police, they tried to beat up a guy who was making graffiti (Prowl does have standards though, and he stops them).
  • Nextwave features a cop who goes around beating up criminals; and demanding they give him his cut. Taken Up to Eleven when he turns into a giant robot and starts destroying the city.
  • Obviously a feature of Judge Dredd, but played with somewhat. While the Judges are violent and aggressive there are lines and crossing them can get you forced out of the Justice Department or even sentenced to 20 years on Titan. Or even worse, the Special Judicial Squad will be sent out to execute a Judge who gets too trigger-happy on the populace.

    Films — Animated 
  • In quite a daring move for a G-rated direct to video movie, An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island features a police force who savagely beat down protesting factory workers with their clubs, are being paid under the table by corrupt factory owners, and deliberately start a race riot. You know, for kids!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • An early example can be found in the 1941 Film Noir I Wake Up Screaming and its 1953 remake Vicki. A detective browbeats his lieutenant into giving him the murder case of a beautiful model. He does everything in his power to pin the killing on her publicist: beating him, breaking into his apartment, and planting evidence. In truth, he's known from the beginning that another man killed her. He doesn't care, though.
  • La Haine shows a particularly brutal vicious circle relationship between the Paris police and a group of teenage thugs from the local banlieues. The police raid the deprived banlieues, the people who live there fight back, which means the police crack down harder on the area, which means the people start rioting... It eventually culminates in the police shooting an unarmed teenage boy, and one officer and the boy's best friend holding guns to each other's heads. End of film.
    • With a single gunshot, just after the screen goes black, as well.
  • The Maniac Cop trilogy of films is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Likewise with two Psycho Cop films.
  • Lakeview Terrace shows a newly wed couple being terrorized by a corrupt cop neighbor, who is played by Samuel L. Jackson, someone you don't want to mess with. His only problem with them seems to be their mixed-race relationship... although it's also possible that that's just an excuse.
  • In A Clockwork Orange, the cops beat up Alex to the point where he's a quivering, bloody mess in a corner and offer to hold him down to let his parole officer take a few swings at him. After he gets freed, he quickly encounters his old gang members Georgie and Dim, who have been hired as cops. Hilarity Ensues.
    • It becomes clear a bit later on that this hiring choice was entirely intentional.
  • McQ (1974). John Wayne's character is implied to have beaten up suspects in the past. One occasion has a radical giving him lip in a corridor, whereupon Wayne stamps on his foot. When another cop asks what happened, John Wayne replies, "He stubbed his foot on a chair." (The corridor is empty of chairs).
  • The V for Vendetta film has the Fingermen, who are the Norsefire party's Secret Police. They are allowed to pretty much do anything, though as order in England breaks down, people put up with them less and less. This culminates in a Fingerman shooting an unarmed little girl who was spray-painting a V symbol. A lot of people - very mean looking people - then come out of their houses and kill the guy despite his gun and badge.
    • Of specific note is that V only meets Evey because he has to intervene to save her from a police gang rape.
    ...we exercise our own judicial discretion.
    And you get to swallow it.
  • Changeling has this. A mother loses her son and asks the police to get him back. They come back with the wrong kid and have her sent to the loonie bin to keep their credibility. It was a true story.
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has the song "We Love Violence (Join the Fuzz)" where a troupe of singing, dancing policemen extols the virtues of being able to perform violence within the law.
  • In Ip Man 2, one British policeman has his buddies hold down editor-in-chief Kan while he deals out a beating.
  • The first movie in the Michael Bay Transformers series had a cop threaten to "bust [Sam] up" for looking at his gun. Yes, because reaching for a gun won't cause people to automatically look at you.
  • The first Dirty Harry movie has Harry roughing up the Scorpio Killer while in custody to learn where he had hidden a kidnapped girl, and getting called out on it. After Scorpio gets let out of custody because of it and other red tape issues, the killer pays a guy to beat the crap out of him so he can blame the beating on Harry, whose only defense is that it couldn't have been him, cause if he was the one who beat him, the guy would look a lot worse.
    • Subsequent films continue the trend, naturally.
    Briggs: "I've got nothing personal against you, Callahan, but we can't have the public crying 'police brutality!' every time you go out on the street."
  • The Fighter has some cops break Micky's hands simply due to him being a fighter. It's also worth noting that he didn't do as much damage as his brother, Dickey.
  • In 2010 film The Traveler, the Drifter was assaulted extremely badly to the point of coma by Detective Black and the rest of the police officers who were at the interrogation scene. This sets off the entire vengeance plot of the film.
  • In Red State, the local Sheriff accidentally shoots one of the hostages, who had escaped with a rifle in hand. The ATF then panics, declares the entire Cooper family to be domestic terrorists, and orders everyone killed. The federal agents wind up murdering the remaining hostage and several unarmed people over the rest of the movie.
  • The action comedy National Security kicks off with a white cop allegedly beating an innocent black man. In reality, the cop was about to arrest the guy for attempted Grand Theft Auto and resisting arrest (as well as insulting him). Then a "big-ass bumblebee" showed up, and the suspect, who is allergic to bees, asked the cop to get rid of it. Which the cop did... with his nightstick. A tourist films the whole thing from far away and from an angle that hides the bumblebee. The shot of the suspect on TV suggests he was brutally beaten up, due to his face being swollen. He shows up the next day completely fine, explaining that it was an allergic reaction to the bumblebee. He still maintains that he was assaulted, though (the cop does admit in court that he missed the bumblebee a few times and hit the guy). The cop loses his job and is jailed for 6 months (which is done more for PR than anything). When he comes out, the only job he can get is in security.
  • In Menace II Society, Caine and Sharif are beaten by cops and left in a rival gang's neighbourhood.
  • This is present quite a bit in L.A. Confidential. The most noteworthy example is probably the Bloody Christmas scandal, where a bunch of alcohol-imbibed officers rough up a group of unarmed prisoners as retaliation against the beating up of a pair of cops earlier that evening.
  • The setting of Pride and Glory begins with a group of corrupt cops deciding to get rid of Angel Tezo so that they can do business with another dealer. The plan starts to go downhill when Tezo escapes from a botched hit, forcing the group into a frantic search to find and kill him before anyone else in the NYPD discovers his connections with them. The corrupt cops eventually catch Tezo and have him tortured before being killed. Unfortunately, the last moments of the brutality were witnessed by Ray, another officer on the task-force which was assigned to investigate the incident which is later followed by a private interview between a reporter and Sandy, another corrupt officer who soon commits suicide after exposing the group that he used to work with.
  • Seen in In the Mouth of Madness, where a cop viciously beating an unarmed graffiti artist and threatening the protagonist is one of the early signs that something is wrong with people. He later sees a nightmare of the same scene, except that the cop has become an inhuman monster.
  • In Boyz n the Hood, Officer Coffey is a black policeman who shows racism towards other blacks because he thinks they're all criminals. When he and his partner question Tre and Ricky, Coffey shoves a gun in Tre's face to see him scared for his life and explains that he signed up specifically to rough up those he hates.
  • In Killer Klowns from Outer Space, a small-town police officer tries to do this to one of the titular invaders. It doesn't end well for him.
  • Surveillance features a pair of police officers who enjoy shooting out the tires of passing motorists and then terrorizing said motorists, claiming that speeding led to the tire blowing out.

    Literature 
  • In A Clockwork Orange, Dim and Billy Boy abandon their juvenile acts of mayhem and destruction to beat on criminals for a paycheck.
    • The police force displayed in Clockwork is generally less-than-kind; all of them beat criminals from their first appearance to their very last, and do some serious damage to Alex in between.
  • Lampshaded, parodied, and all the rest in Discworld. Any series so very self-aware with an entire subseries revolving around a police force is pretty much required to.
    • Played straight in Night Watch with the Unmentionables, however, and Vimes' personal narration takes great care to note that beating people up in small rooms for good reasons always leads to beating up people in small rooms for bad reasons. This is pretty central to Vimes' psychology — he's pretty strict on himself and his subordinates because he's a big believer in the slippery slope and he wants to make damn sure no one slides down it.
      • However, he's not above making the indirect threat of 'Falling Down The Stairs' if a suspect isn't being cooperative. They tend to be much more agreeable afterward (but again, would you antagonize a Troll or the Six-Foot-Tall "Dwarf"?).
    • The Ankh-Morpork version of "Miranda" includes such clauses as "You have the right not to throw yourself out the window"..... most likely added to give a figleaf to practices under Vetinari's predecessors, Homicidal Lord Winder and Mad Lord Snapcase.
    • A mild version when Reg Shoe, after complaining about the lack of zombie representation in the watch, is recruited by Carrot... and runs up a raft of complaints, all from zombies. He dismisses it by saying they "don't understand the problems of policing in a multi-vital society."
    • In Feet of Clay someone being questioned by Detritus the troll starts saying that it's police brutality and he yells "No! Dis is just police shoutin'!"
  • Standard operating procedure in Judge Dee's 7th c. China.
  • In 1984, Winston and Julia get beaten quite badly by the police during their arrest. And it only gets worse when they're taken to the Ministry of Love.
  • Pretty much the entire point of Stephen King's Under the Dome. The 'police' hired by the town's tyrannical second selectman beat, shoot, rape, and kill whoever they want to without any real fear of retribution.
  • There's a book about a time trapper who was trapped in a burning building and could only travel to a certain period for a set time before being pulled back. He makes multiple trips to San Francisco and tries to stop the rape of a friend in the 60's. His suggestion to call the police just has another friend ask if he wants the police to rape her as well.
  • In Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, author David Simon follows a shift of the Baltimore Police Department homicide unit, and among other things, presents a fairly even-handed view of police brutality. To wit, at least in that department, it's considered unethical to hit a suspect in handcuffs or to obtain a statement (not to mention the officer's career isn't worth it), but it's perfectly okay to goad a suspect into striking a cop (and beating him down "in self defense"; one officer even keeps a photo of the suspect's face afterwards), or for a suspect in a crime involving a cop or their family to "fall down the stairs" several times between being photographed at the precinct and being dropped off at central booking.
    • Interestingly, the book goes into long detail, in an almost lamenting tone, that suspects actually fear the police less and less. In the old days, a suspect thought to have shot a cop was essentially in a race for their life to turn themselves in a precinct completely across town, where they would *only* be beaten. If the guy was caught in the cop's own district, he'd have been shot dead and his death justified as self-defense.
    • While acknowledging that genuine brutality does exist, the book also makes the point that in the homicide unit at least, nine out of ten cases that the detectives will encounter will be criminal-on-criminal violence. The author thus argues that in most cases the detective has little personal stake in the case and little reason to want to to risk a conviction, their clear-up rate and their career just to rough up a small-time criminal in order to prove that they murdered another small-time criminal.
  • In The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, the main character steps in to stop one such incident in 1829 St. Petersburg.
  • Discussed at length in the Andrew Vachss Burke book Terminal. See the quotes page.
  • Occurs in Wise Blood, in two plot-crucial moments. First, an officer pulls Hazel Motes over for driving without a license, then destroys Hazel's car by pushing it over an embankment. Second, two police officers find Hazel lying in a ditch, barely conscious. When they tell him that his landlady wants him to return, he says he doesn't want to, so they club him the rest of the way into unconsciousness and load him into their car. Hazel dies on the way back to his apartment.
  • The Dresden Files in "Fool Moon," Murphy handcuffs an unresisting Dresden and proceeds to slam his head into some furniture hard enough to chip a tooth.
    • While technically still falling under the trope, Harry was not a civilian at the time, he was an (irregularly) licensed private investigator on contract with the police. He was essentially getting beaten by a fellow cop for breaking procedure and the ethics of the profession.
  • In It Can't Happen Here, many of the Minute Men (M.M.s) are bullies at best and sadists at worse, perpetrating atrocities against dissenters and minorities.
  • The Wardens in Theatrica verge on the brutal. Sometimes a harsh accusation from a would-be victim is enough for them to bring the full, violent force of the law down on any given individual. One warden in particular qualifies for this trope...
  • In almost every Philo Vance novel, Sergeant Heath will suggest taking a suspect to the station for "some inside stuff that don't get into the newspapers". note  Justified since those novels predate police brutality laws.
  • An accepted practice, within limits, in the Provost's Dog trilogy by Tamora Pierce thanks to Deliberate Values Dissonance. Beka and her partners frequently hit, thump, kick, and smack their suspects—but they only do it when they're pretty sure it will legitimately help them in their inquiries.
  • Thoroughly deconstructed in McAuslan: MacNeill reflects that the British Army's reputation for gunning down rioters for little reason is pretty well justified, but what do you do when, as a military unit wholly untrained in crowd control, you get put in front of a rioting mob with no non-lethal options, and the situation deteriorates?
    • The Royal Military Police are depicted as having a fairly direct approach, often returning drunks and deserters to their regimental cells in a somewhat unconscious and battered state. however, the Gordon Highlanders' regimental provost - its internal police force - is a model of fair-minded "tough love". You still wouldn't want to cross Provost-Sergeant McGarry=, though.
  • Officer Roscoe Rules in Joseph Wambaugh's The Choirboys is the walking, talking, embodiment of LAPD brutality. He has particular disdain for ethnic minorities and in one scene is seen to tear the moustache off a latino's face.note 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Adam-12: Several episodes have addressed the subject, usually using one-shot characters.
    • While Malloy was almost always able to keep his cool even with the most smug of villains, he blows it in the 1974 episode "X-Force" and is suspended without pay for four days after a suspect he had arrested complains that he was injured. Malloy had arrested a suspected child molester (the crook had raped a 6-year-old girl who lived in the neighborhood), and when the pedophile made a snide remark about how the little girl "got what she wanted," Malloy shoves him against a wall, twists his arm and puts the handcuffs on too tight. (Reed — who ironically was taught by Malloy about keeping his cool in the early seasons — shows up to calm his veteran partner down, and eventually has to make a statement backing the complainant.)
    • Malloy and Reed have also been victimized by claims of police brutality, particularly in the episode "Good Cop: Handle With Care." There, two rogue freelance journalists harass our protagonist officers as they go about their daily work, eventually catching their prey as Reed and Malloy were in the midst of handling a hallucinogenic subject who had gone into a violent seizure. As the officers take the drugged-out man to the emergency room for detoxification, the photographer snaps a picture; the man had a bloody nose, the result of his head hitting the seat frame as he was shaking violently and uncontrollably. However, the journalists' story makes it out to be classic police brutality. Sgt. Mac McDonald (the officers' superior) questions Reed and Malloy, who are of course cleared (although this is not ever explicitly stated in the episode). In the end, the journalists' harassment of Reed and Malloy and insistence that they were rouge cops out to brutalize innocent subjects leads to a tragedy.'
  • Dragnet got in on it at least once as well, in an episode showing the police application process of the time. Friday and Gannon were suspicious of one applicant with a 6 month gap in his background history, and it was discovered he'd been kicked off another town's sheriff force for police brutality.
    • In another episode, an officer got angry at being called a pig, and punched a suspect. It's a crossover, with Reed and Malloy as the backips.
  • Life On Mars: DCI Hunt has a tendency to let his anger be his guide in investigation/interrogation rather than a sense of due process. Yeah, forget things like "facts" or "due process" or "the truth": Let's just go out and reenact scenes from Death Wish.
    • Note that the traditional explanation for suffering injuries while in British police custody is "falling down the stairs"; bonus points if this is in a police station where the cells are on the ground floor.
    • It should also be noted that the conflict between the old-style policing of Gene Hunt and the modern/futuristic policing of Sam Tyler is the central dramatic conflict in the show, but even then, there are external forces in the 1970s for the police to rein in such brutality, as evidenced in the series finale.
  • Ashes to Ashes plays it for laughs more often.
    Gene Hunt: One more thing, luv, about police brutality. Expect lots of it.
  • In the series The Last Detective, while the protagonist is a By-the-Book Cop, his DCI is an Old-Fashioned Copper- think a washed-up Gene Hunt. In one episode, the latter talks nostalgically about no longer being able to have suspects "fall down the stairs".
  • One Anvilicious episode of Angel featured zombie cops whose brutality was so extreme that it would have been unbelievable for regular human cops to behave in such a way. They shot Wesley just for approaching them while they were harassing Gunn and a few of his friends. Of course, it was the LAPD.
    • While certainly not condoning police brutality, the episode briefly explores another side of this trope, when Gunn tells a drug-dealing acquaintance of his that it's people like him that can make police think they have to cross the line. It also notes that before the zombie cops were brought in, the neighbourhood had one of the worst crime rates in the city... but it had plummeted since.
    • Another example in A New World when Connor confronts Angel while Tyke and his gang have them at gunpoint. The LAPD storm in and show no interest in trying to make the arrest, instead choosing to execute everyone, shooting Angel and trying to kill a fleeing Connor. Compare and contrast the Buffy episode Two to Go where the Sunnydale police are unsure of what to do with a vengeful Willow but keep her at gunpoint as she rips open the prison.
  • Vic Mackey and others from The Shield.
    • The show was inspired by the horrific scandal at the LAPD's Rampart Division, which included some rather eye-popping allegations: A bank robbery planned by a police officer, multiple suspects killed with weapons planted on them for justification, actually joining the "Bloods" street gang, stealing drugs from the evidence locker for hip-hop producer Suge Knight, and murdering Notorious B.I.G.
  • In the TV show The Wire, officers regularly assault hoodlums, including minors, in their custody, though few officers are portrayed as actual corrupt cops. It's simply considered part of "the game." Assaulting regular citizens, however, isn't allowed. For example, after Herc mistakes a deacon for a drug-runner, he gets fired for roughing him up.
    • Probably the most serious examples are Kima, Herc, and Carver roughing up the sixteen-year-old Bodie, or Kima, Daniels, and Landsman all taking on Bird, who at the time was handcuffed to a table. In both cases, their actions are considered more-or-less justified because the thug in question "started it", either by throwing the first punch, or by making one too many lewd comments while in custody.
    • Another is when Prez hits a fourteen-year-old in the face with his gun, blinding him in one eye, after which he's taken off patrolling entirely.
  • Parodied on Whose Line Is It Anyway? a couple of times:
    • In game of "Hollywood Director," Brad, playing a cop responding to a car accident between Ryan and Wayne, immediately after arriving on the scene, beat up Wayne for no other reason than because he's black.
    • Another game had Ryan and Colin playing a Good Cop/Bad Cop pair of dishwasher repairmen; the game ended with Wayne stuffed into his dishwasher.
    • Wayne played one himself during a game of Let's Make A Date, when he's given the character of a power-mad highway patrolman. "I don't think anybody gave you license to talk, here in Callihappimussisoopi County!"
  • Parodied a number of times on The Young Ones. In one episode, after Rick has been eulogising Felicity Kendal, a policeman breaks into the house, hits him with a chair, and says "Let me assure you that I would not have done that if you had been Felicity Kendal".
    • In another episode, a man rings the doorbell to the student's flat. He is accosted by a policeman:
    COP: Ho ho ho. Hahahahaha. Well, Mr. Sambo Darkie Coon, I've got your number. You're nicked.
    [We see the man's face. He's clearly white.]
    MAN: Is there anything the matter, officer?
    COP: Ho ho ho, oh dear me. Don't we talk lovely, Mr. Rastus Chocolate Drop. Now listen here, son. I've done a weekend's training with the S.A.S. I could pull both your arms off and leave no trace of violence. Lord Scarman need never know.
    MAN: What seems to be the trouble, officer?
    COP: That's white man's electricity you're burnin', ringin' that bell. That's theft. I've got your number, so hold out your hands.
    MAN: Officer, I represent Kellogg's Corn Flakes car competition. I—
    [The COP removes his sunglasses and sees the man for the first time.]
    COP: Oh. Sorry, John. I thought you was a nigger. Now, Sir, carry on.
  • In the first episode of Sledge Hammer!, the titular officer holds a purse-snatcher at gunpoint and orders him to beat himself up. This is typical of how he treats suspects.
    • In another episode, Sledge pitches the benefits of being a cop on the basis that he gets paid to legally beat up and kill people.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Detective Eliot Stabler gets away with a disgusting amount of this, probably because people consider the guys he badgers and brutalizes deserving of their fates. Even though he occasionally does it to an innocent man.
    • Stabler's the worst example, but he's not the only one: all the main detectives (and the persecution lawyers, occasionally, and the various AD As) runs this trope with a T.
  • A first season episode of Due South had Ray beating a Mafia don senseless (after the Mafia don agreed to talk to him in private, in a locked room) and threatening to tell the entire neighborhood about it unless he agreed to stop harassing a local shoemaker that the Mafia don had ordered a hit on for stealing a hundred bucks from a church's poor box note .
    • Ray made a point of leaving his gun and badge in the car before he went inside to confront the Don, so he wasn't beating the crap out of him as a cop, but as a member of the community (That said, still a cop, still an unlawful beatdown, still counts.) This had some serious unintended consequences later in the show, eventually resulting in Louis's death.
  • There's a Running Gag in Arrested Development wherein George Sr. or his twin brother (or one of them disguised as/mistaken for the other) gets tackled by the police and then one officer clubs them on the head. There was also an instance in which George Sr. was captured by Mexican police who were in a vengeful mood on account of a defective product George had knowingly marketed in the country. He fakes his death and has it reported that the police beat him to death- this actually is what probably would have happened had he not satisfied the officers with a legal argument (read: paid them a large bribe).
  • Happens now and then on COPS, but of course, it's never acknowledged.
  • Babylon 5: Micheal Garibaldi tries to put a random Jerk Ass's head through a tabletop when he refuses to stop talking trash about Marsies during a period of violence on Mars. It no doubt didn't help that Garibaldi's ex-lover lived on Mars, and he had been unable to find out if she had been harmed in the fighting.
    • Usually however Garibaldi (and those reporting to him) avert the trope, particularly when Sheridan has Morden detained indefinitely on unspecified charges:
    Garibaldi: "Look, out there I may play it fast and loose but in here I play it by the book. Now charge him, or cut him loose!"
  • Stella has gotten called for this a couple of times on CSI NY
  • In regular CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, there was a variation on the trope. One of the CSIs slugged a perp, but everyone was ticked off at the guy in general, and Brass calmly said something about not seeing it that way, that the perp attacked the CSI first.
  • On an episode of Frasier, Marty won't stop haranguing Niles's lawyer girlfriend with Evil Lawyer Jokes. Finally, after he asks her "how many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?" she retorts "How many cops planted it there?"
  • The Bill started off as a realistic low-level police procedure series but as time went on got more and more soap-opera like and unrealistic. By the end the easiest way to cut crime in Sun Hill would have been to close down the station and ask the local drug gangs to keep order instead.
  • Bottom played this for laughs in an episode where they were exploiting identity parades for cash. At the end of the episode, the character staging the crimes is found out and looks at the camera. Cue the usual random, mindless violence - by Chief Inspector Grobbelaar and his goons.
  • In Oz, Alvin Yood (Prisoner 01Y218) is a former small town Sheriff jailed for beating a minor who spat on him during an interrogation.
  • The X-Files: Mulder and Scully are usually extremely polite and understanding when interrogating suspects, but Downplayed Police Brutality happened in the episode "Paper Hearts". Mulder gets frustrated while he interrogates Roche, a convicted child molester and Serial Killer, and he hits him very hard in the jaw. A guard walks in, surprised, but when Roche complains, he says he didn't see it. The fair-minded and just Agent Scully is visibly upset and mad at Mulder, but doesn't report him. They have to account for this action, though, because it was videotaped, and their supervisor AD Skinner pulls out a What the Hell, Hero? speech.
  • On Banshee, the townspeople are astounded by how brutal Lucas Hood, the new sheriff, can be toward criminals but since the local criminals have been running roughshot over the town for years, everyone just figures Pay Evil unto Evil and shruggs it off. Furthermore, most of his beatdowns occur during fights where he has a distinct disadvantage (3-1 odds against him, facing a champion MMA fighter, etc.) One deputy objects to Lucas hitting a handcuffed prisoner but since the criminal has been selling poisoned ecstasy to kids, the issue is not raised again. What the townspeople do not know is that Lucas is not really a cop. He is an ex-con who saw the real Lucas Hood get murdered and assumed the dead man's identity.
  • A plot point in an episode of Starsky & Hutch, where a corrupt lawyer hires two thugs to impersonate the titular duo and tail them in a replica of the Torino, beating up everyone the real Starsky and Hutch met with and allowing witnesses to see them, in order to frame them for brutality and get them fired.
  • Slightly subverted in an episode of Muder She Wrote. The prime suspect in Tainted Lady has been harassed by an older sheriff since she was in high school. This got so out-of-hand that he forced himself on her twice. He was even about to rape her while she was in a prison cell.

     Jokes 
  • This Soviet-era political joke:
    The FBI, GIGN, and KGB are arguing over who is best at catching criminals. Eventually, the Secretary-General of the UN gives them a challenge: to find a white rabbit in a ten square mile enchanted forest. Each team is given their own forest. The FBI go first: they set up a network of animal and plant informants, put the forest under 24 hour satellite surveillance, and string microphones all over the area. After a month with no leads, the Americans conclude the rabbit does not exist. The GIGN take a different approach: they set up a perimeter, then burn down the forest, killing everything inside including the rabbit, and offering no apologies: the rabbit had it coming. Then the KGB go in. Five minutes later, they return with a bruised and bloody bear which is yelling "OK, OK, I'm a rabbit, I swear!"
  • A rich old lady in the Deep South can no longer find her jewelry case. She calls the police, telling them she suspects the new gardener, who is black. Two hours after the police arrest him, she finds the case and calls the police back, only to learn that it's no problem, they've already got a confession.

    Music 
  • The song "Police Truck" by the Dead Kennedys is about a group of cops taking out a van for a night of drinking, beating drunks, and gang-raping a prostitute.
    • Also their cover of "I Fought the Law", about police brutality in general and about Dan White, the assassin of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, in particular.
  • Subject of many a Gangsta Rap Protest Song, most notably N.W.A.'s "Fuck Tha Police" and Ice-T/Body Count's "Cop Killer".
  • "Out to Get Me" from Guns N' Roses depict actions from the cruel LAPD.
  • The song "Bad Boys" by reggae group Inner Circle if often thought to talk about cops, and when you look at the big picture about this song, its message is "When you're caught by the cops, you're pretty much dead".
  • The parody song GO COPS plays with this for all its worth.
  • The German punk band called Wizo has a song which called Kopfschuss (Headshot). The song is esp about Wolfgang Grams (was a member of the Red Army Faction, a German far-left terrorist organisation), who got killed by German elite cops at the train station in Bad Kleinen.
  • The Frank Zappa songs "Concentration Moon" and "Mom & Dad" are about police shooting hippies and smashing them in the face with rocks.
  • David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" has the lyrics "Take a look at the law-man/Beating up the wrong Guy/Oh Man! Wonder if he'll ever know.../He's in the best selling show?"
  • The music video for Billy Idol's "Shock to the System" starts out with an amateur cameraman videotaping police brutality in action during a riot, only for himself and his camera to be beaten to a pulp. They fuse together Terminator-style, and the rest is history.
  • Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us" has the lyric "I'm a victim of police brutality"; of the two videos made for it, one is set in a prison with menacing guards and Michael as one of the prisoners — plus footage of the Rodney King beating. He also lists police brutality as one of the things people should worry about more than his personal life in his List Song "Why You Wanna Trip On Me".
  • In fact, there is an entire subgenre of Protest Song with this as one of its main driving factors - the Anti Police Song.
  • Rage Against The Machine's "Live at the Democratic National Convention" video.
  • The Pogues, Birmingham Six is about the wrongful detention and conviction of six men of the right nationality who were within fifty miles of an IRA bombing outrage in Birmingham, England, who were beaten and tortured into confessing by the West midlands Constabulary.
    There are six men in Birmingham,
    In Guildford there's four of 'em,
    Picked up and tortured and framed by the Law
    While the filth get promotion, they're still doing time,
    For being Irish in the wrong place and at the wrong time!

    Tabletop Roleplaying Games 
  • In Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl, The Authority (the group-created villain) is often The State, and is filled with images of riot cops and police brutality.
  • Assaults by corrupt Green-level police goons is one of the many many dangers faced by inhabitants of Alpha Complex in Paranoia.
  • Public Order, the Buro police force in Feng Shui's 2056 juncture, are nearly always some flavor of this, barring the one or two good ones who wind up becoming PCs. Some of the cops in other junctures aren't much better, especially if you have the Ascended as your enemy.
  • The Adeptus Arbites of Warhammer 40K, being essentially Judge Dredd IN SPACE!, do their jobs very enthusiastically. Of course, if they didn't, the planet would soon be overrun with criminal gangs, Chaos cults and genestealers.
  • In Shadowrun, the player characters can interact with police from a variety of jurisdictions. The UCAS (i.e. the streets) were patrolled by Lonestar (motto: Blam! Blam! "Freeze!" Blam!) until 4th edition, when Knight Errant won the Seattle law enforcement contract; they can be just as brutal, are a subsidiary of Ares Macrotechnology (i.e. the biggest developer of weaponry in the world), and are eager to prove they're more capable and less corrupt than Lonestar (who still run the prisons, and a lot of laid off Lonestar cops are now working on the other side of the law as Shadowrunners). Each Megacorporation has its own private security force as well - and since corporations make their own law, to them Miranda is just the name of a hispanic guy. A run against Aztechnology may put you up against Leopard guards (whose brutality is just to tenderize you before the ritual blood sacrifice), while Mitsuhama Computer Technologies pioneered the concept of "Zero Zero" security. "Zero penetration, zero survival."

    Theatre 
  • In The Time of Your Life, Blick, a bully with a badge, tends to beat up anybody who gets angry with him for intimidating other people.
  • Causes the death of the anarchist in Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

    Video Games 
  • The Onett Police Force in EarthBound decides that the best response to a young boy's request to open a closed road is to have five officers try to beat him up. Since said boy has Psychic Powers, it doesn't end well for the police. There's a strong implication that they're being controlled, or at least influenced, by the Big Bad Giygas.
  • In Half-Life 2, the Civil Protection officers (who're somewhere between cops and low-ranking Combine soldiers) are absolute scum. Anyone who so much as looks at them funny gets a beating (the player character merely coming near them makes them threateningly activate their stun batons), they mess around with people just because they can, and the La Résistance character operating undercover as one mentions being 'way behind on my beating quota'; it's not certain whether he was joking or not. They also do their best to slaughter fleeing citizens at the end of Episode One, who're fleeing because the city's about to get annihilated. The only nice cop you come across, besides Barney? A cop who just flicks cans out of rubbish bins and tells you to pick them up for a chuckle, and doesn't even threaten you besides "pick up that can". Throw it at him and you get a brief beating. They're implied to be 100% human on many occasions, so they don't even have the excuse of being brainwashed minions.
  • Mortal Kombat
    • Stryker shows police brutality in his x-ray move, fatalities, and some parts of his fighting style. Though to be fair, Mortal Kombat is brutal. He's even fond of shouting it!
    • Jax's ending from Mortal Kombat 4 should have ended with him putting on shades and the theme song from CSI: Miami:
    Jarek: (Being held over a cliff by Jax) You can't do this! This is brutality!
    Jax: You're wrong, Jarek. It's a Fatality. (Drops him to his death)
  • In Fable, the guards around town beat you if you don't have enough money for a fine... and attacking in self-defense raises more charges against you. Kind of justified in a medieval setting, but still excessive.
  • One of the patients in Amateur Surgeon is a police officer named Officer Brutality... though, apart from his name, not a whole lot implies that he's particularly tough on criminals. After all, he did go to back alley surgeon Alan Probe for treatment.
  • Occurs in Mark Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, wherein the city has enacted draconian measures to prevent graffiti, including assaulting graffiti artists with deadly force. One early level forces you to sneak away from a scene while two officers beat a graffiti artist to death while discussing how they'll decide he "resisted arrest."
  • The FUZZ side-missions in Saints Row 2 have the main character disguising themselves as a police officer and committing wanton acts of police brutality (like breaking up a strike with a flamethrower) for a COPS-style reality TV show.
  • Devil Survivor takes this to Nightmare Fuel levels. At the end of Day 4, when some of the more-maligned cops get their own demon-summoning COMPs, they decide that since Tokyo is locked down and isolated, that they're gonna disregard law and order (or rather, what little of it remains due to, again, Tokyo being cut off from the rest of Japan) and murder some civilians. After seeing one civilian die at their hands, the cops then turn their attention to you and you're forced to fight them.
    • They do portray cops in a good light, mind you. The first one you see risks his life trying to protect civilians from demons. It's only once law and order have broken down that you start seeing brutal cops killing for their own gain. Even soldiers start to do this, albeit to destroy all summoning comps so the lockdown will end, which is a hopeless effort.
  • Lieutenant Carter Blake from Heavy Rain. He assaults Ethan's therapist for refusing to answer his questions, attacks a mentally disturbed suspect who turns out to have nothing to do with the case, and if Ethan gets arrested, Blake will proceed to beat the hell out of him, only stopping when Ethan falls unconscious.
  • All of the Grand Theft Auto games contain this; police will often shoot you for hitting their car. You're often guilty of much more, so perhaps they're justified. However, you can usually run over three or four pedestrians before they'll take any notice. Corrupt police officers are obviously abundant in the Crapsack World and will often hire the player for hits. Particularly notable is San Andreas, where the Big Bad is a corrupt CRASH officer and the final mission takes place during what are basically the GTA world's version of the Rodney King riots.
  • Alan Wake has Agent Nightingale, who at first tries to arrest Alan for the disappearance of Carl Stucky (whom Alan is forced to kill in self-defense). Nightingale is trigger-happy (twice shooting at Alan while a civilian is standing right next to him), a drunkard, and repeatedly blames Alan for various things that he has no control over, such as during one episode where he's screaming about how it's Alan's fault that the Dark Presence is attacking the police searching the woods for him. Averted with Bright Falls' sheriff, who repeatedly calls Nightingale out on his actions and even helps Alan throughout the story. Nightingale isn't even a real agent, having been fired prior to the game's start for drunken behavior. Nightingale's just a jerk targetting Alan to give his own life some meaning. He's also not necessarily in control of his actions; he's just written that way.
  • In Liberal Crime Squad, if you try and fail to run away from the police, they can beat you senseless, even if you were just spraying a graffito. With Death Penalty and Police Regulation laws at arch-conservative levels, it overlaps with Disproportionate Retribution: Death Squads execute on the spot any criminal they catch, no matter their crimes.
  • In one level of Super Scribblenauts, Maxwell takes on the role of a police officer, and is eventually tasked with dispersing a peaceful hippie crowd without killing anyone.And "killing" is the center word.Sure, he can just type "megaphone" and make them disperse...or throw tear gas and flashbangs at them.Or sic a guard dog.Being a game where you can use any word, the Video Game Cruelty Potential is pretty much unlimited.
  • Max Payne:
    • Chapter 7 of the first game is titled "Police Brutality" and, fittingly, features Max (then an undercover cop) interrogating a crook at gunpoint after killing all of his henchmen. The crook tries to call Max out on "police brutality", to which Max calmly replies that he rates pretty high on it. Of course, by that point Max was "so far beyond the point of no return [he] couldn't even remember what it looked like when [he] had passed it".
    • In the third game, Max runs afoul of the UFE, who go beyond shooting back at favela gangbangers to beating down and executing unarmed civilians apparently just for the crime of being in the vicinity. They're actually killing witnesses of their illegal organ harvesting ring.
  • The Krimzon Guard in Jak II: Renegade go significantly past merely brutal and into openly murderous. Their Establishing Character Moment isn't when they cudgel a terrified Jak into unconsciousness; it's when they proclaim "Surrender and die!"
  • Implied several times in Mass Effect.
    • In Mass Effect 1, when Garrus tells Shepard about one of his cases where he brought in one of the suspect's assistants for questioning, Shepard can respond that they don't believe that Garrus was just questioning the assistant, which Garrus doesn't deny.
    • In Mass Effect 2, when you meet Officer Bailey you walk in on him telling one of his subordinates to "make [the suspect] scream a little."
  • This is standard operating procedure for a surprising amount of Security players in Space Station 13, to the point where some servers had to have Security's batons cause an officer to electrocute themselves if they try to beat someone with it while the baton is turned on.

    Webcomics 
  • In City Under The Hill, more often than not, Refugees caught attempting to gain access to the City are killed. In fact, it's preferred that they're dead.
  • The Podunkton police force in Sluggy Freelance like to indulge in this. Their chief officer is actually a former mafia enforcer.
  • Engaged in by The Pun Police in The KA Mics.
  • In Sinfest, a savage beating for a thief.
  • In Quantum Vibe the police on Luna planted drugs on Nicole after discovering she was from L-5 and beat her so badly she spent the next three days in a healing vat. She also didn't get her phone call until she brought it up to the judge, and in prison they arranged for her cellmates to beat her up so they could hold her for assault.
  • Thusfar in Visseria, the members of the Highguard law enforcement whose actions have been important to the story have not had any qualm with dealing with suspects in ways that range from questionable to extreme.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama has Smitty and his robot companion URL, who are just poster children for police brutality. Awwww yeah.
  • Family Guy mocks this to hell and back. In one episode, Peter finds out that he has black ancestors, and everybody starts treating him differently. When a cop pulls him over for speeding, Peter is perfectly polite, and the cop doesn't act unusually until he remembers that particular little tidbit.
    Officer: Are you that white guy who's actually a black guy?
    Peter: Yes.
    Officer: We need backup, stolen vehicle here.
    Peter: But this is my car.
    Officer: Suspect getting belligerent.
    Peter: But I'm not -
    Officer: Officer down! [falls to the ground]
    • In Breaking Out Is Hard to Do, Joe explains even if she's Peter's wife, he couldn't give Lois special treatment while beating and arresting her for shoplifting. Lois doesn't get upset at him for it, telling him she had it coming.
    • In another episode, Joe gets a new police cruiser which has a robotic system for painlessly subduing perps and placing them in hand cuffs. When Cleveland tries it out—Joe's sudden realization and shouted warning a second too late—a computerized voice yells out that he's resisting and arms come down and starts beating him with batons. It goes further, crying out "Look out! He has a gun" and planting evidence.
    • This is also subverted on one occasion, where some LAPD officers are violently beating Peter. Then it turns out they're just doing it so Lois can get a good picture. Double Subverted when the cop takes one last kick into Peter's side when no one is looking.
    • Lampshaded in the episode where all the police have been sent out-of-town, and every white person on the street suddenly unzips themselves, revealing them to be black people in disguise, who promptly sing "Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day)" from The Wiz.
  • The Simpsons parodies this repeatedly.
    Chief Wiggum: Set your nightsticks on "whomp."
    Eddie: Uh, mine's stuck on "twirl."
  • South Park:
    • In one episode, where Cartman is made a police officer, he immediately starts to abuse it, doing things like stopping Stan's dad for speeding. He was driving the speed limit.
    • He also does things like that when he's made hall monitor at school. He immediately becomes a parody on Dog The Bounty Hunter and starts assaulting and "bear-macing" kids for slightest transgressions. Then he becomes the Batman (Chris Nolan version) Expy the Coon, and decides to take the law into his own hands, such as scratching a guy for making out with his girlfriend. Cartman thought he was stopping an attempted rape, despite the girl very loudly screaming "Yes!"
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • One episode had the titular character get arrested by the police. Why? Because he didn't invite them to a party he was throwing.
    • Humorously subverted in another episode, where two cops appear to be beating a suspect, when in reality they were fixing a parking meter


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