Follow TV Tropes


Artistic License – Law Enforcement

Go To

Works of fiction about police officers, or even just featuring police officers as secondary characters, usually take a great deal of Artistic License as far as police work goes. Police work is often tedious. Arresting just one person means at least an hour or two of booking them and filling out the required paperwork. Much of how police are depicted in fiction, in exciting car chases with a commandeered car and car-to-car shootouts is... not entirely realistic. Let's face it, reality can be boring. And boring makes you not want to buy a movie ticket or change the channel to see what else may be on.

Cops talk to minors all the time; encounters with juveniles is a big part of the job. But questioning or interrogating a minor without a parent, lawyer, or guardian is not acceptable. Miranda Rights aren't read when someone is arrested; they're read to the suspect after they've been booked and before questioning begins. Police officers don't usually work in pairs; why have two officers covering the same ground when they can cover more working separately? Cops do not carry their guns into a facility where criminals are housed (although they do carry batons, tasers, and pepper spray). Police rarely shoot from moving vehicles and shooting at moving vehicles is frowned upon. They aren't expected to shoot someone simply for resisting arrest (which is mostly illegal, and can get them charged themselves). The latter will get maced or tased instead. If you're a police officer or have ever been one, you already know all this. Cops can commandeer civilian property in the most severe emergencies, such as a natural disaster, but this doesn't mean they can just grab the car keys of a civilian bystander because they see the bad guy getting away.

Searching someone's vehicle requires that police either be given permission, have a search warrant, or that the driver be placed under arrest (conducting a Search-Incident-To-Arrest of a vehicle is allowed). However, if a police officer asks to search your vehicle and you refuse, they cannot search your vehicle and would be violating your Fourth Amendment rights if they went ahead and searched it anyway, plus any evidence they find would be ruled inadmissable. In fiction, cops ignore this all all the time.

Such portrayals of policing methods are inaccurate and are done to provide more drama and action. It's easier for people who have a background in law enforcement to spot these mistakes, just like it's easier for people with a military background to spot cases of Artistic License – Military.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when few police forces outside London had trained detectives, they would often call on Scotland Yard to send one to investigate any serious crime whose perpetrator wasn't obvious or where a suspect was socially important enough to make arresting them embarassing for a local cop (the real world source of the Smith of the Yard trope). This is very rare now in real life unless you were dealing with a wandering Serial Killer and even then, real life local forces would object. However, it continued to appear for much longer in works with contemporary settings by American authors whose knowledge of British police procedure still came mostly from Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers novels, such as Martha Grimes or Elizabeth George.

Compare Absurdly Powerful School Jurisdiction, Artistic License – Law, Artistic License – Military, Artistic License – Prison, Cowboy Cop, and Dirty Cop.

    open/close all folders 

  • Buddy Cop Show: Police officers don't actually work in pairs.
  • Car Chase Shoot-Out: Police officers do not shoot from moving vehicles and shooting at moving vehicles is frowned upon.
  • Cop Killer Manhunt: A police officer's colleagues may hunt down someone who has killed him/her, but the priority shall always be to arrest, not summarily execute, the murderer. Even the slightest suspicion of trying to exploit a fellow officer's death to justify Police Brutality usually gets Internal Affairs (and other superiors) very mad and the suspected officers to have very short careers.
  • Elite Agents Above the Law: An elite agent or agency that is not bound by its nation's legal structure simply does not exist.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: In the past, it was used (hence references to "rubber hoses" or "the third degree" or vague threats by cops to "take you down to the station and see how tough you are" in many Hard Boiled Detective novels). Nowadays, while it's still done by some police forces, the cops know very well that it's illegal and will move heaven and earth to keep it out of the courthouse.
  • Generic Cop Badges: Cop badges in fiction are poorly detailed and don't reflect the ones from Real Life.
  • Good Policing, Evil Policing: Law enforcement organizations/officials. While dirty cops do exist, it is unlikely you will find an entire organization of police that is secretly corrupt.
  • Hammerspace Police Force: A police force with an endless supply of squad cars and men is not realistic, since life is not a video game.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: Some Truth in Television. Officers can ignore some traffic laws in the pursuit of a suspect, just not to the levels shown in Hollywood.
  • Institutional Allegiance Concealment: Officers being able to completely hide their allegiance from other officers is hard and often counterproductive.
  • Interpol Special Agent: Interpol is tasked to facilitate cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of independent countries, but they do not have supremacy over those agencies. If an Interpol agent started investigating or arresting people in sovereign countries on his or her own accord, they'd soon find themselves being booked for flaunting false authority.
  • Kid Detective: Hiring a child to work as an officer is illegal.
  • Lemming Cops: Deployment of more police officers to help an officer in a car chase isn't unheard of, but rarely to the large amount of police officers depicted.
  • The Lopsided Arm of the Law: Bigger crimes being ignored over smaller crimes can happen, but not to the extremes shown in fiction.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: While patrol officers have some general training in forensics, as in "don't touch anything", Crime Scene Units are an entirely different division and while Investigators may have some firearms training (as members of a law enforcement unit that may encounter the occasional armed resistance), CSI members entering a house right alongside SWAT just doesn't happen.
  • Miranda Rights: Miranda Rights aren't read when someone is arrested; they're read to the suspect after they've been booked and before questioning begins.
  • Must State If You're a Cop: Contrary to popular belief, a police officer is not under obligation to answer truthfully when asked if they're a cop.
  • Police Are Useless: Police officers who are not good at their jobs are not going to be police officers for very long.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: A police officer does not legally shoot someone simply for resisting arrest.

The examples that do not fit any subtropes:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dominion Tank Police parodies the over-militarization of police forces to extreme levels (such as issuing tanks to every police division just to fight crime), so it never takes itself too seriously despite the plot. An early scene features a Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique where-in a criminal has a grenade shoved into his mouth, and the officers turn the interrogation into a game featuring throwing knives, a spin wheel, and Leona dressed up as a Playboy Bunny. Police chief Brenten encourages this behavior.
  • Lupin III Part 6: Ordinary British police do not carry firearms, yet all the cops in London are seen shooting at Lupin (and miserably failing to hit him). It should also be noted that neither MI-6 nor Scotland Yard have the authority to get the British Army to deploy an armored fighting vehicle, let alone have said vehicle fire its main armament in a heavily populated city. This should tip off any viewers who are savvy about British law. Although, as noted elsewhere on the page, this may be a case of Lupin being a Godzilla Threshold.

    Comic Books 
  • Scalped: Dashiell is an FBI agent yet he doesn't have a college degree. In real life, anyone aspiring to become an FBI special agent must possess at least a Bachelor's degree.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Nut Job: Part of the robbers' getaway plan was to cross state lines, apparently expecting the police that were hot on their tails to suddenly break off pursuit at that invisible boundary. Police can cross state lines in pursuit of a suspect if the person is suspected of a felony (e.g. robbing a bank); that is the very definition of the term, "Hot Pursuit". Crossing a state line in the commission of a felony also means that the police can escalate it to federal law enforcement.
  • Zootopia: Judy is excited to begin her first day as a police officer, only to find out she's stuck on parking duty. Most major cities in real life have a whole separate department of parking services whose primary job is issuing citations so that the police are free to handle bigger crimes. While suburbs and smaller towns (at least in the United States and its Fantasy Counterpart Cultures) might still leave this task to the police, a city as huge as Zootopia would not.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Amazing Spider-Man: After Spider-Man catches the car thief, the cop who shows up almost immediately draws his gun and tries to shoot Spidey in the face. Especially egregious since Spidey was unarmed and doing nothing but talking, and the car thief was webbed to the wall not 20 feet behind him, directly in the cop's line of fire. Even if it could be assumed that the cop thought Spidey's web-shooters were weapons, that doesn't remotely justify an immediate lethal response without even a warning or stand-down order, and while a bystander could be hit.
  • American Ultra: After walking out of the supermarket where they just finished taking out a bunch of assassins, leaving the place on fire, Mike and Pheobe walk out of the building and are faced by the SWAT team and other armed troopers. Mike takes this opportunity to propose to Pheobe. She says yes but then the two are tased by a SWAT trooper for delaying them from entering the building, even though the violence was over and they could have easily just walked past Mike and Pheobe without tasing them first. While law enforcement officers are permitted to use force to enter a building if there's a violent crime taking place and people are actively getting in the officers' way, the assassins had already been taken care of and Mike and Pheobe were not actively trying to stop them from entering.
  • Ant-Man: Following reports of a helicopter crash and a fight between two individuals in a family's home, Detective Jim Paxton and his partner Gale arrive to find their former prisoner Scott Lang in his Ant-Man uniform. As Lang tries to explain what happened and make the confused Paxton understand the situation, Paxton ignores him and instead pulls out a taser and shocks him, knocking him out and putting him in the police car to be taken back to jail. In reality, a cop would be fired for excessive use of force if they tased someone who was doing nothing but talking. Tasers are part of the force continuum. They are not the first thing a cop would use encountering someone. Tasers are not apprehension devices — they are designed to overcome aggression and resistance.
  • The Babysitter (2017): After the cultists kill the two police officers who responded to Cole's 911 call, there's a protracted scene where Bee (who knows that Cole is familiar with police radio codes) is telling Cole to give them the correct code to give to the dispatcher so that the alarm isn't raised. She knows he's lying when he gives her the wrong code, so eventually he gives her the correct code. The problem is, for the entire scene dispatch is continually asking the responding officers to give their status. After the second attempt to raise the officers and not getting a response, the dispatcher would have followed procedure and immediately hit the alarms, sending every available unit to the location. After that, no matter what code Bee told Max to give the dispatcher, other units would have arrived to verify the situation. Also, the code Cole gives them is for a 10-7, meal break. After a 911 call about a violent crime, that won't wash. Even if it was a prank call, they could not verify that without talking to the person who made the call. In that case, that person would have been arrested for misuse of the 911 system.
  • The Departed: Sullivan graduates from the police academy and is immediately assigned as a plainclothes detective. In reality, a rookie police officer can count on several years of uniformed street work after leaving the academy. No exceptions. Only officers who have gained considerable experience and street smarts are permitted to test for promotion.
  • Die Hard:
    • Channel 9 (CB distress channel) is monitored by Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams (REACT), not the police department. If someone were calling for help on Channel 9, they would talk to a REACT operator, who would then call the authorities. Either way, it would not be an FCC violation.
    • Police officers are allowed to carry firearms (concealed carry) because of their state-issued law enforcement licenses. Police officers are allowed to operate only within the borders of their own states. McClane is on a plane traveling from New York to Los Angeles, taking him out of the state, meaning that his police license then would not be applicable. This also negates his right to carry his weapon. Federal agents and state and local law enforcement officers are allowed to carry on commercial flights but only on official police business (e.g., prisoner or VIP escort). Proper paperwork and verified identification would be required for such official business.
  • End of Watch: When Van Hauser and Sook come to release Taylor and Zavala to go back on patrol, after he goes under the tape he takes his cigar out of his mouth, he spits. This is an official crime scene, that's what's called "leaving your own evidence on the crime scene". Professional police officers don't spit or leave any of their bodily functions on the crime scene. That confuses the case. They would also not allow an officer on duty to smoke a cigar let alone inside a crime scene.
  • Even Lambs Have Teeth, a Rape and Revenge horror movie similar to I Spit on Your Grave, is set in the US but was made by Canadians. This may explain why one character's uncle is an "FBI detective", when there's no such thing. An FBI agent is what he would be (there are various kinds, but that's the standard title).
  • The Hitman: It would not be legal for a police officer to work undercover as a contract killer, no matter how much of a Cowboy Cop he may be. Even if he went rogue, he'd be arrested as soon as he got in contact with his bosses again.
  • Lethal Weapon:
    • Riggs and Murtaugh are introduced when Murtaugh is told he's getting a new partner. He sees another plainclothes detective showing Riggs around, but has no idea who Riggs is. When Riggs is left alone, leaning against a desk, for some reason he pulls his gun, prompting Murtaugh to scream "GUN!" and charge him. Murtaugh's reaction was 100% correct, and he would have even been justified to draw his own weapon and order Riggs to disarm. For a police officer to pull their gun for no reason whatsoever in a squad room full of cops is simply insane. Police procedure dictates that you only draw your weapon if you're in a situation where you may need to use it. In Real Life, such a stunt would have gotten Riggs suspended immediately, with his gun and badge taken away to boot. After a review by his superiors, he probably would have ended up discharged from the force with that "psycho pension" everyone thought he was trying to get.
    • Riggs grabbing the suicidal man, handcuffing himself to him, and then jumping off the building with him should have ended with him being kicked off the force for good. That was just too far over the top for any police department to tolerate.
  • The Perfect Weapon (1991): When Tanaka cannot understand Detective Adam Sanders' commands, the latter tases him, knocking him out to be put in the police car, and doesn't get in any trouble for it. In Real Life, he would have been fired.
  • Police Academy: The handgun range they are learning on are outdoors, with targets of 25 meters/yards. In reality, trainee police officers learn on an indoor range, with targets initially set at 10 yards, then increasing to 15 then 25 yards as they become more proficient with their guns. It's only after they're proficient with their guns that they move outdoors, to add environmental effects (wind, sun, glare, etc.) for the officers to compensate for.
  • Reservoir Dogs: In Mr. Orange's story about encountering several police officers, one of whom has a canine with him, he talks about how he has to play it cool when the dog starts growling and getting aggressive towards him (implying it's a narcotics dog and he's carrying drugs). In reality, dogs that are trained to sniff out narcotics, explosives and contraband do not behave this way. It's a very bad idea, as it would make a tense situation even worse. In reality, such dogs are trained to simply sit down next to the person or object where they've detected something. This is an extremely common trope in movies and television. Mr. Orange's story is entirely made up and he's actually an undercover cop, so he may actually be relying on this common misconception to fool the criminals he's talking to. None of them call him out on it, hinting that these robbers don't have much experience in the drug business.
  • RoboCop:
    • Most modern police stations have a sally port (a separate entrance for police vehicles only; a secure controller entryway to a fortification or prison) where they load and unload prisoners. In this case, the police station does have a sally port. Lewis (and later RoboCop with Clarence) should have brought their prisoners in through the sally port, not into the lobby where they could have posed a threat to civilians.
    • Whether it's a gas station robbery, apprehending a suspect in a dance club, or taking out an entire drug warehouse, Robocop never once calls in his location to dispatch. Sure, he's a bulletproof, super-strong cyborg wielding a hand cannon, but procedure dictates that officers must keep dispatch informed of their whereabouts and activities at all times. He also never does any paperwork, shoving Clarence at the Desk Sergeant with a simple "Book him." The proper response from the Desk Sergeant should have been "he's your collar. Book him yourself!"
  • Smokey and the Bandit: Sheriff Buford T. Justice pursues The Bandit far outside his Texas county jurisdiction, across multiple state lines. Whenever he's called out on it, he insists he's in the middle of a high-speed pursuit and there's no way to break it off. While he may be able to get away with this (to a point) while remaining in Texas, once the pursuit crosses state lines he would have to break it off and allow law enforcement from that state to take over.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Subverted. In the trailer, Sonic is tranquilized by Sheriff Tom Wachowski, but in the actual movie, it is revealed that the tranquilizer gun belongs to his wife, a veterinarian, rather than being issued to him to carry out his duties.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: SpiderMan scales the Washington Monument while being pursued by a police helicopter. Contrary to popular belief, police helicopters are not a frontline service; they're a support for the ground units, since it's hard to shoot accurately from a helicopter.
  • Super Troopers:
    • During the banquet scene all of the highway officers are wearing their ceremonial uniforms. However the chevrons or arrows on the shoulder all point down. In the US, the chevron or arrow insignia should be pointing upward (inverted). Grady's uniform even has 3 chevrons/arrows which indicates that he is a sergeant and not a captain. Likewise, the two chevrons/arrows on the other men's uniforms indicate the rank of corporal. Furthermore, the chevrons should also appear on the officer's day-to-day uniform as well as his/her ceremonial attire.
    • When the State Police barracks are shut down, the troopers along with the captain would not have been fired or let go. They would have been assigned to another barracks or division around the state, but not fired.

  • The Da Vinci Code: Discussed several times.
    • Dan Brown seems to be under the impression that all it takes to extradite a British national from their own country is for a foreign law enforcement agencies to make a call to a local police officer. Also, he seems to think that said local police will simply detain the suspects until the foreign police arrive to make the arrests themselves.
    • He says the French police judiciaire is the equivalent of the FBI. It's not- this refers simply to detectives. The closest France has to the FBI is the National Police, but there is no exact equivalent because of the way France's government is organized. It is not federated like the US, so there's no need for an interstate agency. The National Police takes care of civil law enforcement duties for the entire country — except in smaller towns and more remote areas, where the Gendarmerie has jurisdiction, and municipal police exist in some towns and cities — and the police judiciaire is the section of the National Police that investigates the most serious crimes such as murders. Whether this is a case of Creator Provincialism or just another case of Dan not doing the research (or both) isn't clear.
    • Sophie tells Langdon that the police captain suspects he committed the murder and can have him detained for months. No. French law only allows someone to be detained for 24 hours, with another 24 hours allowed if approved by the local prosecutor and the police can demonstrate it's necessary. The captain would have to prove Langdon committed the murder in the face of evidence that Langdon was nowhere in the vicinity, he'd have to answer for destroying evidence when he erased Langdon's name, they'd have to prove Langdon either smuggled a gun into France or acquired one when he was already there, the list goes on. He can't charge Langdon, only the local prosecutor can do that, and he doesn't have enough evidence to make it stick. And to repeat, the prosecutor is going to be seriously pissed that he destroyed evidence by erasing part of what the victim wrote. Of course, Sophie may have simply said that to get Langdon to stop arguing and get moving.
  • In virtually every Encyclopedia Brown book, Bugs Meany tries to frame Encyclopedia for something, only for the other boy to prove that the accusations are bogus. Knowingly filing a fraudulent criminal complaint is a crime in and of itself in 99% of police jurisdictions, so Bugs' attempts to get Encyclopedia (who also needs be mention is the police chief's son, which would lead to heavier book-throwing than usual) arrested for crimes that never happened should have gotten him arrested and thrown into a juvenile detention facility by the end of the third book.
  • No Country for Old Men: In the film, the deputy who arrests Chigurh at the beginning simply has him sit in a chair, then turns him back on him and makes a phone call. This allows Chigurh to bend forward, slip his cuffed hands under his feet so that his hands are in front of him, then choke the deputy to death. In reality, he would have immediately been placed in a holding cell.
  • A Wind Named Amnesia: There is a character named Little John who is shown as being the former sheriff of the LAPD (Los Angeles municipal Police Department). This is completely wrong. The sheriff is the head of the LASD (Los Angeles county Sheriff's Department) which handles matters of Los Angeles county, while the LAPD handles the matters of the city of Los Angeles. The LAPD has a Commissioner and Chief of Police but no sheriff. The confusion is somewhat understandable- since the city of Los Angeles is within the county of Los Angeles, the sheriff does have some power but is not the "top cop" there.
  • Discussed in The Zombie Survival Guide: Brooks says "Obviously, any civilian group will not have access to a real tank or APC". In practice, a civilian can acquire a tank having enough money to spend, as civilian collections/museums do, just that legally all weapons have to be deactivated by welding the breechblock. But it still has treads and armor and can reduce the enemy to a bloody pulp. Plus, ever since the War on Terror began, police departments have been getting APCs with functioning turrets.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Andy Griffith Show: Played for laughs with the town drunk, Otis Campbell. Although Sherriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife do haul him in occasionally, they also allow him to check himself in and out whenever he's on a bender. Plus, they don't always lock the cell. Doubtful that such things would occur anywhere, even in small, rural towns like Mayberry.
  • Barney Miller: The squad room the detectives worked in had a holding cell in one corner. No one arrested would have been placed in such close proximity to working officers. They could have been disruptive, overheard witness testimony, etc. They would have been placed in a separate section of the station house specifically designed for holding detained individuals. This was mainly done so that people arrested could be placed in a location that allowed them to more easily take part in the plot.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
    • Early in season 4, after Amy shoots Jake in the leg after he was taken hostage, she’s put back to work during the next episode. It’s relatively common knowledge that when an officer discharges their firearm, they’re immediately put on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted into whether or not the use of said firearm was necessary.
    • Statute of limitations is apparently not a thing that exists in the 99 universe. In real life, the decades-old burglary cases that the squad routinely solves would be immediately thrown out.
    • The "48 hour rule" in "Forty-Eight Hours" is about holding a probable cause hearing, not for merely having probable cause. This means two things for this episode. First, the rule explicitly does not allow for using this time to try to find evidence like they do in this like the Nine Nine does. Second, even if that was allowed, Jake finally finding that evidence at the last minute leaves no time to hold the requisite hearing. Whitman may be guilty, but he still has every right to file his lawsuit and would win it.
  • Daredevil:
    • Brett Mahoney ostensibly gets a promotion midway through season 2 for capturing Frank Castle, ostensibly going from "Sergeant" to "Detective sergeant," and transitioning from a uniform to plainclothes suit-and-tie. In the NYPD, that's not a promotion, but a lateral transfer - Brett's rank actually is still Sergeant, but he's now the supervisor to a squad of detectives in the Detective Bureau rather than a group of ten to twelve uniformed cops in the Patrol Bureau. This does slightly line up with the comics, where Brett is a Detective instead of a patrol officer. Also, the rank title isn't "Detective Sergeant," but "Sergeant - Supervisor Detective Squad". In season 3, he's officially ranked as a Detective with a Detective's shield, which would be a demotion as Sergeant is a supervisory rank while Detective is the same rank as Patrol Officer.
    • In "World On Fire", Detectives Christian Blake and Carl Hoffman, two corrupt cops working for Wilson Fisk, shoot and kill a Russian thug in a precinct interrogation room for speaking Fisk's name. In real life, Blake and Hoffman would have been placed on modified assignment and administrative leave while an investigation was conducted into their actions. However, Fisk has paid off contacts in Internal Affairs to kill the investigation, enabling Blake and Hoffman to be back on the streets that very evening to help their fellow corrupt cops kill the survivors of Fisk's bombings of the Russians' hideouts. Ben Urich lampshades this when he sees Blake and Hoffman assuming command of the scene where Matt has holed up with Vladimir and a police officer who stumbled upon them.
      Ben Urich: Detectives! I'd thought IAB would have you riding a desk after that thing with the Russians at the station.
      Det. Christian Blake: You see what's going on here? No one's riding a desk tonight.
    • In "Condemned," when the police converge on the warehouse where Matt is holed up with Vladimir and a rookie patrol officer, Blake and Hoffman assume command of the scene and are shown giving orders to other cops. In the NYPD, detectives are at the same level in the chain of command as regular uniformed patrol officers, and technically can't give orders to anyone but junior detectives. Only those in the supervisory ranks can give orders to other cops. Then again, a significant number of the cops at the scene besides Blake and Hoffman are on Fisk's payroll, and they're there seeking to kill Vladimir, so they probably are well aware that they're not exactly doing things by the book.
  • Hill Street Blues: In one episode, Lt. Goldblume (who is a genuinely Nice Guy) reveals that he never even used to load his service pistol while on the job. With that kind of behavior, it's a miracle he ever made it to Lieutenant. If there was ever a crisis and his fellow officers found out he was backing them up with an unloaded pistol, it would have been his last day on the job. Even Furillo's reaction is flimsy; it's implied he went ballistic but in reality he would have had Goldblume busted back down to patrol officer if not kicking him off the force completely.
  • In the iCarly episode "iToe Fat Cakes" Sam is caught smuggling Canadian Fat Cakes (which are illegal in the US) back to America. But in real life the Canada police cannot make Canadian Fat Cakes illegal in the United States. That would be up to the United States Congress to pass such laws mandating that. If Canadian Fat Cakes were banned from importation into the United States, this would be a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. This would almost certainly result in Canada filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization.
  • Lethal Weapon (2016): In "Flight Risk", Murtaugh interrogates his daughter, Riana. In Real Life, an officer would never be asked to interrogate a family member and they would get a different officer for that.
  • Monk: In "Mr. Monk And The Really, Really Dead Guy", the FBI are called in to take the lead on a case involving a victim who was murdered in an exceptionally brutal manner. In real life, the FBI wouldn't be anywhere near this case unless unless the killer had crossed state lines while committing the crime, the crime was committed during a federal offense, or the murder was a political assassination. None of these apply to the case in this episode.
    • Ironically, this was actually pointed out in a season 2 episode. When the granddaughter of a woman who was kidnapped asks why the FBI hasn't been called in, Randy tells her that the only reason to get the FBI involved would be if the kidnappers crossed state lines.
  • Prison Break: In the second season, Bellick is shown actively participating in the manhunt for the escaped prisoners. This wouldn't happen. He's a prison guard, not a law enforcement officer. His authority ends at the prison gate. State and local police would have handled the manhunt.
  • RoboCop: Prime Directives: In a flashback, Murphy and Cable enter the home of a man who's been chopping up people. Once he's subdued, Cable executes him on the spot because they entered without a warrant and he would have gotten off on a technicality. Except they only entered to begin with because they caught the dog gnawing on human remains. That's probable cause.
  • S.W.A.T. (2017):
    • In regards to the composition of LAPD SWAT:
      • SWAT Sergeants are shown to have a five man squad under their command; in reality, each Sergeant has two squads of five under their command.
      • SWAT Command is depicted as Captain Cortez and Commander Hicks overseeing the Sergeants. In reality, SWAT command consists of six Sergeants and one Lieutenant.
      • Deacon is a Sergeant, serving as 20-Squad’s second-in-command. In reality, Deacon would be leading his own squad with that rank.
      • Newly promoted Sergeants are depicted as inheriting the callsign of the departing Sergeant; In reality, the callsigns are designated by seniority. Additionally, the 30-David callsign would be reserved for a squad leader, rather than being assigned to Deacon as second in command.
    • Even though "Ekitai Rashku" is shot (mostly) in Tokyo, the production team made some mistakes (either on purpose or for security reasons):
      • While the TMPD uniformed officer's clothing is correct, the emblems on their uniforms/peaked caps is not the actual MPD's Asahikage seal.
      • The SPU is not the tactical unit of the MPD. It's the Special Assault Team.
      • The division Inspector Benjiro Yoshida is in charge of is located at the 警視庁重大犯罪課 (MPD Major Crimes Division). The actual correct kanji is the 警視庁組織犯罪対策部 or Keishichō soshiki hanzai taisaku-bu (MPD Organized Crime Control Division).
  • Supernatural: In the pilot episode, Dean has been arrested and is being interrogated by the local Sheriff. Sam calls in a fake 911 call to provide a distraction for Dean. Before leaving, the Sheriff simply handcuffs Dean by one wrist to the chair he's sitting in, leaving him alone and unobserved in an office filled with supplies, with one hand free. Dean quickly grabs a paperclip and is out of the cuffs in less than a minute. In Real Life, Dean would have been locked in a holding cell.

    Video Games 
  • Johnny Gat's backstory in Agents of Mayhem reveals that he was kicked out of the Newark Police Department for his brutal methods when dealing with criminals. That is realistic in itself, but what makes it unrealistic is that the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency found his abilities to be very useful and is transferred to Seoul, Korea to fight crime. The real life SMPA would never allow the likes of Gat to join their ranks due to their even stricter rules and regulations compared to their American counterparts.
  • Zigzagged in the Police Quest series. The first three games are meant to have you follow proper police procedure as listed in the manual such as arrest procedures, when to use your sidearm, gathering evidence and so on. Yet the hero Sonny Bonds is shown doing tasks that would usually be handled by specialized investigators or officers. In the third game, Bonds even goes first into a crack house after the SWAT team breaks the door down and then waits outside.
  • While Police Simulator: Patrol Officers is pretty accurate on what being an American police officer is like, it does have some issues:
    • Normally in the United States, police do not perform drug and DUI tests on subjects of minor traffic accidents. In this game, drug and DUI tests are one of the necessary steps to take when interfacing with subjects of minor accidents.
    • When you arrest someone, all you have to do is handcuff them and call for an arrest transport before allowing you to go on your merry way. This is considerably sped up compared to real life, where arresting even one person would require at least an hour or two of booking them and filling out paperwork.
    • You start out with 100 Conduct Points at the beginning of your shift. If you're feeling cruel, you'll only be deducted 10 Conduct Points for falsely arresting someone (5 for handcuffing them and 5 for calling an arrest transport) and 20 Conduct Points if you use your taser on them for no reason. In reality, doing either even once or twice would be grounds for your player character being fired for police brutality, especially the latter.
  • Being a pastiche of Cowboy Cops in general. Pursuit Force features the titular elite task force where they regularly engage in high-speed shootouts and generally engage in lethal force against criminals (and when they do make an arrest, it involves violent beatdowns before cuffing them), own a helicopter armed with a Gatling gun, using guns owned by criminals, and, in the second game, one of the rookie PF officers is even armed with a light machine gun.
  • The first Resident Evil (and Remake) has the S.T.A.R.S. (for what is technically supposed to be an elite police force) be equipped with heavy duty, military-grade equipment such a grenade launcher, and even a rocket launcher (something that will not be issued to a real life law enforcement). Barry is an egregious case as he is armed with a .44 Magnum in a police operation (again, it is considered an unapproved firearm and such a caliber is forbidden for obvious reasons).
  • SWAT 4 features Use of Deadly Force regulations as a key part of its gameplay loop: You cannot use lethal force against a suspect without first giving them a chance to surrender, or against a suspect who is not directly threatening you or a civilian with a weapon. As a concession to gameplay, the portrayal of Deadly Force laws is never quite accurate in a range of ways:
    • Many missions involve dealing with suspects who are active shooters intent on harming civilians, or are militia and terrorist-level threats. Deadly force would almost certainly be given blanket authorisation in these situations.
    • It is illegal to shoot a fleeing suspect as long as they have not fired their weapon. The ability for the police to shoot at fleeing suspects is one of the most controversial parts of police procedure, but to summarise, an armed and fleeing suspect who has already demonstrated themselves to be a threat to civilians or the police is generally seen as permissible to use deadly force against. In the context of the game, killing an armed suspect in the midst of a hostage situation would likely be easily justified due to the risk that letting them flee could allow them to harm civilians or get into a better defensive position, and whether they have fired their gun or not is irrelevant to making that judgement.
    • Snipers are exempt from the rules of engagement, so the game has no issues with them assassinating suspects while you're serving a warrant.
    • On the other side of the issue, non-lethal weapons are treated as completely free in their use: You can use them on perfectly cooperative civilians and have no punishment in using them well beyond the point where a suspect is neutralised, both examples of which would be be considered improper use of force in reality.

    Web Animation 
  • In Ctrl+Alt+Del, based on Lilah's word, they were going to cavity search Christian after she indicates him as a terrorist in an airport. They don't seem particularly concerned about the implications of filing a false police report, nor pissing off someone who has demonstrated a willingness to spend lots of money to satiate his own petty whims.

    Web Original 

    Web Video 
  • In many GoAnimate videos, troublemakers get innocent people arrested by littering a soda bottle, running away, and making it look like the innocent person littered it. When a cop drives by, they immediately arrest the person for littering, even if they say they were just putting it away, and lock them up in jail. In real life, this kind of arrest would not be allowed, and would get the cop's badge taken away.
  • Sgt. Anous from SMOSH is prone to whipping out his gun and excessively shooting unarmed people without warning for minor infractions or no real crime at all. Such incidents include: improperly conjugating on an online forums, dumping your girlfriend, drinking tap water out of a used water bottle, parking in a handicap spot and "resisting arrest" by moving their car out of that spot, and jaywalking. This is based on a world-view that the world is made-up exclusively of "good for nothing criminals" and law enforcement. He also sees nothing wrong with prank-calling other emergency services and using his gun for mundane purposes.

    Western Animation 
  • Alphablocks: In one episode, I is made a cop and she decides what's illegal. In real life, the police don't decide what's legal and what's illegal.
  • Family Guy:
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): In "Cop Out", Dirty Cop Mike Brickowski gets fired and is forced to give his officer gear to the chief of the Townsville Police Department, with exception of his gun, which the chief lets him keep as a souvenir. When police officers are fired, they're not allowed to keep their guns, because not only are they property of the police department, but there's a serious risk that the ex-cop could use the gun to commit crimes.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "A Star Is Torn", Homer asks for a change for $1 to call the police at the Kwik-E-Mart. However, payphones do not require payment for 911 emergency calls—which an armed robbery in progress would definitely qualify for.
    • Chief Wiggum tranquilizes Sideshow Bob in "The Great Louse Detective".
    • In "One Angry Lisa", Chief Wiggum gets to review some photos of a crime scene that he took. Since Wiggum is a police chief, he would not do this job in real life; a forensic photographer would instead.
    • Wiggum himself lampshades it at one point stating that "In some cities, the police chief doesn't even go on callouts."
  • Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?: In "Elementary My Dear Shaggy" British police are seen in 1970s/1980s uniforms with the traditional British helmet and blue uniform; modern police wear black clothing, bodycams and don't have helmets except for motorcycle police and mounted police. Also, the jail depicted is wrong; it would be a lock-up holding cell instead, not jail with a key.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:


Video Example(s):


Big Bird Goes To Jail

A dramatic reading of several PBS creepypastas shows us this scenario of a lost Sesame Street episode where unprovoked force is immediately used and a sentence of ten years is given without even a trial.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ArtisticLicenseLawEnforcement

Media sources: