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Sheriffs and marshals often have deputies to assist them. In order to explain how this person isn't the sheriff or marshal, the writers will often make the character clueless.

In its benign form, this just makes the Clueless Deputy The Watson for their boss, or the protagonist detective. But it can rapidly slide downhill until the deputy acts like an idiot. Generally, the deputy has some redeeming qualities, such as incorruptibility, shooting skills or at least the willingness to serve in a dangerous job for low pay, but if the sheriff is a Corrupt Hick, the clueless deputy may simply be a relative who needed a job.

The clueless deputy can be counted upon if the writer needs a The Guards Must Be Crazy moment to justify the heroes getting out of jail, or to act as an Obstructive Bureaucrat to keep information that could resolve the plot from reaching the sheriff.

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On rare occasions, the clueless deputy of a Corrupt Hick sheriff is unaware of their superior's criminal activities, and when incontrovertible evidence is presented, will arrest the crook to preserve law and order in the county.

See also Clueless Detective, Inspector Oblivious and Police Are Useless for other clueless law enforcement forces.


Examples:

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    Anime And Manga 
  • Touta Matsuda in Death Note is consistently the slowest on the uptake in the investigation team. However, this naïve innocence is why he was chosen as assistant to chief Soichiro Yagami. He is also the best shot on the team, shooting Light's hands as he is about to kill Near.

    Film - Animated 
  • In Disney's version of Robin Hood, the vultures Nutsy and Trigger play this straight and subvert it, respectively. The sheriff himself isn’t exactly incompetent, but he’s complacent, whereas Trigger is Properly Paranoid.
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    Film 
  • Every cop in Drowning Mona is a complete idiot, except (possibly) the Chief of Police.
  • Officer Lou, Marge Gunderson's assistant in Fargo.
  • Hank in Go West, Young Lady. At one point, he is sitting in the dancehall when he sees the sheriff go racing out in a tearing hurry. He concludes something important must be afoot and decides he should follow him. Right after the next song. General consensus among the townsfolk is that Killer Pete doesn't consider him worth killing.
  • Hooded Angels: Given Roy's complete inability to handle the confrontation between Wes's men and the bushwhackers, the impression given is that the sheriff of Twin Forks left him to guard the town while the Posse chased the bank robbers because he is useless. This uselessness saves his life as the posse gets massacred.
  • In House of 1000 Corpses, Deputy Naish's hotheaded attitude masks his general insecurity, to the point Otis is able to make him drop his gun just by yelling at him.
  • Sam Wood, in In the Heat of the Night.
  • Every now and then in the Lake Placid movies. The Dale from the second film stands out, being tougher than usual, but not appearing to know about Freedom of Speech (or maybe he just doesn't care) and condescendingly boasting about having tied a secure knot around the crocodiles mouth right before it breaks loose and eats him.
  • Lonely Are the Brave: Many of Johnson's men are a bit lazy, slow on the uptake and inexperienced with real trouble.
  • Doyle in The Mask. In one scene, Kellaway tries to relay to Doyle that Stanley's secretly holding him at gunpoint. It goes about as well as you'd expect.
    Doyle: Hey, Lieutenant, where are you taking Ipkiss?
    Kellaway: Ixnay! Ehay's otgay an ungay! (Stanley jabs the gun into his side) OW!
    Doyle: Oh, I get it! Pig Latin, right? [thinks] Eesay... ouyay... aterlay!
  • Clinton Pell, in Mississippi Burning (in physical appearance, almost an evil Barney Fife).
  • Mystery Road: Constable "Robbo" Roberts does a poor job of securing the crime scene, not taping off the footprints while also displaying some general ignorance when asked about some details. Later on, he hovers around and lets Johnno do all the talking during drug arrests. Of course considering that he’s the Dirty Cop, that cluelessness was probably deliberate obstruction.
  • Python: Greg's coworker Lewis, who doesn't quite know the proper way to question suspects or radio in his position, and once leaves a murder suspect alone in a room with a gun. Averted with Greg himself, who, after getting over his jealousy, is the most reasonable and competent of the three cops.
  • Constable Barlow in Red Hill, who is asleep at his desk when Shane arrives, and gets caught cold by Jimmy while he is awake later on.
  • Rollerblade: Goodman's deputy is absolutely useless. Best example is when he imprisons the punks and gets knocked out by them immediately afterwards so they can escape easily.
  • Norman Jonas (Jonathan Winters) in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.
  • Junior Justice (son of Buford T. Justice) from the Smokey and the Bandit movies. Seriously, we're talking about a guy who refuses to keep his gun loaded because "it gets too heavy."
  • Sheriff Fuller's head deputy Ernie in Some Guy Who Kills People. Arriving at the first crime scene, where the victim has a hatchet buried in his skull, the sheriff makes a comment about having 'a splitting headache'. Thinking the sheriff as making a pun, Ernie proceeds to make a Hurricane of Puns about axes, to the sheriff's growing bewilderment. And, according to the sheriff, his other two deputies are even worse.
  • In Starkweather, Sheriff Karnopp's primary deputy is his brother-in-law Dale, who is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Karnopp has prevent him from trampling all over the first crime scene, and he is keen to write the first murder off as being the work of a drifter, until Karnopp points out all the factors that make that unlikely. Is somewhat counterbalanced by his unwavering loyalty and bravery.
  • Jake in the western spoof Support Your Local Sheriff, although he manages his smart moments as well. (It's more a lack of enthusiasm than his being genuinely clueless.)
  • Euclid Baker, in Tank, a bullying weasel who also gets slapped around by his boss, Cyrus Buelton.
  • Patrolman A.C. "Sparkplug" Bensonn who fills the role of Comic Relief in The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and whose antics create some extreme Mood Whiplash in an otherwise serious film.
  • Officer Jong-goo, the protagonist of The Wailing, starts the movie as a fat, bumbling idiot who constantly shows up late at crime scenes, forgets to take his rain coat when it's clearly pouring outside, can't take any initiative on his own and needs to be told everything, and is so terrified by a lone, frail (though very Ax-Crazy) woman that he's completely unable to do anything to defend himself, let alone to restrain her and ends up lying on the ground, embarassing himself and all the police force at once. One of the point of the movie is to show how far he's willing to change when his family is in danger. He is still better than his own deputy, who is about as cowardly and needs to be told not to manhandle a murder weapon.

    Literature 
  • Deputy Norris Ridgewick in Stephen King's Castle Rock stories. Not only does he bear a faint resemblance to Barney Fife (his colleagues mockingly call him "Barney"), but in The Dark Half his superior actually finds it notable that when Norris discovered a mutilated corpse he had the presence of mind to face away from the evidence before throwing up. As we come to find out, "presence of mind" is not one of Norris's strong suits.
    • By Gerald's Game, Norris is now sheriff (apparently one result of some of the events of Needful Things), and has apparently gotten a bit better at presence of mind (see description of handling of Joubert's van). By Lisey's Story, he's even managed to find a wife.
  • Commander Fuzzel in Galaxy of Fear: The Brain Spiders. He's struck a deal with Jabba the Hutt, who will turn in dead criminals for the reward money, and is completely oblivious to the fact that the criminals' brains have been removed and put into other bodies, despite noticing the strange injuries.
  • Whitey Winn in Godless, to a degree. He is a much more competent fighter than the sheriff, but in any other context, he is rather bumbling.
  • Holmes on the Range:
    • Local deputy Jim Martin in the first book (his boss is never actually seen) is a bit unimaginative and described as cowering during the final fight.
    • Tommy in A Crack in the Lens is earnest, and brave, but a bit gullible and impressionable.
    • Flip Compton, the deputy in The Double-A Western Detective Agency is a reasonable man, but a bit slow, and easily overwhelmed. This actually works in the brothers favor, as he is happy to let them take point in the case after his boss is murdered, and listens to their insights.
  • Nero Wolfe: Sgt. Purley Stebbins is vaguely this. He's not so much clueless; it's just that he's there to arrest the criminals, not to actually solve the crimes.

    Live Action TV 
  • Barney Fife, of The Andy Griffith Show, is perhaps the paradigmatic example of this trope.
    • In order to make sure the audience knows that Deputy Fife is one these type of officers, the very first show has a kid scrawl this limerick on a wall to taunt Barney:
      "There once was a Deputy named Fife,
      who carried a gun and a knife.
      The gun was all dusty, the knife was all rusty,
      'Cause he never caught a crook in his life."
    • After Barney's departure from the show, the character of Warren Ferguson was introduced in an unsuccessful attempt to fill the same role.
  • On Babylon 5, Garibaldi was occasionally assisted by a security guard named Jack, who came off this way, particularly when going through their investigation in the first season finale. This was because Jack was The Mole and was willfully hindering Garibaldi's investigation.
  • Deputy Perkins, of B.J. and the Bear and The Misadventures Of Sheriff Lobo.
  • Brett Mobley from Eagleheart can't read and is more often used as a club than a police officer by Marshal Chris Monsanto. It's all Obfuscating Stupidity designed to torment Chris, of course: Brett is actually Satan.
  • Gus Grimly in Fargo admits that he isn't a very good cop, and that he mostly deals with stray animals. He is much happier when he becomes a mailman.
  • Festus Haggen of Gunsmoke was Book Dumb, though otherwise pretty sharp. His predecessor, Chester Goode (called Chester Proudfoot in the radio version), was a little slower-witted, although both have proven to be a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass.
  • The Ferg in Longmire is something of a joke in the sheriff's office, as Walt employed him as a favour to his father. However, while he is not much of a street cop, the later seasons do show him to be a canny investigator.
  • The Misadventures Of Sheriff Lobo. The eponymous Sheriff is assisted by Deputy Perkins, who is so incompetent he only keeps his job due to nepotism, and "Birdie" Hawkins, who is quite capable but a Naïve Newcomer who doesn't realise how corrupt Lobo is.
  • Constable Hugh Collins in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. He hasn't been on the police force very long. However, as time goes by, he matures. And he is at least sensible enough to recognise his own limitations.
  • Randy Disher from Monk. A few episodes show that while he's a good cop he simply isn't prepared to deal with the sort of cases that Monk gets. Other episodes...not so much.
  • Muller from Mystery Road comes off as this. He is even accused of being a mole because of how much he hinders the investigation in the first season.
  • In Nichols, the Ketchams install their cousin Mitch Mitchell as Nichols' deputy to serve as their spy and agent. However, Mitch is so dumb that he serves as just as much an impediment to their schemes as he does to Nichols' law enforcement.
  • Lassie (Det. Lassiter) from Psych is a borderline case: not nearly as outrageously stupid as most of the characters listed here, he's still distinctly, and by a fair margin, the dumbest of the major characters, mostly used to provide a very easy mark for Shawn's antics. He also faces the problem of incompetent bosses.
  • The entire cast of Reno 911!. (Except Dangle, who's a lieutenant.)
  • Stan Against Evil: Leon is not good at his job. The only thing keeping him employed was Stan's apathy, and no other candidates to fill the position.
  • Three's Company: Chrissy's distant cousin, Jay Garfield, who gets in trouble with his superiors for misplacing his patrol car.
    Jay: I had to get out and chase a suspect and I forgot where I parked the car.
    Jack: Somehow, knowing he's out there protecting me, I don't feel as safe anymore.
  • Deputy Andy Brennan of Twin Peaks is soft-spoken, sensitive and squeemish at violent crime scenes. He's also accident prone, simple, and often timid in confrontation. On the other hand, he's loyal as a hound, has a heart of gold and a strong sense of justice.

    Video Games 
  • Sgt. Nails of Eagle Eye Mysteries falls most unfortunately into this category, although he's actually quite competent as an arresting officer; it's his skills as a detective that are pretty poor, as he tends to overlook certain critical clues when carrying out investigations.
  • The more you play LEGO City Undercover, the more you wonder how Frank Honey made it through the academy.
  • Adachi is this to Dojima in Persona 4, mostly by saying too much and not really making the connections between the victims. As with some of the other spoilered examples above, this is because he's really the bad guy, using Obfuscating Stupidity to deliberately throw suspicion and hinder the investigation.
  • Eli and Jonah from Red Dead Redemption. Jonah is profane, rude, and arrogant, while Eli is just lazy-eyed and gullible to the charms of the local Snake Oil Salesman. They're at least competent at their jobs, however (mostly Eli).

    Web Comics 
  • Deputy Bart of Harry Potter Comics. Because Sheriff Ned is immune to memory charms, Bart's brain has been fried a bit too much from wizards hitting him in their attempts to mind-wipe the Sheriff. Bart remains effective at what he needs to do, though.

    Western Animation 


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