Principal Skinner: Bart Simpson, on the side of law and order? Has the world gone topsy turvy?A simple form of The Reveal used to explain why Police Are Useless, and why our otherwise normal characters don't simply ask the police to deal with the dangerous criminals. It turns out the police are the criminals. Generally speaking this trope is intended to rationalize why the main characters don't go to the police with their problems, which tends to be the logical response by normal people to outrageous things like murder plots. This can also be established in the back story and does not need to be displayed on-screen directly. Often involves at least one Dirty Cop by necessity, may include a Rabid Cop, and will certainly occur if there's a case of Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop. Can result in a Have You Told Anyone Else? from the bad cops if someone comes to them in search of a Hope Spot. Unfortunately too often Truth in Television in a lot of countries.
Bart: That's right, man. I got my first taste of authority... and I like it.
Bart: That's right, man. I got my first taste of authority... and I like it.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Fairly early on in Naoki Urasawa's Monster, Tenma runs into a couple of cops who work with/for Johan 'The Monster' Liebert. He doesn't know who else might be, and thus gets really paranoid about talking to the police... rightly so, since shortly afterwards, he gets framed for murder.
- Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys features this as a Hope Spot: the young detective hero has successfully contacted an influential ally in the upper echelon of the police force with his information on The Conspiracy. Surely things will turn better from there on right? Wrong - the police is already in the bad guys' pocket and you have just doomed everyone by revealing your hiding place.
- Third time's the charm for Urasawa, he pulls this yet again in Billy Bat. A man on a car trip through the racist-laden Deep South witnesses a group of Klu Klux Klan members burn a black man at the stake. He goes to the local sheriff, only to recognize him as one of the Klansmen. It's ultimately a subversion: the sheriff is indeed a racist, but the Klansman was his cousin, not him. The sheriff doesn't let personal feelings get in the way of his job as a lawman: he immediately arrests his cousin on suspicion of murder.
- Yatterman Night casts the Yattermen in this role: inside the Yatter Kingdom, they have put their people under hard labor, forcing them into camps. Similarly, they have shot at unarmed people looking for help. Later on the Yattermen are revealed to be a robot army. It's unclear if there are real Yattermen still existing.
- Most police in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's up until the second season are antagonists, seeing as the Big Bad is in charge of the police force.
- Parodied in a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch. A pimp is telling an interviewer about his dealings with the Piranha Brothers.
Luigi: One night Dinsdale walked in with a couple of big lads, one of whom was carrying a tactical nuclear missile. They said I'd bought one of their fruit machines and would I pay for it.
Interviewer: How much did they want?
Luigi: Three quarters of a million pounds. Then they went out.
Interviewer: Why didn't you call the police?
Luigi: Well, I had noticed that the lad with the thermonuclear device was the Chief Constable for the area.
- A major theme in Batman: Year One is that most of the police department is corrupt — this is given as an explicit reason why it's necessary for Bruce Wayne to don a bat costume and terrorize criminals, as often some of the people he beats up happen to be cops who are in on the crime. The first real progress he makes is when he finds out that Gordon can be trusted, creating a legitimate outlet to fight crime.
- Speaking of which, the cops in Bludhaven were worse than the mob, and gained a share of profits made by the actual mob. (Criminals who didn't were killed. Chief Redhorn was a dangerous villain who had ordered Nightwing's death; the only true honest cop in Bludhaven, technically, was Nightwing himself, who joined the force in his civilian identity in an attempt to take it down.
- In Sin City, the police force is so corrupt, it's actually shocking when people find a cop who is clean. In the first story, police death squads are sent after Marv in order to silence him after he's framed for murder. In That Yellow Bastard almost the entire police force are willing to protect a pedophile Serial Killer son of a senator, going so far as to frame one of their own (probably the only good cop of the entire bunch). In The Big Fat Kill, a recently killed Domestic Abuser is exposed as being a hero cop, which is bad news for Old Town (because the truce between the girls and the cops forbids the girls to kill cops that wander into their territory, in exchange for the girls being allowed to protect their own and keep the cops and the mob out). In Hell And Back, the cops are in league with an assassin guild. At least in Hell and Back the police chief briefly rediscovers his morals long enough to help the protagonist finish off the assassins/human traffickers.
- In Origin Story, the US government sends the Thunderbolts to arrest Alex Harris. Alex points out the idiocy of making the Radioactive Man, Venom, and Bullseye a part of law enforcement.
- Episode 3 of Sherlock Season 4 ends with several police officers capturing the Joker. You find out soon afterward that the police are "acutllay corupt cops who were working with Joker & are going 2 come back in next episode".
- The old Chuck Norris movie Breaker! Breaker! features a lot of corrupt cops in a town run by an equally corrupt mayor who assumes his towns new official charter lets him convict and execute people for whatever reason he pleases.
- Fletch. Police Chief Karlin and some of his officers are running the local drug ring, so Fletch can't go to them for help.
- In Date Night, this is the reason why Phil and Claire end up ditching the police station mid-interview to conduct their own investigation — they see their kidnappers walking in and getting some coffee, and are not at all sure they're safe being around any longer. It later becomes relevant information that the whole police force isn't in on it as the plot is resolved when Holbrook contacts someone he knows he can trust to organize the final operation.
- Pineapple Express has this when Dale sees that a police officer in uniform is present when Ted murders a rival criminal — and puts some bullets in him herself just to be sure. Since Dale's a process server, he really should have someone he can talk to about this, but on the other hand, his chronically being high doesn't do wonders for his judgment. Hilariously, he's arrested later on — and the beat officer actually believes his story because it explains iffy problems in the department. Saul completely screws this up by helping Dale escape.
- The bad guys in the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005).
- Hot Fuzz - the Chief of Police turns out to be in on the bizarre "accidents" surrounding the town.
- In fact he's the ringleader; the whole shenanigan is built around winning a contest that's more or less meaningless beyond his wife's annual involvement in the town's participation therein.
- The 2008 French movie Skate or Die shows it in the very trailer: The heroes walk into a police station with their phone film evidence, only to see the killers among the cops. The bulk of the movie is the heroes trying to escape said cops long enough to copy their film to a computer and send it (it was in the years after camera phones but before smartphones and 3G were commonplace).
- In Fight Club the Narrator tries going to the cops when he finds out that Fight Club (now called Project Mayhem) is involved in serious terrorist activities. Except it turns out several police officers are members of Project Mayhem, and have orders to castrate anyone who betrays the group (even if that someone is the leader of Project Mayhem). Cue the Narrator trying to take matters into his own hands.
- L.A. Confidential: Captain Dudley and a large group of his men are setting themselves up as the new LA drug kingpins after Mickey Cohen goes to prison.
- Hobo with a Shotgun: Yeah okay, they're not really the bad guys, but very, very few of them aren't corrupt.
Chief of Police: "We're ALL bad cops!" to another cop.
- In West Side Story, Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke are not only meddling in the affairs of the Jets and the Sharks, but they're also very racist against the Sharks, and don't much like the Jets either because of their status as a gang.
- Flightplan has this at the twist at the end.
"People believe what I tell them to believe. That's how authority works."
- The 2007 Transformers film does it with a twist - the Decepticon Barricade has a police car as his alternate mode.
- In Lakeview Terrace, Abel Turner is able to bully and harass his interracial couple neighbors because he's a well-respected, 28-year-veteran of the LAPD so no one would believe them. At one point, they threaten to call the police, he responds that he IS the police.
- The Professional: Stansfield and his crew work for the DEA, but also murder the entire family (save one) of a man holding drugs for them and don't seem unfamiliar with hiring out professional killers from the Mob.
- The two killer cops who got caught on "film" in Strange Days. Max hints that there are a lot more of them. He's lying.
- A large part of the plot of the movie Witness. Amish boy Samuel witnesses them commit a murder. Later, the dirty cops descend upon the Amish community with murderous intent.
- In Super Troopers, the Spurbury police officers (except Ursula) turn out to be in cahoots with the Canadian marijuana smugglers.
- In Copland corrupt cops from New York have gone so far as to set up their own town in New Jersey.
- In Changeling, the Los Angeles PD engages in gaslighting a victim's mother, eventually verging on a vast conspiracy, to cover up their incompetence in mistaking the wrong boy for the kidnapping victim. Unluckily for them, the mother turns out to be The Determinator. Frighteningly enough, this is strictly Based on a True Story.
- In Suffragette, while technically the bad guy is the government, the policemen are the ones who beat the protagonists up, implying that they are not Just Following Orders but enjoy beating defenseless women, too. That they are no help when one of the protagonists is beaten blue and green by her abusive husband goes without saying; she doesn't even try to go to the police for help.
- In line with his Anvilicious Libertarian philosophical leanings, Dean Koontz has played this card a few times. Intensity has a last minute revelation that the Serial Killer is a young rising star in a local police force, Dark Rivers of the Heart has a murderous FBI agent who kills people he feels are too good for the world, etc.
- Animorphs played with a variant of this; in many cases the cops were controlled by the Yeerks and so going to them would be certain enslavement since they couldn't tell who was a controller.
- In Rose Madder, Rosie is afraid to involve police because her insanely abusive ex is a cop. She does find good cops who really hate guys like Norman, specifically because he gives them all a bad reputation.
Live Action TV
- The Vampires from Being Human have a lot of policemen among their ranks, because, well, someone needs to cover up all those bloodless corpses at crime scenes, right? Herrick and Fergus are examples.
- In the first series of Damages, the malevolent Bearded Man is revealed towards the end to be a cop.
- On Person of Interest HR, an organization of Dirty Cops, is a recurring villain and a major source of Numbers for the heroes to protect. They control crooked judges and prosecutors and have major ties to the Italian and Russian mobs. Even a major crackdown by the FBI does not stop them and they even go as far as recruiting actual mob members into the NYPD to booster their ranks.
- In the first season of House of Anubis, Patricia finds out that the cop she went to in hopes of getting help finding Joy is in on the mystery with the teachers. This only makes her more desperate and suspicious about what's going on.
- The Big Bad of one season of Desperate Housewives was a cop who was harassing his ex-wife and daughter, and even boasted that since most of the force were his friends there was nothing that his ex could do to stop him from killing her. The housewives put a quick end to his schemes with some creative lying.
- Right from the start of Les Misérables the police are vilified, especially Javert, who hunts Valjean endlessly because he broke parol.
- Persona 4: When Adachi answers Namatame's call to the police to tip them off about the role of the midnight channel in the murders (that Adachi committed!), then uses the opportunity to make him unknowingly attempt to commit more murders.
- Ace Attorney:
- In case 1-2, Redd White apparently has most of the police department (and the prosecutor's office) in his pocket, meaning that Phoenix has nobody to turn for support except himself.
- And in case 1-5, the villain is Police Chief Gant, who orchestrated both Neil Marshall and Bruce Goodman's murders.
- In 5-4 and 5-5, the villain is a spy, though he's been impersonating detective Bobby Fulbright throughout the entire game.
- In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, The CRASH unit, especially Officer Tenpenny, are corrupt to the core and essentially extort the player character while turning a blind eye to the gang violence they're supposed to be fighting against, preferring to just let the gangbangers take each other out rather than do any work themselves.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, Arl Howe put his own handpicked men into the Denerim Guards, leading honest-cop Sergeant Kylon to lament;
Kylon: I swear the Arl's men are more criminal than the miscreants we occasionally arrest; some of them are the criminals we have to arrest!
- In Max Payne 3, the UFE are the private army of a Sleazy Politician and in league with outlawed paramilitaries to do Organ Theft on the poor.
- While not actually a peace officer, the Purple Guy in the Five Nights at Freddy's series gets a similar reveal. How did a child murderer break into the local Suck E. Cheese's and grab a mascot costume without the security guards seeing an intruder through the omnipresent closed-circuit cameras? Because he's a security guard himself. This also explains why the animatronics don't trust security guards anymore.
- In Mass Effects back story we have the First Contact War, in which the Turians on a patrol proceed to attack, kill, and destroy human ships and one of their colonys, because the humans were in the process of activating a relay, which is against the law without the Citadel's permission, which the humans had no way of knowing existed. And since the Turians are essentially the Citadel's police....
- In the Alice Isn't Dead episode "Nothing to See," the Narrator learns the hard way that she'll get no help with her search for her missing wife Alice or against her Humanoid Abomination pursuer, The Thistle Man. Not only does a Dirty Cop ignore her complaints and treat her as a nuisance, he does so due to open familiarity with the Thistle Man, and chides her to do as he says. Later, she realizes the scope of the corruption and The Conspiracy as she endures an Incredibly Obvious Tail by police car.