Parodied frequently on The Simpsons with bumbling Police Chief Wiggum.
In an early episode, Otto drives a schoolbus through a police picnic, running over their food. Chief Wiggum asks if anyone got the license number. No one did.
He makes light of Homer when he reports an alien sighting. Then he does the exact same thing when an arsonist shows up, covered with soot and holding a lighter, confesses to torching a building and admitting he feels like doing it again.
Chief Wiggum receives a call from Marge after Homer gets his finger cut off by mistake, but Wiggum misinterprets it as attempted murder, sends units to arrest her...and asks Marge for her address in order to do so. Later in that same episode, he attempts to confirm through the radio his informant is wearing that it is indeed the dangerous mobster Fat Tony that the informant is seeing, by asking the mobsters himself over the radio. And it later turns out the "informants" he sent were Bart and Milhouse. Next thing he hears is the mobsters shooting the informant and missing.
When he gets an emergency call over the radio from a remote mountain house, he thinks the "over" bit at the ends means the emergency is over.
On a field trip to the police station, Bart sees Wiggum erase the police station's answering machine tape (all 75 messages), asking "Aw, can't anybody in this town take the law into their own hands?"
In "Lisa On Ice", Bart and Lisa play on opposing teams in a peewee hockey championship game. Wiggum, who coaches Bart's team offers to furlough all the inmates in Springfield's prison to watch the game if they promise to come back. When the inmates refuse Wiggum lets them go anyway if they promise not to commit any more crimes (which they also refuse to do). When Bart and Lisa intentionally throw the game to leave it as a tie, Wiggum leads the townspeople in destroying the stadium.
Another time, not wishing to miss a lotto drawing on TV, he hangs up on a 911 call, telling the caller they've "got the wrong number, this is 912".
Ignoring a rash of calls about property damage from a rampaging elephant, thinking they're prank calls, and getting so wrapped up in dismissing them that he starts dismissing every call that comes in, including an officer calling in that he's been shot in a liquor store robbery.
He refuses to believe that Sideshow Bob has broken the law by sending death threats written in blood to Bart until he's shown the actual line in the statute book that spells it out as a crime. He then reads on and learns it's illegal to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling, and has to tell his officers in the next room (who are doing exactly that) to knock it off.
In the "Beer Baron" episode, a tough Federal Agent takes over the police department from the hopelessly ineffective Wiggum and orders the other officers to: "Get a haircut!" "Get those shoes shined!" and "Take that badge out of your mouth!" Even the Federal Agent wasn't immune to the trope. He was so focused on enforcing the dry law he didn't mind Fat Tony dealing drugs. And he ignored Homer walking next to him with beer ingredients while interrogating an innocent Comic Book Guy (shortly after arresting Ned Flanders because "he sounds drunk"). And at the end of the episode he claims that the law is the only thing stopping him from killing everyone who looked at him "cockeyed".
Wiggum once busted Homer Simpson for electronic pan-handling but didn't bother taking the evidence with him. He goes so far as to tell Homer to bring the auto-dialing machine he was using to solicit money to court, otherwise he has no case and Homer will get off scot-free. Homer obliges, being one of the few Springfielders even stupider than Wiggum.
When Marge and Homer come to him for help in getting Bart back from Mr. Burns, he rolls his eyes and asks "can't you people solve these problems yourselves? I mean, we can't be policing the whole city."
Homer tells Wiggum that "someday" the people of Springfield will stop putting up with police corruption. Wiggum responds with a non-sarcastic "Oh my goodness, have they set a date?"
Sideshow Bob runs off from a prison work detail Wiggum is supervising. When informed Bob has escaped, Wiggum tells an officer to write Bob up as having been beaten to death instead of trying to go find him.
When he and the other officers witness a brainwashed Bart vandalizing a Krusty shaped drive-thru speaker with a baseball bat while Sideshow Bob is standing next to him screaming "Yes! Kill Krusty like you will kill him tomorrow!", Wiggum merely comments how nice it is that Bart is using a wooden bat instead of an aluminum one (as well as giving a subtle Take That! to then-recently elected George W. Bush). And then gets side tracked by a mini pinball toy in Lou's Krusty Meal.
Apu pleads for more police funding at a town hall meeting, as he's tired of being constantly shot on the job by armed robbers and may have to miss a day of work if it continues. An apathetic Wiggum calls him a "crybaby".
When Maggie gets a hold of the car, this is Wiggum's reaction:
Wiggum: Aw, isn't that cute? A baby driving a car! [looks offscreen] Oh and look! A dog driving a bus!
After hearing what he thinks is an approaching Biker Gang, a scared Wiggum orders the patrol car to be disguised as a pizza delivery car. As a Take That! to Domino's Pizza, he used their logo as means to be sure the "gang" wouldn't want any pizza they might have (an Affectionate Parody, since Domino's sponsors the show).
In another episode, in an effort to stop immigration into Springfield, he and Eddie set up a checkpoint on the road, but Wiggum was too lazy to capture any of them, and couldn't even capture the one that crawled through his legs.
In the episode that gave us the page quote, Wiggum says later on, when the police arrest Marge: "I said the police are powerless to HELP you, not to punish you."
In the episode where Mr. Burns and Homer steal the trillion dollar bill:
APB: Be on the look out for a maroon, 1939 Stutz Bearcat! (said car goes by) Wiggum: Eh, that really was more of a burgundy.
When pursuing a getaway vehicle, he identifies it as a "red...car?" and gives his location as "on a road, directly under the sun....... NOW!"
When identifying a car theft caused by Snake: "Be on the lookout for a....car of some sort, headed near...you know, that place that sells chili. Suspect Is Hatless, repeat, hatless!"
They have an entire show dedicated to them, in which the theme song is "Bad Cops."
After arresting Sideshow Bob yet again, Bob remarks how he'll be back on the street within the week. Wiggum corrects him to say it'll be later that same day. A similar incident occurs with Snake. He says he'll be back on the street within twenty four hours. Wiggum says he'll try and make it twelve.
The regular force isn't much better. In "Homer at the Bat" Eddie and Lou arrest Steve Sax for murder, on the basis he's from New York City. When Sax asks for an attorney, the cops brush him off with "You watch too much TV."
Sideshow Bob attempts to kill Bart aboard the houseboat the family is living on after going into witness protection. Bart manages to stall him long enough for the boat to run aground near a brothel where the entirety of the Springfield police force has been hanging out, then they quickly arrest Bob.
When Marge joins the police she does her best but quits after seeing all the corruption on the job. She caught Herman who was running a counterfeit jean operation, but Wiggum says they have to release him because there is no evidence. Homer points out there is a whole garage full, but Wiggum notes they have "mysteriously disappeared." Cut to the entire police force wearing the jeans right in front of everybody.
Ralph Wiggum was once seen driving a police car while Chief Wiggum followed him on a tricycle, pleading with Ralph to stop the car and offering to let him play with his weapon.
When budget cuts prevented the cops from having weapons and proper equipment. Lou's speedometer is shown as just a thermos and Chief Wiggum had to draw a weapon on a piece of paper. It was so ill-drawn Lou assumed Ralph drew it.
When an obvious criminal makes a getaway from right in front of him, he refuses to follow, saying "I'd rather let a thousand guilty men go free than chase after them." All of this proves, better than any DNA evidence, that he is indeed Ralph Wiggum's father. In case there were any doubts.
In another episode, a Brazilian police inspector is shown to assume that everyone who comes to him to report a crime is actually trying to flirt with him.
Another time the 911 operator refuses to send an ambulance to the Simpson house because of all the prank calls made in the past. "Simpson? Look, we’ve already been out there tonight for a sister-ectomy, a case of severe butt rot and a leprechaun bite. How dumb do you think we are? "
If you know the name of the felony being committed, press 1. To choose from a list of felonies, press 2. If you are being murdered or calling from a rotary phone, please stay on the line." <Beep> <Boop> "You have chosen "Regicide". If you know the name of the King or Queen being murdered, press 1. <click>
Similarly, the official SFPD Website has the following trap:
"If you have committed a crime and want to confess, press "Yes", otherwise, press "No". "NO" "You have selected "No", which means you have committed a crime but do not want to confess. A paddy wagon is now speeding to your location. While you wait, why not buy a police cap or T-shirt? You have the right to remain fabulous!"
The Springfield jail is shown to work on the "honor system".
At the end of an episode that has Homer take over the police force, Homer just decides to hand his badge to any random person, who turns out to be Wiggum. Wiggum then reveals that he got the job the first time because the exact thing happened, not because he showed any qualifications for it.
In "SpongeBob, Sandy, and the Worm", when the Alaskan bull worm eats a boat that a police officer was giving a ticket, he picks up a fire hydrant, moves it in front of another boat, and gives it a ticket pretending that it was the first boat.
In "SpongeBob Meets the Strangler", the Strangler draws a picture of SpongeBob on the back of a police cruiser's seat and viciously tears it up, obviously implying he's going to kill him. After the police see this, and SpongeBob asks for their help, what do they do? They tease him about it.
In "Growth Spout" The police completely ignore the crazed Mr. Krabs running by them loudly searching for food just after responding to a call about someone going around stealing food.
In "Sentimental Sponge", Squidward called the "Sanitation Police" to report SpongeBob, who was piling garbage in his house that was getting everywhere, including Squidward's house. One of the cops does nothing but scoff at Squidward and call him a snitch.
In "SpongeBob's Last Stand", when SpongeBob and Patrick are protesting Plankton building a superhighway over the Krusty Krab and Jellyfish Fields, the police arrest them for playing a bassoon without a license, then instead of taking them to jail simply dump them on the outskirts of town.
In "Keep Bikini Bottom Beautiful", a police officer keeps giving Squidward tickets for littering in situations where he's simply near litter.
Subverted in SWAT Kats at least once. While the titular heroes and the city Enforcers butted heads more often than not, the Enforcers were quick to step in in a fight against a giant alien insect. While they ultimately couldn't do much against said insect directly, they still managed to torch its lair and all of its eggs, and were ultimately responsible for its destruction. As a general rule, however, while they're fairly badass for cops in a superhero show, the Enforcers just Can't Catch Up to the titular SWAT Kats and the enemies they face.
Played straight in an episode when T-Bone and Razor were once in the Enforcers, and Cmdr. Feral caused them to crash into Enforcer HQ, blamingthemfor it.
The Detroit Police Force in Transformers Animated is usually ill-equipped to deal with whatever supervillain/alien robot/giant monster related weirdness is attacking the city this time. They even become part of the problem after an Allspark fragment in an assembly line robot causes the police bots it constructs to go violent and berserk.
Inverted twice in Batman Beyond when Batman charges in to stop a crime, only to learn the hard way that he just screwed up a police sting that would have stopped the criminals on its own if he hadn't butted in. Naturally, that annoys his ally, Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon, to no end. But for a former Batgirl she's pretty quick to believe in an illusion of him killing a criminal. Then again, even Bruce seemed to believe Terry killed the criminal until Terry stated otherwise and was shocked upon the accusation.
Played mostly straight in The Batman. Ellen Yin and Ethan Bennet were somewhat competent in season one, but Batman couldn't count on them for help due to their Jerkass superior Chief Rojas who was out to get Batman, and was indirectly responsible for Bennet falling into the Joker's hands and turning into Clayface. By season two, Batman could at least count on Yin as an ally, and after that, Gordon stepped in, and there were fewer problems.
Recess: School's Out. Granted, the story was pretty crazy, but when you get THREE separate reports of the same story (not only that, but the third person who reported it was not only a teacher at the same school as the one with the strange reports, but the same person was also likely old enough to have most likely would have taught them as kids), don't you think it might at least be worth a look?
DuckTales and Darkwing Duck both had their respective protagonists, Scrooge McDuck and, well, Darkwing Duck, wind up in jail at least three times because the villains are messing with the police's heads. Of particular interest is that, in the "Super DuckTales" serial that introduced Gizmoduck; the police also actually give judge and jury duty to the Beagle Boys despite them being known criminals!
The Powerpuff Girls Movie shows what Townsville was like before the girls came along. The reason crime was so rampant? The police were always at the donut shop.
In a few episodes such as "Mime for a Change", the police are really unable to confront bad guys who have superpowers. Although because there needs to be a plot, the police are never even bothering to stop bad guys who have no superpowers at all. In "Too Pooped to Puff", bad guys were seen robbing a bank but then the Powerpuff Girls came and saved the day. Then the camera pulls to the police relaxing, eating donuts and asking the girls to also book the bad guys.
In Adventure Time, the Candy Kingdom's Banana Guards are completely useless.
In "You Made Me", when the Banana Guards found out that the Earl of Lemongrab was breaking into people's houses and staring at them because he was jealous of Princess Bubblegum's huge kingdom, they didn't do anything about it because they were bored and watched it on monitors.
In "Root Beer Guy", when Princess Bubblegum was kidnapped by Finn and Jake as part of a plot to test her security, i.e. the Banana Guards, the Guards didn't even notice and just got in the way of Root Beer Guy, the only one doing any police work and ignored him when he tried to report the kidnapping — He eventually had to resort to claiming he took a boat out after 8 o'clock in violation of Lake Butterscotch rules to even get them to show up. At the end of the episode, Princess Bubblegum saw how useless the Guards were and made Root Beer Guy the Captain in an effort to change this.
In "James II", Princess Bubblegum assigns them to arrest the various clones of the equally stupid James. After spending almost a full minute trying to grasp the difference between a picture of James and James himself, the Banana Guards decide to ask the first person to walk past them if they've seen James, which happens to be one of the James'. Soon, the Guards and the James' are facing each other in two groups, passing the picture back and forth between each other.
In "Rattleballs", during a flashback, the (still literally green) banana guards see a robbery going on and, instead of chasing the thief, cheer him on.
While the police of Woodcrest do appear to be useless on a daily basis, this is mostly because they are either on the take, innocents roped up in some so-called heroes' criminal activities or simply not called upon in the first place. They prove how useful they can be in the episode of The Boondocks "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy". Only after the Freeman family's other plans fall through including purchasing the incredibly pricey protection services of the now deceased Bushido Brown, someone resorts to 'snitching' on the three antagonists making attempts on their lives and the police resolve the issue quickly with minimal fuss.
Used in a brief throwaway gag in the Looney Tunes cartoon "The Stupor Salesman"; a bank robber blows by a parked police car with two officers in it, both of whom are fast asleep.
Done in Rocky and Bullwinkle when the World Economic Council calls the police when Boris and Natasha escape with a truck load of counterfeit box tops.
Officer: Would you spell it please? Council: B-O-X-T-O-P-S! Officer: B-O-S... Council: X! X! B-O-X! Officer: One question? How do you make a "B"?
Justified in the Venture Brothers episode "The Trial of The Monarch", in that the police, in exchange for substantial funding, refuse to acknowledge any criminal activity of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, and do not respond to any emergency calls regarding them.
When Kyle tries to report the obvious serial killer (who wants to get caught) with DNA evidence, he is berated by Sergeant Yates for being a waste of his time, since he is not a psychic.
Officer Barbrady is extremely incompetent in the early seasons for being incapable of solving crimes and other stuff. Despite that, he actually kept South Park in peace since he's the only cop in town and had moments like when he learned to read and solved the "Chickenlover" case. He becomes much more competent in his job during his appearances as he was Demoted to Extra when Yates and the Park County police took over.
Zigzagged in The Amazing World of Gumball, where the most frequently seen police officer is an anthropomorphic doughnut who is actually portrayed as somewhat competent on occasion, but is just as often shown doing reckless things that would have gotten him kicked off the police force in real life. This trope is lampshaded in "The Friend", in which Doughnut Sheriff's police manual actually says "If the task requires tact and intellect, call someone else".
In the movieAladdin, the guards were actually fairly useful, even managing to catch Aladdin once. In Aladdin: The Series, they're another story. Aladdin solves all of Agrabah's problems, while the guards seldom do anything and sometimes even get in the way. The opening of the episode "Black Sand" is probably the best example of this. All four guards fail at catching a tiny flying eel. Subverted with Razoul when he's given A Day in the Limelight.
Inspector Gadgetlives this trope. He only managed to arrest the right person once in his entire series. And that was because the thief fell down the fire escape and landed in front of him with the stolen goods. Most of the episodes include at least one scene of Gadget trying to arrest his dog.
Stewie reports the theft of his tricycle to the police. Since no adults understand the talking Stewie, the cop says, "Oh, look at the little baby. Aren't you cute? Where's your mommy?" The cop says the exact same thing to when a man shows up to turn himself in when he has a dismembered Baltic hooker bleeding through the tarp in his trunk.
Joe: I can't arrest Jeff unless Brenda files a formal complaint with the police.
Quagmire: She won't go to the police, she's afraid of what Jeff'll do! [...] What if he hits her one of these nights and kills her?!
Joe: Sorry, Quagmire, police policy; we can't step in until it's too late.
The page image is from a joke the show did about the cop show CHiPs, where Erik Estrada's character Ponch is hitting on a woman and ignoring a violent gunfight and a truck carrying cocaine passing behind him.
Also, when James Woods stole documents of Peter's identity, Joe said he had no choice but treat Woods as the real Peter Griffin.
Joe in general. If he's not on the job and sometimes even then he'll permit blatant crimes to occur right in front of him without doing anything about it, especially those of his friends, and sometimes even take part in it.
The series premiere has a scene where some Royal Guards try to take down Nightmare Moon. They get blasted with lightning.
"A Canterlot Wedding": Canterlot is protected by a magic shield and a small army of Royal Guards who, despite being on high alert, are overrun by Changelings as soon as the shield collapses. Their leadership had been incapacitated, but still...
The Wonderbolts aren't much better. In theory, they're supposed to be a military branch that performs exhibition for civilians, yet we mostly see them at exhibition shows and derbys. Whenever they go up against a real threat, like Tirek or an unnaturally grown Spike, they lose in seconds.
Sheriff Silverstar gets this from "Appleoosa's Most Wanted" when three fillies trick him into abandoning his post so they can set an outlaw free.
Averted in "The Times They Are A Changeling", where the Crystal Empire Guards take their duty to find the eponymous Changeling seriously and even suspect Twilight, Starlight and Spike when they arrive in the Empire. The fact that they're commanded by Shining Armor, the previously-mentioned incapacitated commander during the initial Changeling attack, probably has a lot to do with it.
Sheriff Stone from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Most of the time, he won't even get involved in whatever mystery Crystal Cove is facing, until the gang proves it a hoax, and if he does get involved, he'll sometimes make things worse. He even arrested Scooby when a dog was terrorizing the town despite clear evidence that Scooby wasn't responsible. In season 2, it's revealed he has a string of lawsuits related to arresting the wrong people.
Scooby: You are a terrible sheriff!
The Legend of Korra: Plays with this. The Metalbending Police and the Anti-Equalist Task force do have moments of competence, like attacking and defeating an Equalist secret base. Ultimately though, the police are outfoxed and outwitted at most turns, with the Equalists unveiling new weapons and tactics, and the cops beaten thoroughly. When the Stadium is attacked, all the cops are taken out with electric gloves (they all wear metal), and all the outside airships and boats were all defeated offscreen. In the first season finale, the officers get taken down left and right, losing the city.
Metalbending Police's main problem is that they never seem to learn. When they fight tanks that are largely immune to their metal cable attacks they tend to forget that they can just earthbend the ground to make either huge walls or pits to trap them in. When faced with electric attacks that hit them through their armor they never try to adapt and insulate that armor for future attacks. They acknowledged the need of body armor to stop chi blocking attacks but some how never thought to use a material other than highly conductive metal.
Thankfully this doesn't stop Chief Bei Fong from being competent. Lu and Gang both get fired from their detective positions after them being more concerned with eating than protecting the President of the United Republic of Nations causes him to nearly get kidnapped while they're easily knocked unconscious.
The police in Hey Arnold! usually vary, but any time a character reports a crime to the police station, the cops laugh them out. The worst would be the time Grandpa reported that his Packard was missing. The police said they'd get right on it, as soon as they were finished with a stack of other missing car reports, with them laughing uproariously.
The Toy Story Toons short "Partysaurus Rex" plays this for laughs. When Rex is trying to subdue a party, a little toy police car drives up and dives into the bathtub party.
In one episode of American Dad!, Stan goes nuts and takes two hostages, demanding drugs. The police negotiator on the scene immediately gives Stan the drugs and a plane for Stan to fly to British Columbia; as soon as Stan drops the hostages, the negotiator kills the hostages himself without any provocation before trying to rape Hayley.
SheZow is an aversion on this; the police can hold their own, it's just that SheZow is faster.
They definitely seem to be pretty useless in Ernest et Célestine. They can't catch either Ernest or Celestine and when they do briefly capture Ernest, he and Celestine have a fairly easy time of it getting away. They then spend months spending hiding out in Ernest's home in the woods, even though it's really not that far from the city and shouldn't be all that hard to find with a joint manhunt issued for the two of them.
The one time the military or police do jack-shit in Archie's Weird Mysteries, the one time they actually decide to visit that God-forsaken town that's constantly coming under attack from every monster and weird event you can imagine, is when Veronica is accidentally grown to 50 feet tall and, after one brief little panic attack, isn't even aggressive or a threat. Then to add insult to injury, they fall for a simple "He Went That Way" from Veronica who was shrunk Just in Time.
The cops of Moonbeam City are generally varying levels of useless or corrupt. Protagonist Dazzle Novac rarely ever does his job well and is often sidetracked by his own personal shenanigans while his rival Rad is outright psychotic. The only ones on the MBCPD that consistently try to get their job done are the police chief and the resident tech expert, and even they have their moments.
Ben 10: with the exception of the ones who were actually important characters (meaning essentially Max Tennyson and Rook Bonko), the Plumbers were essentially portrayed as more and more useless as the franchise went on, even though they were gaining more authority:
In the Original Series, they were a disbanded organization despicted as operating only on Earth and implied to have been efficient enough that they could go toe-to-toe with an entire race of alien shapeshifters and required a confrontation with Vilgax to end them.
Comes Alien Force and Ultimate Alien, they are now a galactic-wide police operating on multiple systems but still forced to follow The Masquerade on Earth, but the few times they show up involve them getting easily defeated or manipulated by villains and insisting they can't allow themselves to waste resources on a low-level planet like Earth.