The Lopsided Arm of the Law

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

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

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

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

Contrast Crooks Are Better Armed, when the police may display all the firepower they have, yet still they are under gunned by the criminals.


Comic Books
  • Justified in several Garth Ennis stories about The Punisher, where gangsters pay off the police or blackmail politicians to ignore them and focus on catching the Anti-Hero Frank Castle. Also subverted in that most of the police actually side with the vigilante and don't exactly work overtime trying to catch him.
  • Zig-zagged during Marvel Civil War: some comics had the "Cape Killers" ignoring actual villains to go after heroes violating the Super Registration Act, while the main series and some other comics claimed that the heightened presence of both registered and unregistered heroes was causing a record roundup of supervillains. The fact that villains joined both sides probably confused matters even further.
  • In The Dark Knight Returns the Mutant Gang practially controls the entire city, killing whoever they want whenever they want. The Mayor goes to the leader to negotiate, and the leader kills the Mayor by ripping his throat out with his teeth. The new Mayor still is open to negotiating. Meanwhile Batman, the one person standing up to the crimewave, is wanted by the police for his vigilante activities, and after he is mistakenly thought to have killed the Joker a full scale SWAT Team manhunt is on for his arrest. And then there's the government sending out Superman (and some hefty National Guard support) to take him out because Gotham was the only city that (mostly thanks to him) didn't devolved into lawlessness when the Coldbringer nuke exploded...

  • The Death Wish series of movies depict the police as having given up on controlling gang crime, yet hounding citizens who actually defend themselves.
  • The Joker in Batman is able to murder a man in broad daylight and walk away with minimal henchman intervention. But when the Batmobile guns through the streets, the Gotham City Police Department remembers how to make roadblocks.
  • In The Crow, Detroit has a one-night surge of arson the cops can't do a thing about. A double-murder of a public advocate and her boyfriend rates a couple of squad cars that only show up long after the violence. Start killing off criminals, though, and we have multiple squad cars, a large armed response, a _helicopter_...
  • The Dark Knight Rises had a particularly bad example. Batman is chasing Bane's men and the police go after him instead. John Blake actually calls out his superior on it.
  • Justified in The Film of the Book Kiss Me Deadly, where the police go after Mike Hammer and ignore the true villains because Hammer is unwittingly complicating matters related to a miniature A-bomb...and because the police hate him with good reason.
  • In Last Action Hero the villain realises he is in "the real world" because this suddenly applies. He can shoot someone and then yell that he has shot someone with no consequences.
  • RoboCop (1987): The second-worst beating poor officer Murphy gets during the course of the movie is from the armory's-worth of guns of his own fellow officers when the Big Bad declares him a rogue. The same officers who are mysteriously absent during the crime wave in Old Detroit.
  • The police in Sin City are incredibly corrupt and as such, pretty useless. However, they sure shouldn't be able to send off 20-30-plus-men kill squads in full SWAT gear so freely...
  • Terminator Salvation: Though not technically cops, the human resistance has a similar problem, barely able to summon a poorly-armed token force to deal with the machine incursion but sending out a battalion to deal with the mistakenly-villified hero.

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

Video Games
  • In Earthbound, the Onett Police do nothing about local gang the Sharks, but they zealously oppose Ness after he defeats the Sharks by arresting him under false pretenses and forcing him into a Mook Chivalry battle.
  • Heavy Rain is really guilty of this. Once, the protagonist is ordered by the Origami Killer to drive his car backwards through traffic on the freeway. The police response time is measured in seconds. In general they're much better at hounding him than they are at actually finding the real killer.
  • Watch_Dogs seems to have this in effect. A big part of the game is using the city's own crime-prediction system to find and stop crimes in progress (assuming you don't do a few crimes of your own). You also use the system to hunt down and expose other criminal masterminds. Yet the cops don't seem to have the ability to make use of this at all; they're more interested in making life difficult for you.
    • Justified because both the villains and main character are using something called the ctOS to aid them. The cops are going after you because you're a vigilante going after the people controlling the ctOS.

Western Animation
  • Inspector Gadget: The rest of the Metro City police only turn up at the end of the episode, except for the two or three shows where Inspector Gadget is framed; then the entire department turns up to arrest Gadget himself.
  • The Simpsons: This changes from episode to episode, but while in a lot of them the police is flat-out useless (a quote by Wiggum is even the page quote for that trope), on other episodes (ex. "Simple Simpson"), the moment someone else takes the law into his own hands (or the episode calls for extreme Police Brutality or Corrupt Cop show-offing), suddenly the Springfield Police Department has some degree of competency, fully-equipped SWAT Teams (and/or more men than Wiggum and Those Two Guys, period), automatic weapons (and automated batons), chopper support, tanks...
    • To compound matters Homer isn't even really fighting crime. He's just humiliating jerks who deserve it. Lou points this out to Wiggum but he doesn't want to hear it. The armed response was their to stop Homer from pieing Quimby after he unapologetically bulldozed an orphanage to build a plastic surgery clinic.