Follow TV Tropes

Following

Cop/Criminal Family

Go To

The contrast between law and crime is very strong. They're typically stereotyped as Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil respectively, but may even be Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good, or anywhere in between. The point is, a character who works in law enforcement, such as a police officer, a detective, a lawyer, and so on, and a career criminal, will have a strong disparity between them.

With this in mind, a good way to induce drama (or even humor) between a law enforcer and a criminal is to have them be related. They might be siblings, or parent and child, but they should ideally be close.

Advertisement:

This raises the dilemma of how the lawful one reacts to the criminal one. Are they aware of their relative's criminal doings?

Despite the name, the "cop" side is not just limited to police officers. It can be anyone who enforces the law, including, as mentioned previously, detectives, lawyers, and also judges, and so on.

Superbeings may apply, as there are likely quite a few familial relations between superheroes/villains, but they are a special case. Some superheroes are purely vigilante, and aim to fight bad people independently of the law. For superheroes to apply for this trope, they must be clearly working with/for the law. Please explain this in the context of the examples.

May overlap with The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes, Sibling Yin-Yang, Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling, Outside Man, Inside Man, and Cain and Abel. Compare Dating Catwoman, where the relationship is romantic rather than familial. Related to Standard Cop Backstory, in that many fictional officers were exposed to crime in the family in some way as a child. The cop character may be a Reformed Criminal who's trying to stay straight. If the family as a whole is overwhelmingly on one side or the other with just one odd member out, you've got Black Sheep or White Sheep.

Advertisement:


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Death Note: Light Yagami is the owner of the titular Death Note, and takes up the identity of Kira to kill all criminalsnote  in the world. However, his own father, Soichiro Yagami, is not only the Chief of the National Police Agency, but the head of the task force that was created with the sole purpose of catching Kira.
  • The Monkey D. family in One Piece is skewed towards the lawbreaker side: Luffy is a pirate, his father Dragon is an anti-government revolutionary, but his father (and Luffy's granddad) Garp is a marine vice-admiral serving the government by putting pirates behind bars. Garp is skilled enough to be an admiral, but he's turned down every promotion offer because he's passionate about catching pirates, whereas being an admiral means he has to sit in an office most of the time.

    Comic Books 
  • The two viewpoint characters in Astro City: The Dark Age are brothers Charles and Royal Williams. Charles is a cop and Royal is a petty criminal.
  • In Atari Force, Tukla Oly is a Black Sheep coming from a family of career soldiers. He spent two years at the Markian Military Academy before starting a life as a thief, earning him the name Pakrat. He spends most of his criminal career on the run from the law, especially he's older brother Rident, a Customs Officer.
  • Batman by DC Comics: Police Commissioner James W. Gordon is one of Batman's most recurring and trusted allies, but his son, James Gordon Jr. is a Serial Killer, who frequently opposes his own sister Barbara Gordon/Batgirl as well as the Dark Knight himself.
  • Eobard Thawne - arch-enemy of The Flash - is one of the most heinous villains in the DC universe. When his backstory was explored in The Road to Flashpoint, we see he used to have a younger brother he hated that became a police officer who delighted in arresting Thawne. Thawne's response was to go back in time and prevent his brother from being born.
  • In Le Petit Spirou, Vertignasse's stepfather is a cop, but his birth-father is a burglar.

    Films — Animation 
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Jefferson Davis, the protagonist Miles' dad, is a very By-the-Book Cop. Jefferson's brother, and Miles' uncle, Aaron, encourages Miles' love of graffiti and is later revealed to be the Prowler, an enforcer to Wilson Fisk. Jefferson is unaware of Aaron's alter ego until Fisk kills Aaron for failing to murder the new Spider-Man. Despite his brother's criminal status, Jefferson is heartbroken. This dynamic also plays into Miles' development. At first, Miles is not fond of his father's strict attitude, and would rather hang out with his Cool Uncle, who is much more laid back. But as the movie goes on, he eventually learns the importance of responsibility, like his father.
Advertisement:

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Better Tomorrow is about two brothers, one of whom (Ho) is a Triad and one of whom (Kit) is an officer in the Hong Kong police. Kit tries to stay away from the mob business and his brother (who he blames for their father's death) at first, but he becomes increasingly obsessed with taking down the new boss who killed his father. Eventually, Ho and Kit team up from opposite sides of the law to take down this brutal mob boss, showing brotherly loyalty is stronger than anything else.
  • Boiler Room: Marty Davis is a federal judge with future political ambitions, but is embarassed by his son Seth running an illegal casino from his dorm room. When Seth starts working for JT Marlin, which turns out to be a scam brokerage firm, the FBI use the potential destruction to his father's career to coerce Seth into going informant.
  • Crash: Waters is a detective in the LAPD, while his brother Peter is a carjacker. Which makes it extra tragic when he is called in to identify Peter's body, who was killed in a case of mistaken self-defense by another cop.
  • The premise of Double Trouble has two twin brothers (one's a honest cop, other's an aloof cat burglar) working together against a common foe.
  • In Gattaca, Vincent, the protagonist, is working illegally (he's using an assumed identity) at the titular GATTACA Corporation. His situation is threatened when his brother Anton, a police detective, is sent to investigate the murder of the corporate director. Anton discovers Vincent's identity, but decides not to expose him after the brothers reconcile.
  • The main conflict of Johnny Dangerously arises when Johnny's brother, Tommy, starts working as a DA, unaware that Johnny is actually a crime boss leader.
  • Rivals (French: "Les Liens du sang"), a 2008 movie, is about Gabriel, a pimp who spent ten years in prison for murder, going to live with François, his brother who is a cop, after leaving prison.

    Literature 
  • In The Fairy Gunmother, Van Thian is the son of a couple keeping an Opium Den and later married a woman pimped by her criminal brothers, who are themselves gangsters Van Thian put in prison.
  • In Les Misérables, Inspector Javert, trope namer for Inspector Javert and a police officer fanatically devoted to his job and his pursuit of "dangerous fugitive" Jean Valjean, grew up with criminal parents, a past that motivated his dogged hatred of all crime.
  • In The Shame of the Family, author Charles Exbrayat describes a criminal family from Marseille dealing with the second son becoming a police officer, in no small part due to the fact that he was raised by local Inspector Picherande while his parents were in jail for their various traffics.
  • Freakonomics explored the case of the brothers Winner and Loser Lane, where Loser grew up to become an NYPD sergeant, and Winner ended up behind bars.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100: David Miller was Chief Guard on the Ark; his son Nathan was a petty thief.
    Nathan: He sure loved having a thief for a kid.
  • Altered Carbon: Takeshi Kovacs and Reileen Kawahara were separated after their parents died, with Takeshi becoming a Space Marine and Reileen a hitman for the Yakuza. Meanwhile, in the further future, Takeshi becomes a private detective with strong ties to law enforcement while Reileen has become a part of both The Conspiracy and the criminal underworld.
  • The Arrowverse has featured relatives on opposite sides of the law as various cities alternate between embracing and cracking down on vigilantism.
    • On The Flash, Barry Allen moonlights as a vigilante. For the most part Central City is accepting of his alter ego, but his actual trouble comes when his public persona is framed for murder. This creates a conflict of interest as his adoptive father is a senior police detective who also happens to be married to the District Attorney putting Barry on one side of the law and his family on the other. However, the West-Allens rally around Barry and eventually exonerate him.
    • Arrow:
      • Oliver ends up in direct opposition to his half-sister Emiko after he is deputized by the Star City police department and Emiko is committing crimes as the copy cat Green Arrow while simultaneously working as the head of the Ninth Circle, a terrorist organization which sought to profit by causing world-wide chaos and then selling defense to connect with her and convince her to abandon her criminal path.programs and weaponry to frightened governments. No matter how much damage Emiko does to Oliver, he continues to try.
      • Captain Quentin Lance is fanatic about catching The Vigilante, seeing the unauthorized hero as a scofflaw. However, Lance's tune changes when both of his daughters become vigilantes. Overtime, he begins to support vigilantism, first tacitly and then explicitly.
    • Pre-Crisis, Connor Hawke is a member of the Glades' para-military defense group while his adoptive brother John Diggle Jr is a leader in the Deathstroke gang, often putting them directly in conflict with each other as Connor tries to uphold the law and JJ and the Deathstrokes try to bring down the city government. Regardless, Connor really wants to redeem his brother and bring him back into the family fold.
  • In Birds of Prey, Jesse Reese was inspired to become a cop after learning of the toxic influence his father, a mob boss named Al Hawke, had.
  • Boardwalk Empire: Nucky Thompson's brother Eli is in the first season the sheriff for Atlantic County. Though after he is forced out in season 2, he becomes another associate in Nucky's gang.
  • In Breaking Bad, Walter White becomes a drug dealer and his brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA cop. Emphasized when Walt's wife, Skyler, becomes a white-collar criminal through her boss's fraud, and then Skyler joins in on Walt's "business." When Walter's criminal lifestyle is exposed in season 5B, this even causes a rift with Skyler's sister Marie, who sides firmly with Hank.
  • Bones: Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, married to an FBI agent. His father was an alcoholic who threw his mother down a flight of stairs. Her parents were bank robbers.
  • Chicago P.D.:
    • The early seasons of Chicago PD show Sergeant Hank Voight struggling to keep his son Justin out of jail and on the straight and narrow. The series premieres with Hank attempting to cover up Justin's involvement in a drunk driving accident that paralyzed the other driver. He goes as far as attempting to set up a hit on Matt Casey, the fire captain who witnesses Justin's impairment. Voight eventually realizes he's gone too far and steps back, letting Justin suffer the consequences. After prison Justin seemingly straightens up and joins the military, but is later murdered by drug dealers he used to associate with, sending Voight back on the warpath for revenge.
    • Erin Lindsay's mother Bunny is a chaotic force in Lindsay's life. Voight took Lindsay in with his family when she was fourteen to get her off the streets. While Lindsay has modeled herself after Voight, she still maintains sporadic contact with Bunny who always swears she's cleaned up her act. After the death of a teenaged CI, Erin falls into a spiral of drugs and alcohol, egged on by Bunny until Voight finally steps in, demanding Lindsay clean up her act and cut off all ties with Bunny. Lindsay does better until a brutality charge gets her back under the scope of Internal Affairs, which is eventually used as leverage to move her out of the Intelligence Unit when she is given the option of allowing Bunny to go to prison for possession and intent to distribute or transferring to the FBI's counter-terrorism unit.
  • Criminal Minds- Aaron Hotchner is the head of the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI. Sean Hotchner is college dropout, failed restauranteur, and transient bartender. Aaron has always felt responsible for his little brother because of the rough childhood they had so he eagerly offers his help when Sean calls him after several people die simultaneously of a suspicious overdose in Sean's club. By the end of the case, Aaron learns that Sean was aware that women were being date raped after having their drinks spiked by Sean's boss and it was Sean's theft and black marketing that caused several innocent couples to be killed by tainted alcohol. Sean initially flees and begs Aaron to turn a blind eye, but Aaron refuses but offers his full support in the legal proceedings.
  • Dexter:
    • Despite knowing Dexter's tragic background and witnessing how the trauma was manifesting in his psyche, Harry Morgan, a veteran police officer teaches his adopted son how to kill more efficiently to avoid detection rather than trying to find him help. The series spends several seasons exploring whether this was altruism on Harry's part or a perverted way of vicariously getting revenge on hard-to-catch suspects by training his murderous son to hunt them.
    • When Deb learns the truth, she also helps Dexter avoid detection. Even though she tries to maintain a distance from what he's been doing, she ultimately chooses family over her duties as a homicide detective.
  • The Good Cop: Tony Sr. is a former Corrupt Cop and crime boss out on parole, while his son TJ is a straitlaced By-the-Book Cop trying to escape Tony's bad reputation. Tony's well-intentioned but underhanded efforts to help TJ with his cases are an ongoing source of friction.
  • Justified:
    • Arlo and Raylan Givens have a very contentious relationship. Arlo was an abusive father and lifetime criminal. Raylan grows up to be a Deputy US Marshall whose primary goal is to make sure his father doesn't get away with anything. His biggest pet peeve is when people give Arlo the benefit of the doubt becaue of Raylan's lawman status. He gladly tells anyone who will listen that Arlo is a petty crook, emphasis on the petty.
    • Rachel Brooks is a Deputy US Marshal. In the episode "For Blood or Money" the audience finds out that Rachel's sister Shauney had a drug addiction and her Brother-in-Law Clinton served time for her death after he crashed while driving under the influence. Throughout the episode, everyone frames Shauney as the victim and Clinton as the monster who killed her, but Rachel seems remarkably calm. At the end of the episode, it's revealed that Rachel doesn't blame Clint because she believes he simply had the misfortune of being the catalyst of Shauney's death, but Rachel felt that Shauney had been headed towards an overdose even if she'd survived. Rachel insists on bringing Clint in alive and helping him as much as she can, feeling that she couldn't save her sister but she can help her brother-in-law.
    • Played with. Doyle Bennett is the chief of the Bennett Police Department. He is well aware of his family's criminal enterprise which run the gamut from menacing to drug dealing to murder. In addition to using his law enforcement knowledge to help them operate more cleanly without arousing suspicion, he also uses his position to shield them from state and federal investigation, claiming jurisdiction for any crime occurring within the borders of Bennett, the county his family founded and still lives and operates in.
    • Despite being a fairly upright officer, Raylan has a soft spot for his ex-wife and on again/ off again love interest, Winona. Even though she is employed as a court reporter and has knowledge of the law, she periodically asks Raylan to do things they're both aware skirt breaking the law, such as using his system access to run names through the federal criminal database. She also comes to him after she steals a satchel of money from the evidence locker in the federal building, making him an accomplice to a federal crime that could send them both to jail and triggering a sequence of events where she and Raylan have to recover what turns out to be inventoried, counterfeit money before her theft is discovered and traced back to her.
    • Raylan's devotion even extends to helping Winona's new husband Gary, the man with whom Winona had an affair, ending Raylan and Winona's marriage. Gary is a less than successful realtor who accidentally stumbles into bed with the mafia through a series of questionable deals and loans. Because mobsters are willing to hurt Winona to get to Gary, Raylan helps Gary after poor attempts at money laundering leaves him tens of thousands in debt with the Dixie Mafia. Raylan even steps in when Gary is in danger of being killed as a loose end after Gary contracts an unsuccessful hit on Raylan and Winona simply because Gary feared the two falling back in love with each other. Helping Gary generally involves lots of threats, gun pointing, and flashing his badge even when he probably shouldn't. In the end, Raylan tells Gary that he would never tell Winona the truth about Gary simply because "it would break her heart."
  • A minor example in the case of Officer Mike Biggs and his sister-in-law Victoria Flynn from Mike & Molly. While Victoria is no hardened criminal, Mike has more than once mentioned he's fully aware of what that odd smell occasionally coming from her room is, and that he doesn't actually believe her bong is used as a water heater. He was also none too thrilled when she invited her dealer over to crash at the house when he was between places to live.
  • On NCIS: New Orleans, Special Agent Dwayne Pride is perhaps the most dedicated law-enforcement officer in Louisiana. His father, on the other hand, is a hardened criminal. It's implied that Dwayne is partially driven by guilt over this.
  • Psych has a variation; Henry Spencer was a respected, by-the-book cop, while his son Shawn has technically been defrauding the police department for years by claiming to be psychic and selling his services. While he has genuinely good intentions and has actually done good work, if anyone ever managed to prove his deception, it would cause a lot of damage to the department. The same series also has Jules, a good cop whose dad and brother were both criminals.
  • Played with in The Red Line. The Evans family (Paul, Gary, and Jim) are all cops. Paul accidentally shoots a doctor, mistakenly believing him to be a criminal because he's black. The other two both start either committing crimes (in Jim's case) or getting close to it and ensuring preferential treatment for his son (Gary).
  • Supernatural: In the season 11 episode "Don't You Forget About Me", Claire is attempting to become a hunter and tries to track clues to find and neutralize supernatural threats. This leads to her physically attacking several shady-seeming but actually innocent town people. Claire already has a criminal record, having spent time in juvenile detention for theft and running away repeatedly from foster care. Her adoptive mother, Sheriff Jodi Mills, nods to this when she tells Sam and Dean that the only reason Claire hasn't been arrested and jailed for multiple assaults is because Jodi is the town sheriff.
  • Third Watch featured Bobby Caffey, a kind-hearted paramedic. Throughout his life, Bobby constantly tried to help his younger brother, Matty, who was severely addicted to drugs and a career criminal including stealing from Bobby and their elderly mother. The final straw was when Matty was involved in a robbery where a store clerk was shot and killed. Aware that the police were looking for his bother, Bobby offered Matty a choice: accept $500 and get lost forever or surrender to law enforcement and Bobby would continue to support him with whatever he needed. Matty choses the money.

    Theatre 
  • Les Misérables: Similar to the literature example, Inspector Javert was "born inside a jail" and furiously worked to overcome the shame of his parents criminal background.

    Video Games 
  • Played with in Grand Theft Auto IV. The McReary family are the main members of Liberty City's Irish Mob, and all of the family's sons except the second oldest, Francis, are prominent criminals. Francis, meanwhile is Deputy Commissioner for the LCPD, and would be the family's White Sheep if it weren't for the fact that he's a Dirty Cop and a Hypocrite who believes that his position automatically exonerates him from any evil he commits, so he manages to come off as the least moral member of the family.
  • Infamous Second Son: If you play Delsin as a Renegade this is the relationship between bio-terrorist Delsin Rowe and his older brother Sheriff Reggie Rowe. In spite of the crimes Delsin commits, Reggie supports and protects his younger brother, partially out of guilt for letting him get infected with the conduit powers.
  • Investi-Gator: The Case of the Big Crime: Played for Laughs with the Gator family:
    • Done via Punny Names. The protagonist, Investi-Gator, is a detective who thoroughly enjoys solving cases and bringing justice. The problem is that he's outrageously gullible and incompetent. His brother, Insti-Gator, often commits crimes, but is significantly smarter. Although Insti-Gator often worries about being caught, his fears are dashed by Investi-Gator seeing him as only his beloved brother, and never realizing that Insti-Gator could possibly be committing crimes. Things get hilariously inverted and muddy when Investi-Gator gets himself arrested despite committing no crime, and Insti-Gator takes it upon himself to investigate some suspicious new characters who he suspects are behind everything (and they are), and then acts as Investi-Gator's lawyer in court. This has the benefit of showing that Insti-Gator really does love his brother, and doesn't just use him to get away with crimes.
    • Investi-Gator reveals that his great-grandfather was the famous detective Sherlock Gator, and his great-grand uncle was Moriarty Gator, indicating that the latter was a criminal mastermind just like James Moriarty.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Samara is a Justicar, a legally-sanctioned Knight Templar in asari society. Her job is hunting Ardat-Yakshi, asari with a genetic trait that makes them basically sex vampires. More specifically, the one she's hunting is her own daughter.

    Web Comics 
  • In Paranatural, Stephen is a delinquent and his mother is a cop, which is a huge source of conflict between them.

    Western Animation 
  • The Owl House: Eda is an outlaw witch, largely because she practices magic outside the restrictions of a coven. Her sister Lilith is the head of the Emperor's Coven, who is eventually tasked by the emperor himself with capturing Eda.
  • El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera: This dynamic is the core of the whole Rivera family. For 6 generations the family has been switching from Super-Villains and Super-Heroes with each child going the opposite path of their parent. Manny, the main character, is torn between following his father, superhero White Pantera, or his grandfather, supervillain El Puma Loco.
  • Total Drama: Duncan is a juvenile delinquent whose parents are both in the police force.
  • Tuff Puppy: T.U.F.F. agent Kitty Katswell has a sister who is in prison, who her mother apparently favours more since she bothers to call her on her birthday.
  • The Legend of Korra features this with the latest generation of the Beifong family, at least in the backstory. Lin was a faithful deputy of the police, and eventually grew up to be Chief of Police same as her mother, Toph. Suyin, on the other hand, fell in with a bad crowd, then later ran away to join up with pirates and other ner'do'wells. She's much less "criminal" by the time she's met in the series, not that her sister acknowledges that.

    Real Life 
  • Richard James "Two-Gun" Hart (born James Vincenzo Capone), a western law man and prohibition agent, was the older brother of notorious gangster Al Capone. Hart left the Capone family at age 16 after a street gang fight left his brother, Al, with a nasty scar across his face. He headed west, where he became a gunslinger, entertainer, and eventually a federal agent. He eventually learned of his brother's exploits through the newspaper, but the two never interacted as adults.
  • The Lane family's two youngest sons are named Winner and Loser. Winner is a small-time crook. Loser is a police sergeant.
  • Eddie Reed, son of the notorious outlaw Belle Starr, became himself a deputy and eventually died in the line of duty.

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report