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Calling the Cops on the FBI

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Richard Kimble: Officer, officer! There's a man in a trenchcoat waving a gun around and a woman!
(Gerard comes running around the corner screaming "STOP THAT MAN!" and is instantly seized by officers.)
One of the other Marshals: Let him go! He's a US Marshal!

So the Government Conspiracy is after you for a crime you didn't commit, or maybe you really did commit one and the Secret Service is on your tail. Either way, the Spies in a Van are parked outside your house and you can't leave. So what do you do?

Call the cops.

The weaponized version of Jurisdiction Friction, this is when someone chased by a covert branch of law enforcement blows their cover by making them suspicious to another branch and then escapes in the confusion. When captured, a similar tactic is Police Brutality Gambit, where the same effect is achieved by way of Internal Affairs. This trope is often averted when the Government Conspiracy creates a false criminal history for the pursued, so regular law enforcement is after them as well.

Alternatively, bystanders may call the cops if they see the covert agents behaving suspiciously, leading to an unintentional version of this trope. The odds of this happening are doubled if the agents are the good guys.

Compare Right Hand Versus Left Hand, where the law enforcers end up clashing without third-party influence.

This can be Truth in Television (see the Real Life section) but it's uncommon. Though the specifics vary from country to country, federal enforcement agencies work to avert this. It's routine practice (and often an explicit requirement) for federal agents to consult with local law enforcement about their activities so that situations like this can be avoided. In addition to preventing criminals from exploiting this trope it avoids a situation where people trained with weapons would fire on each other, which could end very badly.


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  • Inversion: National Lampoon's album Missing White House Tapes was a send-up of a regular day of TV programming related to the Watergate scandal. One was The FBI (the original ABC series) and had this announcement over a police bullhorn after the break-in:
    L. Patrick Gray: All right...this is L. Patrick Gray of the FBI. Now I know I'm in there. If I don't come out with my hands up, I'm coming in after me.

    Comic Books 
  • Thomson and Thompson of Tintin find themselves in police custody more than once due their bungling efforts at stealth.

    Film - Animation 
  • The Castle of Cagliostro
    • Lupin is able to sneak past the guards by dressing as Inspector Zenigata and telling them they let Lupin disguised as Zenigata go free.
    • During the final battle, Fujiko is able to get Zenigata and his men to help against the Count and his guards by telling him Lupin would be at his marriage... And thus he had an excuse to be there and "accidentally" expose the Count as a counterfeiter.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In at least one of the Bourne films, Jason Bourne calls the local police to confuse and deter the CIA chasing him. On other instances across the three movies, they show up on their own, because random secret service members probably shouldn't be able to go around shooting each other in France, Russia, and the United States.
    • In The Bourne Supremacy, FSB agent Kirill (Karl Urban), who also works as henchman for Yuri Gretkov, gets stopped from shooting further at Bourne (after wounding him in the shoulder) by regular Moscow cops holding him at gunpoint, though they release him rapidly.
  • In Enemy of the State, Robert Clayton Dean sees the Spies In a Van parked outside a house that he needs to enter unseen. So he calls the city cops and spins a tale about conspicuous men in a van who might be doing drugs. Cue the spies when they hear the call on the police radio:
    "Oh, eat me. That's us."
  • Used by Richard Kimble in The Fugitive when being chased by Samuel Gerard. At a moment when he's gained a temporary lead, he tells a nearby police officer about a man he just saw waving a gun around in a threatening manner, causing the policeman to temporarily restrain Gerard when he shows up in pursuit with his gun drawn.
  • Hackers. The title computer criminals harass their arch enemy, Secret Service agent Richard Gill, by creating a fake criminal record for him that causes the police to arrest him.
  • At the end of Mercury Rising, Cowboy FBI Agent Art Jeffries is able to prove that he (and the Idiot Savant kid that he's been protecting during the whole movie) are being chased by murderous members of the NSA. The final encounter ends with a Big Damn Heroes attack by a Hostage Rescue Team, which curb stomps the Big Bad's Dragon and provides a distraction for Art to save the kid.
  • A superhero variation occurs in Batman Begins when Scarecrow orders his men to call the cops when Batman shows up, knowing the cops will go after the vigilante and they could escape in the confusion.
  • In Red (2010), Frank Moses has just rescued Sarah from a CIA agent disguised as a New Orleans cop, and they are making their getaway in the cop car. When CIA Agent Cooper gives chase, Moses uses the police radio to call in an Officer Down, and gives a description of Cooper and his vehicle. When the cops corner Cooper, he drops his gun and surrenders rather than try to explain.

  • Col. Picquart of An Officer and a Spy is being tailed by the Surete, the French secret police. He draws the attention of a beat cop to the two suspicious men that are following him, and thus escapes his Surete tail.
  • Grifter does this in Dragons Wild. Unusual version in that he had explained to the cops ahead of time that the people he was calling them on were probably FBI.
  • A variation in Super Powereds. In Year 2, Professor Pendleton has a special extra credit test for the top students in his Subtlety class. The test involves him moving around at a large outdoor mall before sitting down at some public location. At that point, the students have to sit down next to him within 15 minutes to pass. Anyone who fails to find him in time or allows him to touch them before the time is up fails the test. One student fails because he catches her. Two manage to track his movements throughout the mall (no easy task given his skill and superpower). The last one, who is normally seen as the weakest in the class, calls the mall security and tells them of a pervert, who takes pictures up women's skirts, and gives his description. The guards (and her) manage to find him with one minute to spare. He ends up being hauled away by security. Despite Dean Blaine showing up to explain everything, Pendleton still spends 4 hours at the security office, as they peer over the security camera footage looking for proof. He's pissed at the girl... but he's pissed off more that he's going to have to give her the credit for the test. While ethics might matter to every other class, Subtlety is specifically geared towards the Grey-and-Gray Morality area. Nothing she did was outside the parameters for the test. Also, the end of the book reveals that he's her uncle, which she doesn't know, so he can't be that mad at her.
  • In Georgi Vladimov's short story Pay No Attention, Maestro, KGB uses an already occupied apartment to spy on the writer living across the street. The owners aren't happy about having to share their apartment with those guys, but can't do anything that is, until one of them tells the Moscow police that some criminals, posing as KGB agents, set up base in his flat. In an unusual twist, police officers are probably aware it's real KGB but pretend to believe in that story, simply to have a chance to mess with KGB.
  • The Dresden Files: Peace Talks: Harry and Murphy discover that they're being tailed by several unmarked vehicles containing two Internal Affairs detectives and a surveillance team investigating her. At her direction, Harry puts on speed, then takes an off-ramp and turns their car invisible, which gets their various tails pulled over by an Illinois State Police speed trap at the bottom of the ramp.
    Harry: (admiringly) Oh. That's just mean.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Burn Notice
    • In the pilot Michael at one point loses his FBI tail by paying a couple kids to tell a Miami-Dade PD bicycle cop that the FBI agents asked him to get into the car with them, and then leaving while they try to sort it out.
      Michael: For fifteen [bucks] I wanna see some tears, okay?
    • In The Teaser of "Hard Bargain", Michael calls the police on a guy from the Central Security Services (part of the NSA) he's supposed to meet with. In this case, he's actually just trying to get a read on the man to make sure he isn't an assassin sent to kill him. As it turns out, he really was an assassin sent to kill him, and a top-tier professional to play along with the police act.
      Michael (voice-over): Calling the cops on someone can teach you a lot: a foreign agent will run. So might an armed assassin. A bureaucrat's gonna ... act like a bureaucrat.
  • Columbo: In "Murder, Smoke and Shadows", when eating in movie shooting area cafeteria, Columbo witnesses a pair of actresses discussing what seems to be vital evidence to push forward his investigation of murder. The discussion is later revealed to have been staged by Alex Brady in order to actually derail the investigation. Later, because a security guard stops Columbo on accusation of stalking actresses, effectively preventing him from following the pair and verifying things immediately. Columbo later pulls the same trick back on Brady, having undercover cops stationed on the lot to overhear Brady trying to buy his secretary's silence.
  • Graceland has a variation. The FBI discovers that a bounty has been offered by the Caza cartel for the capture of Mike "The Marine", one of Mike's undercover identities. They set up a meeting with the cartel thugs where Briggs will pretend to sell out Mike and then the FBI can swoop in and arrest the bad guys. However, the bad guys realize what is going on so they instead call the LAPD to bust up a dogfighting ring that is located in a building next to the meeting place. The resulting chaos makes a mess of the FBI surveillance and two thugs are able to abduct Mike right from under the FBI's noses.
  • In Torchwood the Cardiff Police and the titular organization have an...interesting relationship. The police have been called on Torchwood multiple times, only to end up grumbling about "bloody Torchwood" when they are legally obligated just to let them just do whatever and have them take jurisdiction over the weird stuff. Communication between the two gets slightly better once Andy gets promoted to full-on Friend on the Force.
  • This happens from time to time on The X-Files, due to the strangeness of the cases that the main characters deal with. Like, for instance, when tracking down psychic children, onlookers thought that the Mulder and Scully were abducting them, and tried to call the police to stop them.
  • In the fourth episode of Spooks, a suspect under surveillance realises that his house is being staked out by two MI-5 agents in an unmarked car, and creates a diversion by calling the police and telling them that the occupants of the car are creating a public disturbance of an intimate nature.
  • In one episode of NCIS, Tony and McGee are attempting to apprehend a suspect in a bar. Said suspect knows they're agents and thus they don't make a show of announcing themselves as such. The other patrons in the bar see two men with guns going after an (as far as they know) innocent man and restrain them. Gibbs quickly rushes in and takes control.
  • Daredevil (2015)
    • Season 3 has a variant of this as Wilson Fisk has dirty FBI agents acting as his enforcers, most notably Benjamin "Dex" Poindexter. With Fisk under FBI protection (on paper), he's pretty much untouchable to the NYPD. In season 3 episode 8, when Matt and Nadeem find out that the Bulletin attacker is Dex, their plan is to break into his apartment, look for any evidence that incriminates him, then if they find anything, set off the fire alarm so as to get the fire department to respond, and they will bring the NYPD along with them, circumventing the need for a search warrant. Unfortunately, Dex comes home early, and Matt and Nadeem are forced to flee empty-handed. Nadeem is shot by Dex and wounded in the escape. But the trope still shows itself in another way, as the gunfire from Dex's apartment prompts neighbors to call 911 and summon the NYPD anyways, and two patrol officers are sent who take an incident report from Dex.
    • The climax to the season 3 finale sees Foggy tipping Brett Mahoney off about the possibility of Matt planning to kill Fisk in response to Nadeem's death. Matt gets his way into Fisk's hotel by turning Dex against Fisk and having Dex take out the FBI guards to clear a path for Matt, which also draws the attention of the NYPD (and hence, Brett).
  • M*A*S*H: In "A Smattering of Intelligence," Hawkeye and Trapper plant the idea of Frank being a fascist into the mind of Vinnie Pratt, Trapper's old friend and G-2 agent. Pratt wants to look at Frank's file without permission which he admits is breaking and entering.
    Hawkeye: Boy, it's a good thing you're a cop, otherwise that's illegal.
  • An early episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had the SVU raid a meeting of pedophiles, inadvertently torpedoing an ongoing FBI effort to place an agent deeper into the child porn network. When the agent who was there lays into Cragen for "interfering" (in an investigation the FBI hadn't told the NYPD about), Cragen shuts him up.
    That's why the bad guys are winning. They cooperate. We don't.
  • Nikita: This actually happens a couple of times.
    • Nikita herself lampshades the trope directly in the first season when Division is after her and a reporter, she points out that while the secret agency controls the flow of information, they don't control trigger fingers and deliberately calls the cops on the agents to help herself and the reporter escape
    • A less typical example happens in Season 2 when Nikita is barefoot and on the run from a Division Agent who's rapidly catching up to her and is holding a gun. She sees a couple of kids playing basketball near a pair of cops and as she passes them she smacks the basketball into the officers who turn around and upon seeing the division agent with the gun, pull their own guns and order him to drop it giving her a chance to escape.

     Tabletop Games 
  • In Delta Green, players are part of a secret conspiracy inside the US government bent on investigating, fighting and hiding the existance of the Cthulhu Mythos. However, player characters are not above the law, and oftentimes have to deliberately break it, as such, they might have to contend with regular law enforcement — who can be anything from in the pocket of the opposition to regular, by-the-book police officers just doing their job.

    Real Life 
  • One of the victims of the Stalinist purges in the 1930s USSR, one military officer named Primakov, tried this trick on the NKVD agents sent to get him from the train he was travelling on. He ordered his men to immobilize and disarm the agents, then, when the train stopped on a station, escort them to the local police as "suspicious men in disguise". Surprisingly, it worked, but then Primakov continued travelling on the same train. At his destination, a much larger and better-armed party of "suspicious men in disguise" was waiting for him.
  • The FBI stakeout that led to bank robber John Dillinger's death almost got thwarted because of the Chicago Police receiving suspicious persons calls about the staked out FBI agents, who they mistook as gangsters planning to rob the Biograph theater.
  • The police department of Utica, N.Y., was wholly owned by The Mafia in the decades following WW II and kept under constant observation by a local FBI office after the 1960s. This led to arrests, counter-arrests, raids, and retaliatory actions, though no open shootouts — barely.
  • Supposedly happened in Northern Ireland during The Troubles: a group of non-uniformed soldiers entered a gas station, and the clerk called a Friend on the Force. The police arrived in unmarked cars and emerged weapons drawn, the soldiers saw people with guns approaching... Thankfully no one was killed in the resulting shootout.
  • An inverted version (calling the FBI on the cops) was done by accident on June 2, 2009, when a building superintendent in New Brunswick, New Jersey (home of Rutgers University's main campus) frantically called 911 after some routine inspection of an apartment revealed a massive amount of photographs of nearby buildings and of suspected Muslim terrorists, plus sophisticated radio monitoring equipment from the NYPD and plenty of literature about Islam. The FBI were quickly called in and raided it, revealing that it wasn't a terrorist hideout as had been feared — it was actually an undercover NYPD surveillance operation that was targeting Muslim student groups outside New York City. Neither the local police nor the FBI had any idea about the NYPD's presence (the CIA did, however, due to the extensive cooperation between them and the NYPD following the 9/11 attacks, but the FBI and CIA aren't generally keen on keeping one another in the loop).