Follow TV Tropes


By-the-Book Cop

Go To
Benefits include: Throwing the book at criminals, literally.

"I was guilty as sin, but Valentine couldn't prove it. And he was the rarest breed of law enforcement officer: the type who knew I was breaking the law, but wouldn't break it himself to bust me."
Yuri Orlov, Lord of War

The By-the-Book Cop is a stock character in police shows and crime fiction in general. They're the cop who believes in following the law as it is written, playing by the rules even when the criminal scum they're after does not. A stickler for procedure, the By-the-Book-Cop is quick to chide their rookie partner for playing fast and loose out in the streets, and when they're Da Chief, you'll see them constantly threaten to suspend the loose cannon for their impulsive heat-of-the-moment shoot-first-ask-questions-later behavior. If they deem that the situation warrants it, they may bend the rules slightly, but they'll never go so far as to break them; they are, after all, honest and incorruptible.

Appears less regularly as a main character, in which case they're likely to be presented with a To Be Lawful or Good dilemma.

Often the complete opposite of a Cowboy Cop, with whom they are often paired to form an Odd Couple. If a Good Cop/Bad Cop dynamic forms, they tend to be the good one. Police officers who appear in the Police Procedural tend to be uniformly this type of cop, due to the relative paucity of cowboy cops in Real Life. Depending on the themes of whatever piece of fiction they are in, the By-the-Book-Cop can be either a protagonist who represents the epitome of honesty, or an antagonistic Obstructive Bureaucrat who gets in the Cowboy Cop's way.

Can sometimes overlap with Reasonable Authority Figure if they acknowledge that occasional breaches of procedure can be acceptable, or even necessary, depending on the circumstances. But it can just as easily crossover into Lawful Stupid if they adamantly insist on adhering to protocol no matter what (including towards Cop Killers).

Compare Always Gets His Man (the idealized hero cop). Contrast with Cowboy Cop (habitual rule-breaker, but good); Dirty Cop (unethical, self-serving); and Rabid Cop (out-and-out psycho).


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Togusa in Ghost in the Shell used to be a regular cop and sticks very close to the rules to separate himself from the masses of corrupt cops. In the counter-terror unit Section 9, he is the rookie and painfully out of place, as they usually deal with people who have the courts at their call. To his superiors, the laws are merely a "suggestion" for how to achieve justice and safety.
    • The reason he's an asset to the team is because all the others are ex-military special forces, which leads them to have an attitude of shoot first and ask questions later. In contrast, his background as a detective means he's a lot more skilled at investigative work.
  • Inspector Zenigata, of Lupin The 3rd, is quite possibly the world's most honest cop. During the Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine anime, he bent the rules a lot, but his memory of a young Oscar was what kept him from becoming a Corrupt Cop.
  • Kuroko Shirai from A Certain Magical Index franchise.
  • Bleach: Soi Fon is the head of the Keigun (lit. "punishment force"), which enforces the laws of Soul Society and detains or assassinates violators. She's a stickler for proper procedure and follows the law to the letter, no exceptions.
  • One Piece has Captain Hina, who serves as the Foil to Cowboy Cop Smoker. It is heavily implied that she is the main reason why he gets away with so much.
  • Lyrical Nanoha has Enforcer Chrono Harlaown, and later, Enforcer Fate Testarossa-Harlaown. The former even arrests his mentors and chides them for breaking the law and being willing to sacrifice an innocent life after he figures out that they're the ones interfering with the current investigation in their plan to seal the Artifact of Doom that killed his father.
  • City Hunter has the one-shot character Hirotaka Kitao, out to arrest Ryo due to his hate for professional killers but unwilling to actually break the law to do so... And engaged to Saeko, the Cowboy Cop who uses Ryo to take down some of the worst criminals around. Hilarity Ensues before he understands Ryo's true character and decides to leave the city.
  • Transformers: Robots in Disguise has Prowl (and rather fittingly, his vehicle form is a police patrol car), a relatively benign example (mostly he yells at his younger brother for speeding), and Tow-Line, who reaches Lawful Stupid levels of Single-Issue Wonk about illegal parking. He tows everything from children's bikes to bullet trains and mailmen.
  • Miyuki Kobayakawa in You're Under Arrest! plays this role to contrast with her Cowboy Cop partner, Natsumi Tsujimoto. She's the most level-headed and rule-abidding of the two, although she also has her moments to show how much Natsumi has rubbed off on her.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Commissioner James Gordon, if it was not for his frequently calling upon the services of an unofficial masked vigilante to help police his city. Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory track his growing relationship with Batman and rising position in the Gotham City Police Department, and they all reiterate his commitment to Law & Order and refusal to compromise his integrity and the rules, even to convict criminals he knows are guilty. He slips once when The Joker was on death row for a crime he might not have committed and didn't. He suggested to Batman that they let Joker fry despite the possibility that he's innocent of this particular crime. Batman tells Gordon that he's going to pretend he didn't say that, and the matter is dropped.
  • In Black Magick, Detective Rowan Black balks at the mere suggestion that she remove evidence from police possession in order to track down the people who tried to ruder her. However, she goes through with it anyway because the police will not be able to use magic to learn from it.
  • Inspector Ginko from Diabolik plays with this: most of the times he's this trope, but only because otherwise the criminals will be able to loophole their way out of prison, and, when the book has failed, shows his true temper as a Cowboy Cop.
  • Gotham Central is a Police Procedural focusing on the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department. Each member of the MCU is hand-picked by the Commissioner of Police in order to ensure their integrity and commitment to honest police work, and the series follows them as they try to act honorably in a police department filled with corruption and graft.
  • The title character of Judge Dredd is about as extreme as this trope can get. However, the character does grow to question the law every once in a little while, notably just before the "Necropolis" arc when he feels remorse for suppressing a democratic movement, and the later issue concerning mutant rights. There are also numerous minor aversions to this trope where Dredd himself brings up that part of being a Judge is using one's own discretion, meaning he occasionally ignores minor crimes or makes allowances for mitigating circumstances. Just like a real cop, only less often.
  • A detective tried to come off as one of these during an encounter with The Punisher. Subverted, as Frank has been around the block numerous times and knows the score.
    Punisher: Give me your gun.
    Detective: This is a prisoner transport van. We're not allowed to carry our guns in here when transporting someone. It's against the rules.
    Punisher: You're a plainclothes detective. You've been on the force long enough to know what rules to ignore. Now hand it over.
  • The Transformers (IDW):
    • Prowl, as shown in The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers and The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, knows the Autobot Code inside and out, and privately holds a grudge against every maverick troop out there, especially the Wreckers. Naturally, he isn't popular, having driven away anyone who could possibly have a reason to like him, much less tolerate him, and has long become incredibly bitter and angry at everyone. Bonus points for being a police car.
    • Ultra Magnus started like this, but after joining the Lost Light's crew he eventually was convinced to relax a little, resulting in the rest of the crew warming up to him.

    Fan Works 
  • Judgemaster Cid in The Tainted Grimoire is this through and through. Even if he feels following the letter of the law is morally wrong, he'll still do it, albeit reluctantly.
  • Foremost General Hardness (the D is silent) in Ice Ice Baby. He plays by the rules and the citizens of Sochi thank him for it.

    Films — Animation 
  • Osmosis Jones. Drix is the BTBC, Osmosis is the Cowboy Cop.
  • Lilo & Stitch: Pleakley, during his time as an agent for the Galactic Federation, is shown to be a strict guy who follows the rules, which is part of the reason why he is partnered up with Jumba to make sure Jumba does not do anything reckless or escape from federation custody. It's shown when Pleakley insists that they capture Jumba's creation, Stitch, without blowing their cover as aliens, which is why they pretend to be husband and wife when they reach Earth. Of course, Pleakley gets fired after many backfired attempts to capture Stitch while following the book.
  • In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales' father, Jefferson Davis, doesn't approve of Spider-Man's tendency to break the law when he saves the city. Jeff doesn't even run red lights like other police officers do, embarrassing Miles when he drives him to boarding school.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987), at first. But he's quickly taught the folly of this when faced with the likes of Al Capone. He then goes full Cowboy Cop, raids places without a warrant, and, in one case, outright murders a guy whom he just arrested.
  • Sergeant Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, at least initially.
  • All of the Beverly Hills cops in Beverly Hills Cop, except Axel.
    • Lieutenant Bogomil actually invokes the trope name when he explains to Axel why he won't let him investigate a customs bonded area without a warrant after discovering coffee grounds in the building.
    • Bogomil then outright lies to his superior when questioned about the events of the raid on the Big Bad's mansion, earning him Axel's respect.
    • In Beverly Hills Cop II, Bogomil conducts his own investigation without telling anyone.
  • Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson in Die Hard.
  • RoboCop, which is understandable since he literally has The Book programmed into his brain. He's more violent than a typical example, but that's more a reflection of the world he lives in.
  • Nick Angel in Hot Fuzz. Even after defeating the villains Cowboy Cop style he still does paperwork.
    • Blowing Up The Movies observes that the movie actually inverts the Cowboy Cop trope, as Nick Angel drives his superiors crazy not by ignoring procedure, but following it to an obsessive degree.
  • The Ontarian Martin Ward is the By-the-Book Cop in Bon Cop, Bad Cop. You have one guess as to what his (Québecois) partner is.
  • Jack Valentine in Lord of War follows by the book and is the only reason Yuri Orlov was able to get away for as long as he did.
  • Lt. Ed Exley in L.A. Confidential. at least at first.
  • Inspector David Tosci in Zodiac is very by the book both in life and in the film. The film shows all the steps he goes through while pursuing a key suspect in a pretty fair aversion of Hollywood Law, and even in the end, he knows there's no smoking gun to prove the killer's identity.
  • Joe Friday in the 1987 Dragnet Affectionate Parody movie.
  • Detective Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) in Showtime is a typical example. His first scene has him explaining his job to a class of little kids, dispensing with all the Cowboy Cop tropes they might know from Hollywood. However, he fairly quickly breaks rules when necessary (or if he's pissed). For example, the act that results in him being forced to participate in a reality TV show involves shooting a video camera mere inches from the cameraman's head. Officer Trey Sellars wants to be a Cowboy Cop, or at least play one on TV.
  • Open Doors: By-the-book prosecutor/judge. Signora Spadafora, who clammed up when she was brought to court to testify, approaches Vito outside of court and offers to spill her secrets of whatever her husband and Scalia and the others were up to. Vito, however, is very serious about following proper legal procedure, and tells the widow that he can't talk to her. As a result he never does learn what she wanted to tell him.
  • Detective Carlson in Blue Streak is fairly new as a detective and is paired up with the "more experienced" Lead Detective Malone. Carlson tries his best to follow the letter of the law. He is very confused about Malone skirting the law and police procedure. There's a good reason for Malone's behavior, though. He's actually a jewel thief who's posing as a cop trying to retrieve the stolen diamond he has hidden in the police station two years before. By the end, though, Carlson has learned enough to understand how it all really works (he deliberately lets "Malone" cross the Mexican border before revealing that he knows who he is and then pointing out that "Malone" is out of his jurisdiction).
  • In Split Second (1992), Dick Durkin is much more mindful of proper police procedure and much calmer than his new partner Stone due to his past education on killers and psychopaths. Subverted towards the end when he realizes that they're up against a supernatural monstrosity and he becomes just as gun-happy as Stone.
  • Kaz in Beyond the Lights is the very definition. He values truth, honesty, and justice above all else. Even when he's mad at and doesn't want to talk to Noni, he refuses to start driving his truck until she buckles up her seat belt.
  • This leads to a tragic turn in The Jackal. The FBI is protecting a witness with every agent told to ensure absolutely no word gets out about her location. But Agent Witherspoon still feels the need to fill out the paperwork and enter into a taped log the exact address of the woman and her family, which, thanks to The Mole, the titular assassin discovers, leading to several deaths (including Witherspoon's).
    Deputy Director Preston: (listening to recorded transcript giving away all the information) Witherspoon, you by the book asshole!
  • Inverted in Miami Blues, in which Detective Sanchez gives Detective Moseley a detailed explanation as to how he happened to track down the psycho Fred Frenger to use in his report. (And which is in total contradiction to what actually happened — which is that Moseley was stalking Frenger to get his false teeth back). Moseley answers, "Yeah, something like that." Sanchez insists, "No — EXACTLY like that."
  • In Alien Nation, a human cop who breaks all the rules is paired with a new detective from an alien race that has assimilated on Earth. At first, the alien follows all the rules but them finds out the danger to his own people and goes off on his own. When the human mentions following procedure, the alien says "Fuck procedure".
  • Dobermann: The Captain is just as determined to bring in Dobermann as Christini. He just wants to it by the book. When his plan fails and Christini is given command of the operation, his disgust at Christini's Cowboy Cop methods is palpable.
  • The Confirmation: The Police officer who pulls Walt and Anthony over for supposedly being prowlers is pretty strict and cuts him of every time he tries to explain the circumstances while just cutting down to the facts of the case, although she does let them go with just a ticket.
  • Major Grom: Plague Doctor: Dima Dubin dislikes excessive violence and questions his unlikely parthner Igor Grom's Cowboy Cop methods.
  • Korean film Going By The Book takes its name from this trope. Main character Jung Do-Man is introduced when he gives a ticket for an illegal turn—to his district's new chief of police.

  • Geoffrey Briggs, Da Chief of the NCD in Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime, always does things by the book... the crime fiction book, that is. He habitually suspends the detective once in every case for intentional dramatic effect, and trains his cops for the job by making them watch reruns of Columbo.
  • In P D James comparatively realistic Adam Dalgliesh series, Kate and Dalgliesh both fit this trope well. When Daniel, the third member of the squad, lets a suspect commit suicide rather than face prison, it really shines through. Daniel is disgusted by their (especially Kate's) belief in the absoluteness of the law, and they actually have an intelligent conversation about it. Paraphrased a little:
    Daniel [disgustedly]: The law is the only moral code you ever need. You're always so sure about everything.
    Kate: I'm sure about some things. I'm sure about murder. How can I not be?
  • Who Censored Roger Rabbit??: Toon police Captain "Clever" Cleaver, working on the Rabbit murder case doesn't want any loose cannons (e.g. Eddie Valiant) wrestling the long arm of the law away from him. In the not-quite-sequel Who Plugged Roger Rabbit?, Sargeant "Bulldog" Bascomb takes a similar role, but somewhat more similar to Da Chief. (Though Cleaver is still mentioned as the one who habitually hounds Eddie).
  • Discworld:
    • Captain Carrot, the Literal-Minded adoptive son of dwarfs, who is so consistently by the book that it even rubs off on the otherwise deeply cynical city of Ankh-Morpork.
    • "The Book" in this case being The Laws and Ordinances of The Cities of Ankh and Morpork, published some six generations previously. Carrot isn't just the only copper who follows the book, he's probably the only one who's read it, since the equally by the book, but much more pragmatic, Commander Vimes got the Librarian to hide it because it was just causing trouble. Also, it's quite heavy, so if Captain Carrot threatens to "throw the book at you", duck.
    • Vimes himself also fits this trope, most obviously at the end of Night Watch. While he's far more cynical than Carrot, that same cynicism is basically what makes him The Fettered. He's willing to bend the rules somewhat and tolerates bribes on the level of beer and donuts (and on occasion, actually acts like a Cowboy Cop), but has cast-iron principles he will not break. As Vetinari notes, Vimes has a strong anti-authoritarianism streak despite being authority.
  • The The Echo Case Files series. Sara Ramirez is this, which is why her boss trusts her with the absolute power that being a Confederate Marshal gives a person; she knows Ramirez won't abuse it.
  • The In Death series. Eve somehow manages to be both this and a Cowboy Cop! Peabody is a straighter example of By-the-Book Cop but not entirely.
  • Sano Ichiro, in the series bearing his name, is an interesting twist as he is also a Samurai. Unlike many of his compatriots, he actually follows the code of Bushido and is an honest man. While this direct approach works for his first few cases, he has to adopt a more Cowboy Cop approach as the series goes on since his enemies are more than willing to push and break the rules themselves.
  • The original Inspector Javert of Les Misérables, who strives to be an absolutely irreproachable representative of the law. It's why Valjean keeps slipping through his fingers: Javert won't move to arrest him without proof, and the delay gives Valjean time to notice he's in trouble and skip town.
  • John Strock, hero of the Jules Verne thriller Master of the World, is an experienced police agent willing to do his duty and play by the rules, even when it means risking his own life.
  • The Dresden Files is a world where the powerful break the rules, often simply because they can. Murphy is a cop who Believes in the power of law. That doesn't last.
    • On the magical hand is Donald Morgan, who is the frequent enforcer of the Laws of Magic. At first, he seems to have it out for Harry specifically, but by the events of Turn Coat, Harry realizes that Morgan seems rabid only because Morgan has been enforcing the laws for centuries, and has extensive experience with black magic practitioners. He hounds Harry and shows no mercy because it's never worked in the past, so he instead enforces the law by the letter.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's New Watch, Staff Sergeant Dima Pastukhov of the Moscow Police considers himself an honest cop, by Russian standards. Granted, he'll occasionally accept a small bribe (e.g. more change than what he paid) from a cafe owner when stopping by for lunch or rough up a drunk or two when they get rowdy and refuse to go to a sobering-up station. However, he will also chase down any perp without a second thought, won't harass store owners, and will let those who are only a little drunk go home (provided they don't drive). However, he avoids the Others like the plague, having been accidentally granted the ability to see them by Anton's carelessness in the first novel (he's one of the two cops he tells to go get drunk on his first case, nearly costing them their careers).
  • Joe Leaphorn in Tony Hillerman's mystery novels.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, Nale is very careful to follow the laws of whatever country he's in. He doesn't necessarily follow the spirit of these laws, nor show respect to the people who wrote them, but he does follow what's written down. His true purpose seems to be to kill people with Surgebinding abilities, but he'll only do so if he can get a legal writ of execution for some crime they committed. When someone thinks to pardon his current quarry, he has no choice but to leave her alone. It's also implied that this is true of every Skybreaker (the Radiant Order Nale founded). Many of them choose to follow the law above all else for their Third Ideal, though they can choose to follow something else (many swear to follow Nale himself, for example).
  • Magical Cats Mysteries: Main character Kathleen Paulson's semi-love interest is Marcus Gordon, a cop of this type who investigates most (if not all) of the major crimes in Mayville Heights, Minnesota, and is adamant about sticking to the facts and physical proof rather than gut instinct like Kathleen. And no matter how helpful she and her discoveries are, he keeps telling her to just keep away from whatever case he's working on and not to go snooping around (advice that she continually ignores, despite her own best efforts, seeing as she tends to be a Mystery Magnet and the evidence just keeps coming her way). This puts a major strain on their relationship, such as it is. He mellows out considerably by the end of book 5, when they become an official couple, and is more open with her in books 6 and beyond.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alien Nation: George Francisco.
  • Beforeigners: Lars and Alfhildr both do their best. Lars in particular is a stickler for protocol and the series only kicks off because Lars insists on actually investigating a drowned woman's body instead of just calling it an accidental drowning and taking an early lunch. That said, Lars' drug addiction and Alfhildr being a time-displaced Viking shieldmaiden with a tendency to relapse into old habits mean that protocol... sometimes falls by the wayside.
  • Beyond Paradise (2023): Esther is a stickler for the rules, and reacts with horror when Humphrey conducts an interview without following proper procedure because it might give the suspect legal cover to contest his charges.
  • The X-Files: Not quite a cop, but a similar example: Director Walter Skinner of the FBI likes things clean and easy, with Mulder and Scully turning in matching reports, preferably with no mention of aliens, mad science, or miscellaneous monstrosities. In a way, Scully herself plays stern By-the-Book Cop to Mulder's enthusiastic cowboyesque shenanigans.
    • Skinner is no stranger to cowboyish attitude but he is also perfectly aware how dangerous the environment he is moving in is.
    • The real by-the-book-cop here is Doggett, who actually got his start as a cop. Once you get over the fact that he replaced one of the most beloved characters in the series, the poor fellow's attempts to adapt from his world of by-the-numbers L&O to the weird and wacky world of the X-Files can be somewhat charming.
  • Peter tries to be this on White Collar, but Neal's brilliant-but-not-quite-legal schemes make it hard for him. More often than not he ends up looking the other way, or even helping Neal if he knows it means catching the criminal.
  • The Dakotas: Ragan is the perfect example of this. The show is set in The Wild West, and Ragan believes that deviating from the law in any way devalues it.
  • Inspector Rex: Chief Filippo Gori admires Lorenzo Fabbri and his successor Davide Rivera for being skillful policemen but hates their willingness to bypass the law.
  • Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is from a species that has by the book as its hat. As the head of law enforcement on the station, he does have mercy with people who meant no harm or acted out of desperation, but that does not stop him from taking loitering children to his office and calling their parents to get them.
    • Odo is unique in that he was a by the book cop for both the Cardassians during the Occupation and the Federation/Bajorans afterwards, despite them having very different concepts of what law and order are supposed to be. He himself lampshades this by saying no matter whose rules he's enforcing, he holds to a personal belief of what justice is.
    • He is so by-the-book that Sisko asked him to be the umpire of their baseball game with a team of Vulcans. Odo tossed Sisko and the Vulcan coach from the game because each, on separate occasions, tapped him on the shoulder (to get his attention) and violated the rule against intentionally touching the umpire.
  • Due South: Mountie Benton Fraser. Not just that, he goes by a completely different book than people might expect.
  • P.C George Dixon of Dixon of Dock Green is a British example.
  • The police officers on shows like Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street, at least in their earlier seasons, generally tended to be this sort of cop; they might not have been quite the 'friendly police officer' of earlier tropes, but they generally tended to do their jobs following procedure. With a rather lax interpretation of the Bill of Rights, however.
    • Matt Devlin once arrested a friend of his after the guy snorted cocaine right in front of him. This foreshadows his actions in a later episode where he insists on investigating another detective's murky account of a shooting, despite the fact that the man is a very good friend of his partner Ronnie.
  • Just about every police officer in a Jack Webb production. When an exception shows up, it's usually the main characters who have to catch or stop him.
  • The The Good Guys has Jack Bailey who is extremely by the book but pisses off his superiors so much that the only way he can solve the case is to follow the lead of his Cowboy Cop partner.
    • Detective Elton Hodges has been filling this role in a very by-the-book fashion as Jack has become more and more influenced by Stark.
  • Sam Tyler in Life On Mars and Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes (2008) are the by-the-book-cops to Gene Hunt's Old-Fashioned Copper. DCI Jim Keats in Ashes To Ashes is a villainous example.
  • In Freddy's Nightmares, the cop who arrested Freddy Krueger but forgot to sign a warrant was actually one of these, and frowned upon the idea of the parents of Springwood getting together and administering justice on Freddy themselves when the case against him was dismissed.
  • FBI example: Agent Hotchner in Criminal Minds, although he did have a bit of a breakdown at one point that led to him walking into a house to confront an armed killer by himself and even beating a killer to death with his bare hands (but in a situation in which it's pretty easy to argue that he had no choice).
  • The Shadow Line:
    • Jonah Gabriel gives the impression of one at first, though he has cowboyish traits like his refusal to obey his superiors' wish that he stop investigating Harvey Wratten's death and he's hinted for a while to have been an actual Dirty Cop before he lost his memory.
    • Robert Beatty, though he's a customs officer rather than a cop.
    • A minor example appears in the first scene of the series, with the rookie that points out all the procedures Sergeant Foley violates at the scene of Harvey Wratten's murder.
  • Community parodies this in "The Science of Illusion" when Annie and Shirley become temporary campus security guards. They end up getting into an argument about which one of them should be the By-the-Book Cop and which one should be the Cowboy Cop despite the fact that both of them are equally suited to both roles, and Abed, who is following them around, ends up invoking a whole load of tropes based on this.
  • Detective Abby Kowalski from Against the Wall.
  • Rookie Blue has Chris Diaz as the most By-the-Book Cop amongst rookies. Actually detrimental to his performance as he does not take initiative which is noted by his superiors.
  • Signalman from Gekisou Sentai Carranger, oh so very much. Played to the hilt for laughs, of course.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Alex from Power Rangers Time Force. When he travels back in time to reclaim the Red Ranger powers from Wes, his leading style is too rigid since he refuses to accept input from anybody. When Wes returns to help them out of a tough situation, the other Rangers, even his fiance, Jen, plead with him to let Wes continue as the Red Ranger.
    • Sky from Power Rangers S.P.D.. Constant head-butting with the much more laid-back Jack, naturally.
    • Ravi from Power Rangers: Beast Morphers deconstructs this. While he's a stickler for the rules of Grid Battleforce, he's not always happy about it. He hates the rule against Rangers dating Rangers, which forces him to break up with his girlfriend in the first episode, but it's still a rule. And since the commander is his mother, his by-the-book style goes beyond a need to do his job right.
  • The CSI franchise can both play this straight and subvert it. Brass in the original series and Mac in CSI: NY are usually very by-the-book. But, lately, Mac in particular, and Brass to a smaller extent will break rules if it comes to it.
  • Wes in Common Law, lawyer-turned-homicide detective. His Cowboy Cop partner Travis jokes that he's a robot incapable of emotion. His expertise is analyzing the facts of the case, often tediously reading reports and looking at photographs for hours on end.
  • In Golden Boy detective Don Owen is very by-the-book which often frustrates Walter Clark, his ambitious Cowboy Cop partner. However, Owen has a tendency to turn into a Cowboy Cop himself when the case becomes too personal. This is seen as a major flaw of his because it tends to mess up the case and almost gets Owen killed.
  • Murder, She Wrote had two of them. Cabot Cove's first sheriff was Amos Tupper, an honest cop and a close friend of Jessica. After he retired after the fourth season, he was replaced by Sheriff Mort Metzger, a former NYPD detective who took the job after mistakenly believing that the town was a peaceful place. Still, he did his job well, considering.
  • In NUMB3RS, when Don is talking to a therapist about his team, he mentions (in a complimentary way) that he sees David Sinclair as this. David's actions throughout the series generally support this assertion.
    Don: The thing I admire about him is, the rules don't really bother him. I mean, he's the kind of guy that just somehow — he gets it done.
  • Sgt. Bernie Terwilliger in Hunter lives for the Book, loathes Hunter for his disregard for the rules, and never fails to point it out. He later gets transferred to Internal Affairs, a job which suits him to a T. Contrary to the trope description, he is not older than the other detectives (he seems to be in his late thirties in the first season).
  • Most, if not all parking enforcers in Parking Wars are just doing their jobs and issuing tickets to illegally parked cars.
  • In Battle Creek, FBI agent Milton Chamberlain is painfully by-the-book and polite, in stark contrast to the Battle Creek police Detective Russ Agnew, who is rude, cynical, and doesn't mind bending a few rules to get the job done. A later episode reveals that Milt hasn't always been this way. After being forced to shoot a teenager and getting another one killed, Milt starts doing everything by the book, annoying his coworkers to the point where they reassign him to Battle Creek.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: Various officers take this role:
    • Murdoch himself is very devoted to following evidence and doing a thorough job of investigating. Inspector Brackenreid will occasionally criticize him for this, saying things like, "I know you have only two speeds, Murdoch: slow and dead slow." For his part, Murdoch will sometimes express objections or discomfort with Brackenreid's propensity to use his fists to get information, though such hands-on methods were commonly accepted at the time.
    • Brackenreid himself will take a stand on regulations and the law when one of Murdoch's new-fangled methods seems to push the limit, or when Murdoch is taking a long time to do his job. He'll mention habeas corpus if someone is in custody too long without a charge.
    • Percival Giles, particularly when interacting with Murdoch and Brackenreid. After the escape of Ava Moon, he is routinely critical of Murdoch and Brackenreid's methods. When they go to another jurisdiction and remove a corpse back to Toronto, he insists they return the body to the other department and write letters of apology to the other cops and coroner.
  • Inspector Bucket from Bleak House is a by-the-book cop in Dickensian, although in the very early days of Detective Branch, he's mostly writing the book as he goes along.
  • In early episodes of The Bill characters were largely defined by their attitudes to the 1984 PACE act. Inspector Conway and DS Greig were notable adherents to the guidelines.
  • Jim Gordon starts this way on Gotham. However, it doesn't take him long to realize that to survive this insane town, breaking the rules is a much better way to find justice.
  • The Good Cop has TJ living this trope to the extreme. He once let a suspect go because he refused to walk the street against a red light and spent hours trying to find out who dropped a quarter on the floor to return it rather than keeping it for himself. He lives by the mantra "break one rule, they all break" and his fellow officers can't believe how literally he takes rules even his own bosses don't care about.
    • Ironically, his father is an infamous Cowboy Cop whose rule-breaking led to a stint in jail yet is still used as a police consultant. The show's comedy comes from Senior teaching TJ that a little rule-bending can be a good thing.
  • In Hec Ramsey, Chief Stamp is determined to drag law enforcement into the 20th Century, and wants things done by the book; even if that means writing the book himself.
  • The F.B.I.: Inspector Erskine and all of his partners throughout the series always do everything by the book. As the programme was made with the cooperation of the F.B.I., the agents had to be portrayed as straight arrows.
  • Hightown: Alan Santille, who always insists on procedures being followed.
  • In Low Winter Sun, Detective Kahlil is shown to be one of the least corrupt in the department, even willing to alienate her relationship with Agnew by wearing a wire to get information for Internal Affairs.
  • Parodied in Arrested Development with the Show Within a Show Wrench, about a cop who is so by-the-book that he will stop at a stop sign during a car chase.
  • Yellowjackets, Detective Kevyn Tan's attempt to reconnect with old friend Natalie ends abruptly shortly after when he realizes his service weapon is missing a bullet. Because he has to account for every bullet, he questions her about it. He sees right through the flimsy excuse Natalie gives him since she can't tell him that she went on an unsuccessful caper with Taissa and Shauna to catch the blackmailer and calls her bluff.
  • The Devil Judge has Yoon Soo-hyun who strictly follows the law no matter what. However, this is Played With when she tampers with the crime scene she found Ga-on at, but it's just a case of suicide mistaken for murder on her end.

  • Lieutenant Burke in the podcast Rex Rivetter: Private Eye starts off as a Bible-quoting homicide detective friend/adversary to the titular hero, set in 1950s Los Angeles.

  • Pretty much every LAPD cop in Dragnet, as the stories are based on actual LAPD reports.
  • Parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Sound in a sketch about a cop who's dragged in to Da Chief's office for a dressing down because he's too strictly by the book, and spends more of his time reporting other officers for minor uniform infractions and filling in meaningless HR paperwork about how effective his meetings have been than investigating the serial killings he's been assigned to solve.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Feng Shui, the By-the-Book Cop is usually a Karate Cop. He may bend the law to serve higher justice, but only if he has no other choice.
  • In Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Arbitrators generally fall into this. The book they follow is very draconian (and they follow it to the letter) but Dark Heresy mentions that committing vigilante justice is among the worst heresies an Arbitrator can commit.
    • Puritan Inquisitors, while still very likely to ignore actual laws when it suits them (the Inquisition being above such restrictions), tend to follow accepted philosophies rather than attempting unsanctioned solutions (such as using Chaos against itself or trying to restructure the Imperium) the way Radicals do.

    Video Games 
  • Katsuya from Persona 2 is by-the-book to a ridiculous degree, even in supernatural situations where the law shouldn't really apply. (In a reversal of the usual way of this trope, he's quite young; his rule-breaking, dubious-method-using foil, Baofu, is much older.)
  • Citadel Security (C-Sec for short) in Mass Effect is apparently made up of nothing but By-the-Book Cops, if the player is to believe their leader. The outwardly-reserved Cowboy Cop on your crew split with the force over increasing frustration with C-Sec's regulations; Commander Shepard has the option to either encourage him in his Cowboy Cop behavior or convince him of the value of doing things by the book.
    • Made far more meaningful considering that as a Spectre, Paragon Shepard actually does have total authority in Citadel Space to act as Judge, Jury, and Executioner if they want to. It's implied that Shepard's actions teach Garrus that just because someone can use force to take down criminals, doesn't mean they should.
    • Of course, in the second game a C-Sec officer admits during Thane's loyalty mission that he's been looking the other way of a certain criminal as long as he "buys tickets to the C-Sec charity ball." The same cop will later skirt rules to let Thane's son off the hook for attempted murder (and, if you choose the Renegade option, the murder you finished), although that's shown as an act of compassion. Overall, not exactly a Cowboy Cop, but he's certainly breaking a few rules at this point.
  • Norman Jayden from Heavy Rain, whose by the book-ness naturally puts him at odds with Cowboy Cop Lieutenant Blake.
  • Police Quest:
    • Your squad in SWAT 4, the best score will be awarded to players who follow this trope—handcuff and report all suspects and civilians, subdue suspects with non-lethal methods and bring them in alive unless they're openly hostile, and confiscate all firearms and other evidence.
    • The original games require the player to follow procedure to the letter, especially if they want to get the maximum score. Unsurprisingly, the main character Sonny Bonds appears in the later SWAT series.
  • Caitlyn in League of Legends, being the sheriff of Piltover, is this, especially when compared to her Cowboy Cop partner, Vi.
  • Detective Cole from L.A. Noire, full stop. While his partners are obviously eager to skirt the law to get the bad guys, Cole himself sticks to standard investigation and interrogation technique (for the time) and still gets his man. When he does deviate from the book, it's either because he's being ordered to do so by Da Chief, or because the corruption in the upper ranks of the police department forces him to pursue justice through alternate avenues.
  • Disco Elysium:
    • Kim Kitsuragi, the Player Character's partner, is this, at least by the standards of the setting. He cares about more about rules and procedure than most police officers, and will often try to encourage the player to stay on the straight and narrow, and will frown upon them acting like a Cowboy Cop or a Dirty Cop, but he's ultimately not above bending the rules if he sees it as necessary, though he never does so lightly. It is worth pointing out that Kim's by-the-bookness is an image he intentionally cultivates — he trash-talks you at board games by proclaiming that when he wins, he always does it by-the-book, and in one especially harrowing scene your character will note that professionalism is used by him as a way of soothing himself when in despair.
    • The player, however, can also themselves choose to embrace the trope, by ignoring the wackier dialogue choices and actions, and trying to adhere to regulations. This causes the game to designate the Player Character as a "Boring Cop", and notes that this kind of behavior can not come naturally for someone with his colorful past and current looks. The game will also note that the Boring Cop persona is just another one of your unhealthy coping mechanisms and does nothing to actually help you behave like a normal human being — internalizing the Boring Cop identity will make the game congratulate you on now being both mad and boring.
  • Mappy, from the game of the same name, is a police officer sent to retrieve stolen artifacts from thieving cats, and sticks to his given task with few issues.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Edgeworth is a by-the-book prosecutor (which is almost the same thing as a cop in this universe) in Ace Attorney Investigations. He goes by the rule of evidence, even when someone's guilt is blindingly obvious. In the first game, pre-Heel–Face Turn, he is a little less ethical.
    • One might file the judge under this trope. He responds only to presented evidence and testimony, despite his senile appearance.
    • The playable characters also fall under this, since gameplay forces them to adhere to the rules of the court system, which insist on providing evidence to back up everything. This is lampshaded to hell and back in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, when several cases are specifically designed for it to be obvious who the real murderer is, only for the Judge to have to keep turning down Apollo's claims on the grounds of lack of decisive evidence. This is the main reason Phoenix goes about setting up the Jurist System, to try to get around those sorts of issues.
  • Detective Gurski from the Murder Mystery Visual Novel Jisei spends most of his time guarding the crime scene and making calls to get a background on the victim. He will not hesitate to arrest you if he manages to see you trying to get another look at the body. However, he does defy this trope by encouraging the protagonist to do most of the questioning on his own.

    Web Comics 
  • John Carson Sr. of Bloodand Smoke is this compared to the other officers of Newshade City.
  • Kittan of DOUBLE K is presented like this. The by-the-book, insanely rewarded and loved transfer from another department. Until it's revealed to be a cover story by his former chief, and that he's just as much a Cowboy Cop as Kamina.
  • The Happy Jar strip The Scotsdale Case features Good Cop, who respects Da Chief's judgment.
  • Jupiter-Men:
    • Nathan is very insistent about following all the rules. This is played negatively when he insists on deporting Arrio to the Magi Dimension for being a Magite as per the terms of a dimensional treaty despite Arrio being born and raised on Earth/Prime. He only relents after Quintin and Jackie show Arrio into Nathan's home and create a costume for Arrio.
    • While Bea appreciates the Jupiter-Men's (or rather Gusher's) help in stopping crime, she's still opposed to vigilantes and opens an investigation into them.
  • Detective Lechter, who sits across from Cedric in The Letters Of The Devil, is "too big a straight-edge."

    Web Original 
  • Used as a positive in Cracked's list of Movie Characters that didn't make horrible decisions
    Perfect Partners:
    After Danny Rizzo loses yet another wisecracking maverick partner to an explosion, he dreads being paired up with still another loose cannon who gets things done. Instead, he gets James Flynn, a cop who likes to do everything the same way he does. When they find themselves reading suspects their Miranda rights in unison, they know this partnership was meant to be.
    Together, they hit the streets and play it safe, steering responsibly away from things outside their jurisdiction and always calling for backup.
    The film follows their careers together, traffic stop after traffic stop after noise complaint, until the last day before retirement.
    They arrive to find a suspiciously empty office. Sensing something is wrong, they hurry to the chief's office, where the whole department surprises them with a party, and the chief winkingly tells them they can head home a day early and count it as a free "sick day" on him. After retiring, they move to Florida with their wives.
  • Judge Dead from Noob is initially presented as a Judge, Jury, and Executioner version of this. The "following rules to the letter" part is best seen in the webseries version where he doesn't do anything about a player insulting another because "rasberry [candy brand]" isn't actually an insult according to the rulebook he follows. This is ultimately subverted as The Reveal from the franchise-wide Wham Episode requires him to have kept the secret on something illegal.
  • The Adventures Of Jack Bulletproof, The Cop Who Plays By All The Rules.
  • The trope is flipped in Takotsubo—Henderson is the older, experienced cop who is the Commissioner Gordon to the vigilante gang East 13 and their leader, the Tin Man. Her new partner Detective Blake is a young man fresh out of the academy and needs a crash course in street law. The difference is also implied to be because Blake is white since most of the cast are minorities.

    Western Animation 
  • Rook Blonko Ben 10: Omniverse is a pretty good example, where he strictly abides by the rules and constantly calls the reckless Ben out for his more outrageous plans. This was intentionally done by the writers who noted Rook to be this but also naive to the more Cowboy Cop but experienced Ben.
  • Police Chief Suarez, Frida's father, in El Tigre.
  • From Fillmore!: Wayne Ligget, Fillmore's old partner, was said to be the good cop to Fillmore's Cowboy Cop.
    Fillmore: You're always by the book.
    Wayne: You threw out my book.
  • Parker and Walker, the rival detectives to the main characters in Funky Cops, are a couple of dry straight-laced Men In Black who can't think outside the box and would really rather be working for the FBI. They even specifically allude to the FBI handbook now and again.
  • Flint in G.I. Joe: Renegades is this. Although he starts to suspect Duke's innocence of the crime, he still wants to bring him in if only to get to the bottom of things.
  • Renee Montoya from Batman: The Animated Series
  • Zachary Foxx in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers defaults to this, and was much more "by the book" at the start of the series. His more "colorful" Badass Crew sometimes rubs off on him, though.
  • Evans from World of Winx is this compared to her more easy going partner Gomez.
  • Super Noobs: Memnock and Zenblock, who are alien virus warriors, are revealed to be strict followers of rules from the Benevolent Alliance. This is shown in "Count Noob-A-Nus" when after they arrest Count Venomous and his minions for their crimes of distributing the virus to other planets, they use a manual from the Benevolent Alliance to show that they must treat any prisoners they arrest with kindness and fairness. Of course, Venamus uses these regulations against them to trick them into entering a prison pod and launching them into space, though Both Mem and Zen survive unharmed and end up defeating Venamus with the pod. Its also shown when Mem and Zen have to repeatedly disguise themselves as human men in order to not blow their cover aliens, which they sometimes forget to do.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) has the Shredder's brother.
  • The Ridonculous Race: Sanders, who is a cop and partners with Cowboy Cop MacArthur, wants to win the race without breaking any international laws. She is also willing to play fair and follow all the rules of the race, which sometimes gets on MacArthur's nerves.

    Real Life 
  • Chilean cops are generally this, especially the young ones fresh out of school. Don't ever, EVER, try to bribe one to get out of a ticket. Lie, cry, say your mother is dying, but do not try to bribe the cop. This is even mentioned in tourism information about the country.
  • Most Italian law enforcement officers, especially those from the Carabinieri (technically military, but working as part of the law enforcement). This breaks down a little as you go further south (i.e. into the territory of The Mafia and other such organizations), but even there the clean cops outnumber the crooked ones.
  • The police chief in this story takes it a little far by giving himself a ticket for speeding.


Video Example(s):


Lieutenant Roger Raincomprix

Roger refuses to break the law even when the mayor orders him to.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / ByTheBookCop

Media sources: