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Cowboy Cop

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Captain: Senator Mendoza is one of the most respected men in this state, McBain. And you drove his limo off a cliff, broke the necks of three of his bodyguards, and drove a bus through his front door?!
McBain: But Captain, I have proof dat he is head of an international drug cartel!
Captain: I don't wanna hear it, McBain! You're outta here!
[McBain punches the captain out a window.]
McBain: That makes two of us.
The Simpsons, "The Way We Was"

He's a loose cannon, but DAMMIT he's the best we have!

Sure, police work may be built upon rules and procedures, but they usually make for bad, boring stories. Sometimes you have to bend the rules, rough up the suspects, moon your supervisors and shred the Constitution to get stuff done.

A Cowboy Cop may be an Anti-Hero (or an occasional Byronic Hero) if he is the protagonist of the show, typically Hot-Blooded and passionate about his maverick antics, or a Jerk with a Heart of Gold whose unlikely claims will generally be proven correct. However, in shows that feature cops as secondary characters, the Cowboy Cop is often at odds with the main characters, as he will trample all over the crime scene and/or the suspect's rights. If Da Chief is a Cowboy Cop he would often reprimand the naive upstart who is being too soft with the criminals and will gladly let the loose cannons go in shooting first and asking questions later.

He will usually be a detective, as a beat cop is much less likely to be intimately involved in a case's full duration, outside of Cop Killer Manhunt, where Cop Killers are his sworn enemies by default.

In a SWAT Team type situation where the cops are expected to shoot armed, dangerous suspects to kill, he does not care about human shields or property damage and will more often than not almost level the place to take down the suspects (especially with a car or truck), with extreme lethal force.

Not actually a cop but possessing many of the same attributes is the Schlubby, Scummy Security Guard.

Cowboy Cops are almost always asked to Turn in Your Badge by Da Chief and go on leave pending the inquiry, at which point they usually become a Vigilante Man in regards to whatever bad guy they are after for either the rest of the movie or until they get their badge back. As a result of his flagrant rule-breaking, Internal Affairs hates the Cowboy Cop with a passion. Often policemen who oppose the Cowboy Cop are revealed to be Dirty Cops, scared that he's going to shake up the system of bribes and kickbacks they've worked so hard to set up. As part of being unorthodox, the Cowboy Cop often has at least one contact on the street to feed him information that can't be obtained through official channels, so even when he's cooling his heels on leave, he can get intel.

Typically more common for undercover cops as they have to pose as someone in the circles to learn some intel. Thus, they aren't required to play by the law rules aside from vital ones which, if broken cover, might end a Cowboy Cop into much larger troubles. This character archetype might be a possible outcome of the Undercover Cop Reveal.

Just as with cowboy sheriffs in the old west, cowboy cops rarely show any remorse for using lethal force. "First kill" scenarios are rarely depicted; these guys (and occasionally gals) have usually filled whole cemeteries to capacity before we meet them for the first time.

Being a Cowboy Cop may be just be backstory — the character might make the transition to another field such as being a federal officer, a Man in Black or a Deep Cover Agent, where their methods might fit in a little better.

May often be the recipient of Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving.

The Trope Namer for "Cowboy Cop" is Beverly Hills Cop (1984), then the term was popularized by Die Hard (1988).

Compare Bunny-Ears Lawyer. Contrast By-the-Book Cop. Compare and contrast Dirty Cop and Rabid Cop. While a Cowboy Cop is generally more well-intentioned than a Dirty Cop, more deconstructive works will concede that they both show equal scorn for necessary regulations; meanwhile, a Rabid Cop is a Cowboy who's lost all sense of perspective and morality. For the military version, see Military Maverick. Old-Fashioned Copper is the specifically British subtrope. For a policeman involved with literal Wild West cowboys, see The Sheriff.

Be aware: pretty much everyone hates cowboy cops in Real Life. Even if their illegal searches and torture-based confessions were able to solve cases, those cases collapse in court, as vital evidence is ruled inadmissible. As well, it compromises other investigations, gives police a bad reputation, and in worse case scenarios, their "shoot first, ask questions later" methods get people killed, including innocent bystanders.


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     Advertising and Commercials 
  • One Sprint commercial proclaims that its video phones make everything awesome, and as proof, shows a clip from a (nonexistent) film called "Epic Renegade Cop" where Callahan is ordered Turn In Your Weapon by Da Chief. Among the things Callahan sets down are a (ludicrously huge) Hand Cannon, a pair of nunchucks, a machine gun, and, when Da Chief glares at him, a rocket launcher.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied by the "comic within the comic", in Al Capp's classic Li'l Abner. "Fearless Fosdick", who Abner Yokum idolized, was a satiric Captain Ersatz of classic comic strip detective Dick Tracy, and he often turned up the Cowboy Cop aspects of the Tracy strip to at least 11 (if not higher). The typical conclusion of a Fosdick adventure would feature Fosdick himself ventilated by a number of large bullet holes in his person (though in the context of the strip, these amounted to mere flesh wounds), while he stood surrounded by large piles of bullet-riddled corpses of innocent bystanders.

  • Garrus Vakarian of Renegade, to an extent that even his main universe counterpart would consider a bit much. His favorite method of entering buildings is via truck, his favorite type of gunshot is to the kneecap, and apparently he can drive a tank.
  • Qui-Gon Jinn in ruth baulding's works, in a To Be Lawful or Good choice, will always choose Good. To the point where, in Exodus, he lets himself get enslaved because he knows the Council will send someone to rescue him (and the rest of the slaves with him). It ends up being a Running Gag in Star Wars: Lineage.
  • Zig-zagged in The Horsewomen Of Las Vegas after the gunfight at the Jakked Motel where Naomi gets killed. The brass at the LVPD decide to spin it that she (a patrolman) "went cowboy" and Bayley (a vice detective) went after her to try and save her, as one of the dead at the scene(presumed to have been killed by Bayley) was Steve Blackman, an international assassin on Interpol's most wanted list. This gets her an unwanted reputation for being one herself. Much to her annoyance, it gets her a lot of unwelcome respect from the Clark County Sheriff's department, including Sheriff Steve Austin.
  • Chief Toombs of Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race is described as such. Being chief means he does have to play by the rules and deliver a firm yet fair hand when dealing with his officers. But we're still talking about a man who wears a kilt on the job, can and will backtalk and yell if he's got a point to make and will take on Dr. Wily's entire army with a rocket launcher if it would save even one more life.

  • John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme: Spoofed all to hell with "Casterbridge", who is a Cowboy... Store Detective (since it was the result of a bunch of executives trying to find the one type of police story someone hadn't made a TV show about). As a result of his job, there's not exactly a lot of rules he can really break to begin with, and his attitude just perplexes his boss.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The "Cop" character archetype in Cyberpunk 2020 and its related games is essentially this trope. This is somewhat justified in-setting where everyone and their mother is packing high-caliber heat and cyberware and the justice system being heavily corrupt.
  • The Maverick Cop from Feng Shui is nearly invariably one of these kinds of cops. In many games, he or she is usually paired up with the more by-the-book Karate Cop.
  • In Magic: The Gathering's Ravnica block, the Boros Legion was an entire guild of this sort - it's what you get when you combine White's morality and concern for the greater good with Red's emotional nature and individuality, and then give it the task of enforcing the law.

    Web Animation 
  • Chuck Steel: Raging Balls of Steel Justice. The claymation Cowboy Cop uses every cliche expected of a 1985 action hero, failing to realise that it's actually 1986.
  • Homestar Runner: Dangeresque, Strong Bad's action-hero alter ego.
  • The Ultra Fast Pony episode "Stay Tuned" turns into a Cop Show parody, with Pinkie Pie in the role of "cop on the edge, living on the limits of the law, with a gambling problem and a brother on the other side!"

  • In Villain to Kill, Cassian put little stock in orders and plans even before being betrayed by Lampas, ditching the undercover sting plan when villains lay hands on a mother and child, with the resulting explosive battle sparking a major scandal that led to him being put on probation for excessive force.

    Web Original 
  • The internet comedy group BriTANick has performed a sketch during at least one of their live shows featuring a Cowboy Cop parody character named MacNamara who explains to Da Chief that he acts the way he does because his wife and children were killed by a werewolf. Understandably, the chief is skeptical, and rightfully so, because it turns out MacNamara just shot his dog while pretending it was a werewolf and subsequently claimed to everyone his family was dead when they obviously weren't, all so he could be seen as insane and be given early retirement. It doesn't work, so he changes tactics and pretends to transform into a werewolf himself. When it seems like he's about to get naked, the chief relents and grants him early retirement.
  • Funny Or Die's Tough Justice, which pits Vic Mackey alongside Connie Tough... who definitely isn't Lady Mary from Downton Abbey.
  • Parodied in these articles from The Onion.
  • Seeking Truth: Zeke Strahm, though he is woefully Wrong Genre Savvy and ends up having to deal with a problem a bit bigger than an ordinary scumbag.
  • As a detective in Trouble in Terrorist Town, Turpster tends to favour shooting first and not bothering with the questions, at least in Sips' videos. This gets to the point where he dubs himself the "RDM Detective" note . This eventually presses Lewis Brindley's Berserk Button and drives him to murder Turps out of sheer anger even though they're both innocent. Video here.



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Instead of taking the victim's statement, Goochberg threatens and intimidates him like he's a suspect.

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