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Police Are Useless: Live-Action TV

  • Dexter series. The whole entire titular staff of Miami Metro acted as immature Junior High students, as they back stabbed each other over promotions and obsessive personal relationships. Among these crazy antics are blackmail, La Guerta black mails Mathews for a promotion forcing Mathews into retirement,obsessions La Guerta tracking Dexter for framing Doaks, and work place love triangles. The position of Lieutenant of Homicide passed between 3 different detectives in a span of 7 years. Frequently complications from these relationships would overlap into Dexter's self protection niche. The show revolves around themes of Dexter trying to navigate between the character dysfunctional dynamics of his work place and ponder his awakening humanity, while maintaining familiar relationships with his sister, friends, and family consisting of his insecure wife, vulnerable step children and son. Did I forget to mention.. HE'S A serial killer who hunts other violent malevolent killers? While the homicide detectives decide to have these childish tantrums, Miami was in a 7 year terror grip of serial killer after serial killer....including Dexter, no less! On this note, why didn't the FBI allocate a presence there permanently seeing how Miami is a city of very very vulnerable senior citizens being vulture stalked by 7 years worth of final boss like serial killers including Dexter. Like you'd think the Obama and Bush administration would pour buckets of funding into the local chapter of the FBI? Hmmmm gee, lots of serial killers are congregating in Miami... not state wide, but the Miami dot on the map! Perhaps there's something rotten in Miami?
    • The incompetence of Miami Metro, and their relaxed stance including Quinn's constant relaxed drunken weekends, Batista's side business Cantina. And even bowling night actually worked to Dexter's advantage as he was able to use the FBI databases to conduct cross examinations to confirm his victim's culpability Odd seeing how Dexter was NOT a detective. He was a civilian professional (a blood analyst) tech lab... Wow relaxed standards...But it all works out in the end as incompetence of the detectives allowed Dexter to satisfy his urges which is the premise of the show. So what DID the detectives actually do? Nothing...
  • Not once during the run of The Sopranos is there any hint that anyone in New Jersey law enforcement might be interested in investigating Tony and his gang for any crimes.
  • The Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "I Wish To Report A Burglary." Someone goes to the police station to report a burglary, and is shuffled from officer to officer, all along the while being asked to make his report in different vocal registers. Hilarity Ensues.
    • I'm sorry, I can't read this, sir. Could you try it in a different font?
      • CALLING ALL SQUAD CARS IN THE AREA!!!!!
    • Subverted in the "Science Fiction Sketch", where an officer interrupts to inform the viewer that a man could have saved his wife's life if he had just gone to the police to inform them that a blancmange had come to him and ordered 38,000,000 kilts to be delivered to Andromeda, and proceeds to give the helpful advice that if you ever see anything weird involving other galaxies, you should immediately go down to the police station, and they'll send a squad car over to investigate. Of course, the officer investigating the wife's murder is eaten by giant sentient blancmange in the very next scene.
      • Played straight later in the same sketch when a woman (well, technically Eric Idle in drag) tries to consult the police, but the officer she talks to is more concerned about the fact that she claimed to have played doubles despite there being a total of five people than he is about the Blancmange that was playing in the same tennis court.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: Comically portrayed, through the bumbling of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and (to a lesser extent) deputies Enos Strate and Cletus Hogg. Although Enos is presented as a competent (though certainly not excellent) officer, he's had his moments where his superior skills have not been evident, particularly in the 1983 episode "Too Many Roscoes," where — after an experienced bank robber who is a dead ringer for Rosco bungles simple facts about his friends, but remembers in exact detail an expected armored car shipment at the bank — Enos fails (several times) to even become suspicious about the phony; instead, he gets upset when "Rosco" shows his "forgetfulness."
  • Murder in Coweta County: In the TV adaptation of the true story of John Wallace, the lawmen and judges of Meriwether County, Georgia, are all under the control of ruthless, sadistic land baron Wallace, and this allows him (Wallace) to savagely beat his sharecroppers and hired hands regularly, make moonshine runs, rob people and run roughshod throughout the county doing whatever he pleased, beating and raping whoever so much as slightly blinked wrong at him ... and the police would do absolutely nothing (sometimes, they'd even assist(!)). Wallace's actions against sharecropper Wilson Turner are especially callous and heinous, and regularly ignored and/or condoned by the sheriff's department; when Wallace fires Turner for making too much money on his moonshine runs and refuses to compensate him for his mortgage or crops, Turner — knowing he would never stand a chance in small-claims court — takes matters into his own hands, but this will all lead to his death. Wallace arranges for Turner's release from jail on the theft charge ... only the two had colluded to set up Turner's brutal fate. (The killing of Turner takes place in neighboring Coweta County, and this will lead to Wallace's ultimate downfall, as he will soon be dealing with a lawman who is not only honorable but more than useful.)
  • BJ Andthe Bear: Most often portrayed with B.J.'s arch enemies, Sheriff Elroy Lobo (in season 1) and Captain Rutherford Grant in season 3. He is rarely, if ever, able to get any other lawmen to help him in other episodes, leaving him to solve crimes.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cops of Sunnydale are "deeply stupid", and according to Buffy if you get them involved you'll get them killed. Much of law enforcement is in on the town being designed to feed monsters. In Season 9, Buffy is wanted by the police for killing vampires.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Judoon are useless, unless you're stupid enough to assault them. Then, in their words, "Justice is swift!" Although the Doctor does point out they're less a police force and more like intergalactic thugs-for-hire.
    • Lampshaded then averted in the episode "Blink": a background character is watching TV and asks why no-one goes to the police; this prompts Sally to ask the police herself, and they're pretty competent. Not entirely equipped to solve the case of "the woman who was transported back in time by living angel statues" admittedly, but who can blame them?
    • Also used earlier in "The Idiot's Lantern", and for similar reasons. The Police want to do something, but lack both the manpower (due to an upcoming Coronation ceremony) and any clues (due to People's faces disappearing being out of their league) to do anything until the Doctor lends a hand. Once again, it's hard to blame them for being ill-equipped.
    • But it's okay, because the Doctor will just step inside this police box and arrest himself.
    • Inspector Mac Kensie from Ghostlight is a stereotypical flat-footed cop who spends all his time gorging food and impotently trying to impose his authority on everyone around hom.
  • The WWE security staff seems to be made up of guys the road agents rounded up at a nearby gym. They are totally incapable of defending themselves against any wrestler on the card or even putting someone in any kind of restraining hold or lock, which you would think would be an essential part of the training for a job that requires controlling 300+ pound men on the warpath.
    • Unless of course a Heel authority figure orders them to beat up a Face, at which point they instantly gain superhuman strength.
    • Then of course there's the matter of wrestlers regularly committing blatant assault and even attempted murder on national television, and yet not a single one has been prosecuted or even arrested. Not to mention how many crimes Vince McMahon alone has confessed to before a stadium of witnesses.
  • Subverted in Highlander: Methos repeatedly derails epic showdowns by calling the police on them. Apparently two men going at each other with broadswords is not an Unusually Uninteresting Sight in a modern day city.
    • Brandishing dangerous weapons in public, disturbing the peace, hooliganism. Any cop witness to such who didn't try to break it up wouldn't be doing his/her job. Besides, you could put someone's eye out with those things.
  • The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries: not ONE episode on the Hardy Boys' side in season one or two had a single case of the cops ever believing what the brothers' said. At least, not at first. Usually, said cops were just as likely to toss the Hardys in jail for disturbing their peace.
    • The episode "Creatures Who Came on Sunday" played with this by having the sheriff be in on the whole secret. He was stonewalling the Hardys with his useless act to deliberately keep them away from the top secret operation on top the mountain.
  • A TV series premise based around this trope: Reno911.
  • Another comedic example, Trick detectives Yabe and Ishihara epitomize this trope. They're more often than not goofing off on the job, going to amusement parks and such, while physics professor Ueda and stage magician Naoko solve the case. The best example of their incompetence comes in season 2 when they run into a group of people in the woods. There's a dead body on the ground, in plain view, in daylight, not a few feet away from them, with Naoko pointing at it. They ignore it and her and instead ask about the stolen macguffin.
  • Became a major plot point on The Shield, when two old women's frantic calls to 911 are ignored allowing the attacker (spoilered for extreme Nightmare Fuel) to jam their hands into the garbage disposal. This causes a massive amount of public backlash, leading to a series of attempts at police murders and a full-blown riot.
  • Subverted in Perfect Strangers when Balki is a victim of a crime. Balki wants to go to the police, but Larry insists that the police are incompetent and they have to deal with the criminals themselves. Sure enough, when they try, they find themselves in deadly danger and the only thing that saves them is the police come out of undercover to catch the criminals.
  • Making the basic premise of Veronica Mars possible is the Neptune County Sheriff's Department. Deputies like Sacks, who border on Too Dumb to Live, make up the majority of the department, while guys like Leo, who are smart and have a good head on their shoulders, don't last nearly as long. But the main reason they're so incompetent is Sheriff Don Lamb, a Smug Snake who only got the gig when Keith Mars was (unjustly) fired. He's more concerned with political maneuvering than solving crimes, he's incredibly corrupt, and in his first appearance on the show he basically laughs Veronica out of his office after she tries to report a rape. The film, set almost a decade later, shows that things have gotten worse. Somehow, Don's even less competent brother Dan somehow got himself elected sheriff, and his main concern is over his public image rather than following procedure and finding the right guy. As he tells Veronica, he doesn't care if Logan is guilty; all that matter to him is that "America thinks he's guilty". Slightly subverted in that Veronica records him saying that and leaks it to the press. Oops.
  • On an episode of Seinfeld the police completely brush off Jerry when he calls them about being stalked by a madman who has made death threats. Kramer tried to warn him.
    • In the episode "The Summer of George", Elaine tries to tell a cop that a psycho coworker has threatened to kill her. The cop's reaction? He laughs at her, and talks about how it's just a "cat fight". Really, now what would you expect from a cop who also happens to be the Almighty Janitor from Scrubs?
    • They then cap it off by doing nothing but standing there laughing and making wisecracks while Elaine is assaulted by Raquel Welch right in front of them.
  • Burn Notice usually justifies the irrelevance of the Miami P.D. in several ways. First, the kind of trouble that Team Westen's clients tend to be in is the kind that immediate police involvement would just make worse (e.g. gang activity); in such situations, TW's plan usually involves getting the crooks to act openly so that the cops can arrest them. Second, many clients are crooks themselves, albeit harmless or sympathetic ones, and calling the police would likely just get the clients arrested. Third, some clients are (usually) inadvertently mixed up in heavy spying shit, and getting the police involved would just lead to a lot of blue-uniformed corpses and not much else. Finally (as Michael likes to point out), cops are beholden to a bureaucracy: they have to follow procedures and file paperwork which can slow them down in an emergency. This last bit does allow Michael to run some pretty effective Bavarian Fire Drills, though.
    • Incidentally, the fact that so many of Team Westen's plans rely on the principle of "get the bad guys to commit a crime out in the open, then have the police arrest them" arguably counts as a subversion. The cops are useful, and are usually clean and competent—it's just that some jobs are simply too big for them to handle without help.
    • The Miami P.D. was also shown to be competent enough to be a pain in Michael's side early in the third season when he up on the grid. Since Michel (and friends) outclass to an incredible extent this shows the epitome of competence.
    • Even earlier, Michael's voice-over deconstructs a typical police chase by pointing out that, in Real Life, your only bet is to try to lose the police for a few seconds and ditch the car before they call in backup and helicopters. Even then it's only effective if you happen to remember to wear gloves and don't leave any DNA evidence.
  • Averted and subverted by the SRU team and most other police forces in Flashpoint as they do their jobs competently and get the job done. But sometimes played straight with others, such as in the episode "Jumping At Shadows" where the team found out an officer was bribed into letting people gunning for a little girl discover her location.
  • Psych. The Santa Barbara Police Department actually isn't entirely incompetent given how many times they've saved Shawn and Gus's lives, but a 2010 episode had the main characters say that they're too afraid to break procedure, and amusingly, like every fictional and comedic duo, when Shawn and Gus actually went into the police academy, they did much better when they pretty much flat out ignored procedure and did something that'd get a real person killed.
    • The trope itself is invoked in a flashback when Shawn's dad forbade him from reading comic books precisely because most comics tend to follow this trope. He tells Shawn that if he wants to be a hero, go to the Academy and wear a badge.
    • Invoked and subverted when a criminal Shawn and Gus catch accuses the police of being stupid and useless, and Shawn replies that they aren't — they're just not as smart as he is.
  • Averted and subverted in Criminal Minds where the local police helping the team are competent and helpful within their expertise and experience, though often outmatched by the Unsub of the Week. Though there are a few exceptions occasionally showing up.
  • Averted in Orphan Black. Despite the fact that Art and Angie are Genre Blind, they're good enough at their jobs that they're on the verge of discovering the clones by the end of the first season, complicating matters for both Clone Club and the various people chasing them.
    • By season 2, Art is in on it, however Angie is not and suspects there is something fishy about the look-alikes she keeps finding.
  • Played straight in pretty much every episode of The A-Team to justify why any particular client couldn't go to the cops to deal with the week's villain. This eventually ended in the final season when the format changed to the team handling government missions instead of working as "soldiers of fortune".
  • Played straight most of the time in the British mini-series Sherlock, except in episode 3 where Sherlock says "Contrary to popular belief, we actually have a secret service in this country".
  • Play straight in most Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series in the Heisei era (except for Kuuga, Agito, Drive and Dekaranger), the local authorities are often absent in last stands against insert evil forces. When they do face them, it is often in the form of Five Rounds Rapid.
  • An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had the detectives searching for the man who had raped and murdered an assistant DA and was now stalking Olivia. When they interview his co-worker, she reveals that the man had been stalking her as well. When the cops ask why she didn't go to the police, she states that she HAD reported it, only to be dismissed. Needless to say, in addition to being terrified for her life, she was now reluctant to cooperate and doubtful that the police could protect her.
    • One could say that this trope gets played straight very often on all versions of Law & Order if the cops in question aren't those from the main cast.
    • And even when other departments make a general stab at helping, you can usually count on them botching it. The incredibly high rate of witnesses getting murdered five minutes after entering "protective custody" is a prime example.
  • A comedic example from The Kids in the Hall: the recurring police officer characters pull over a drunk driver who was doing 90 in a school zone while wearing a blindfold. Then they let him go because their shift just ended.
  • JAG: In many episodes the local police or military base security are rarely useful.
    • The marine provost marshall in "Brig Break" is outwitted by Harm.
    • Sheriff Polk tries to be helpful in "Sightings", but he's a one-man department responsible for patrolling the entire abandoned base and the surrounding area. It doesn't help that J.D. has a reputation for outlandish claims anyways, and that the only explanation he has for Cathy's disappearance sounds like something out of a sci-fi film. He does eventually find Cathy (trying to call for backup for Harm and Meg), but is killed by the drug runners almost immediately after.
    • The deputy sheriff in "Survivors" is outfoxed by Harm.
    • In "Death Watch", we learn that NCIS Special Agent Turque never found the murderer of Diane Schone in "Skeleton Crew".
    • Subverted by Team Gibbs in "Ice Queen" and "Meltdown".
  • Endgame: This is Arkady Balagan's general attitude toward the police department. Given that he grew up in Soviet Russia, it is somewhat understandable that he came to have this attitude.
  • In Everybody Hates Chris, the cops often refuse to help blacks, even when they're black themselves. The whole thing is a parody of the 80s.
  • Parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Look with their futile attempts to catch the "Identity Killer," whose calling card is that he leaves behind clues to his identity at the scene of each crime. Such as, for example, a calling card. By the end they have his name, a picture of him, a tape of him committing a murder, his birth certificate, address, mobile number, a confession, and him sitting in the police station covered in blood. They are baffled.
  • Officer Dan on Married... with Children would rather nap under a bridge than respond to a bank robbery. He also joins a NO MAAM protest instead of arresting them.
  • The Community episode "Epidemiology" goes beyond to the level of the Army is Useless. They make a point out of showing up six hours after the first news of infection. Also, they apparently didn't think of a cure that a doctor in a banana suit casually hypothesized. They seem prepared to eliminate a school full of people because they have a virus that's cured by dropping the temperature 58 degree.
  • In Misfits the police occasionally show up, but never seem to investigate anything, so as long as you don't commit crimes when they're watching you're safe. Most obviously, they appear not to have noticed that over the course of a year about twenty people have disappeared without trace while they're supposed to be at or have recently visited the same community center, including four parole officers, all of them assigned to the same group of people.
  • Batman: Subverted with the Gotham City Police Department: Commissioner Gordon, Chief O'Hara and their whole staff discuss and lampshade since the pilot that they are useless against Super Criminals, so they maybe are useful with normal crime, but since they are also Lawful Stupid and The Cavalry Arrives Late...
    • Although in one episode where Batman and Robin are unavailable, Commissioner Gordon laments the fact that he and Chief O'Hara will have to solve a crime all by themselves. This also shows that while they take solid steps, the episode's Super Criminal is clearly several steps ahead of them.
  • Knight Rider: The local police are usually too dangerous to contact or have been corrupted by the villain, and so they're useless at best, obstructive at worst.
  • iCarly:
    • The episode, "iStakeout" is built upon this. A pair of police officers use Carly and Spencer's apartment for a stakeout on a shopkeeper who presumably sells pirated DVDs. Instead of actually going down to the store and asking the shopkeeper if he sold pirated DVDs (which was suggested several times by the show's protagonists, who end up doing it themselves), the officers eat food out of their refrigerator, and interrupt their web show. One of the officers is a bully from Spencer's childhood, who brings his bratty young son over (who screams very loudly when they run out of soda). The shopkeeper didn't sell pirated DVDs, but instead he sold homemade DVDs where he and his friends played the roles of pirates.
    • In the episode, "iMove Out", a pair of pet photographers trash the iCarly studio due to not wanting to lose their customers after the group starts their own pet photography business. The police refuse to do anything about it since the photographers took photos of his daughter's bunny for no charge and was still bitter about Spencer's "Pee on Carl" sign from the second episode. He instead gives Carly a ticket because the car in their studio had no license plate even though it's a prop.
  • PC Penhale from Doc Martin is hopelessly bad at his job. Lampshaded by Ruth:
    Ruth: Is he really a policeman... or just pretending to be one?
  • The Blacklist: Aside from Agent Elizabeth Keen (who still makes her fair share of mistakes, although it's understandable as she is a rookie), no one in the FBI seems to have a basic level of competence, as they always seem to be two steps behind and are easily played like fiddles. Raymond "Red" Reddington, the FBI's criminal consultant, never tires of pointing this out to his FBI handlers. The FBI's incompetence came to a head in the two part episode "Anslo Garrick", where the FBI didn't realize (until Red pointed it out) that the intelligence they were fed was just a ruse to get Red into a situation where Garrick could capture him. It worked, resulting in Red going off the grid after escaping Garrick at the end of the two-parter, perhaps because he no longer trusts the FBI.
  • Supercop from Scotch And Wry.
  • Played for Laughs in Last of the Summer Wine, where the police just want a peaceful life, so rather than investigating anything suspicious, they tend to watch from a safe distance and then make excuses for not getting involved (usually putting odd events down to either supernatural forces or aliens).
  • Nobody in the Internal Affairs department of the NYPD in Person of Interest can catch a Dirty Cop unless someone from Team Machine hands them over with a ribbon tied on them. On two occasions they end up going after honest cops who were framed by the dirty cops.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Goosebumps: "The police don't help, Chuck. All the police in the world don't help."
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