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Rick Castle: (to the New York Ledger over the phone) Yes, I would like vacation hold information on two of your subscribers, please. Who am I? I... (to Beckett) I sometimes forget I'm not actually a cop.
Detective Kate Beckett: I don't. (takes the phone) Hi, this is Detective Kate Beckett with the NYPD. I'd like to speak with your supervisor, please.

A wide variety of characters behave as if they are actual police officers and detectives or otherwise overstep their bounds, particularly the Amateur Sleuth and technicians. These people tend to be hired consultants, lab techs, or other characters attached to the department, and are allowed to act as police because of their investigative skills that are usually some branch of science anywhere from psychology to forensics. Regardless of their job description, however, in reality they would not have power to arrest, interrogate, execute warrants, and so on.

Obviously, the real police tend to take a very dim view of this practice. However, as was once said of Star Trek's habit of sending the command staff into dangerous situations, if you're paying for the stars, you damn well better use them.

Related but different tropes:

  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The character acts as though they have some authority that they don't, but never actually claims that they do. Anyone who does what they say to do is acting on their own assumption.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante: The cops are secretly allied to a vigilante who breaks the rules that they cannot. Unlike this trope, they don't have any official ties to the police.
  • Impersonating an Officer: The character pretending to be an official dresses appropriately for the role they are claiming, and actually says that they are a police or other Law Enforcement official.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Unrelated unless the character continues to investigate and act like a cop after losing the badge.


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    Film - Live-Action 
  • The Bravados: When the surviving outlaws cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, the Posse pursuing them has to stop. Jim Douglass merely notes that that he isn't a lawman and rides across the river after them.
  • Brick has this in two layers. The Vice-Principal has connections to the police. Brendan is the Vice-Principal's rogue Amateur Sleuth (though more because Brendan needs his connections than any actual like of each other). Both of them act as though they have every right to do what law enforcement does, though Brendan takes things significantly further than any rational person should, up to and including going undercover in a drug ring and then assuming the Vice-Principal will cover his absences in class so he doesn't have to deal with consequences for his actions.
  • Crooked House: Because Charles is a private investigator hired by a member of the family, he can go places that the police can't; a fact that Detective Chief Inspector Taverner takes advantage of.
  • The Thomas Crown Affair (1999): Catherine is working on behalf of the insurance agency responsible for the stolen painting, essentially a property bounty hunter. However, she behaves as if she's a sworn police officer, being allowed to interrogate suspects, but also performs actions that range from the stupid (informing Thomas Crown that he's the primary suspect, then later sleeping with him), to the outright illegal (copying Crown's keys so she can break into his mansion). She does get called out on some of her actions by Detective McCann, but nothing really comes of it.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Ex-police officer (and current private investigator) Eddie Valiant is brought along to the Acme Factory crime scene by his friend Lieutenant Santino. While there he tries to steal a piece of evidence: the joy buzzer in Marvin Acme's hand. He's caught red-handed by Judge Doom but Santino explains away his action by saying that Valiant was just getting the item for Doom.

  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency: Dirk does this as part of the workings of his Holistic Detective Agency when he has a mystery that actually interests him rather than one that involves tricking old ladies into letting their cats loose. The local inspector Sergeant Gilks takes a rather dim view of this... along with Dirk's tendencies to be involved in highly peculiar situations that Gilks does not like very much in the first place, as well as his habits of removing or obscuring evidence...
  • Men at Arms offers the Discworld example of Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson, who in the absence of Captain Vimes assumes command not only of the night watch, but also the whole City Watch and an increasingly large and well-armed Citizens' Militia. He does this by force of personality and the (unspoken) fact that he is the heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork. Effectively he is assuming a police rank he has no official title to, but he is only called out twice: once when Sergeant Fred Colon attempts to re-assert his superior rank (but Fred bows to the inevitable and ends up calling Carrot "sir" and taking his orders — at least partly because he quickly decides that whatever's happening, he does not want to be held responsible for it). A second attempt is made by the soon-to-be-disgraced Captain Quirke, but Carrot deals directly with this. The next morning, even Lord Vetinari is certain Carrot is out to usurp his rank too...
  • In The Dresden Files Harry Dresden occasionally tries to use his Police Consultant ID badge as a police badge, to varying degrees of effectiveness. Murphy, his police officer friend, gets pissed when he does so, pointing out that it's against the law.
  • The Howdunit series is a collection of books meant to help writers write police and crime material more realistically. In Private Eyes A Writers Guide To Private Investigating, the authors are very explicit that private detectives and investigators have no more power than the average citizen, and pretending to be a cop is a crime. Their advantage comes from them being able to chase a lead down -with preferably legal civilian methods- and concentrate on a single case as long as they are being paid for it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Blue Bloods episode "The Uniform", Danny Reagan's Case of the Week involves an NYPD Auxiliary Officernote  who shot a guy trying to rob his uncle's diner. The auxiliary in question brought along his own gun, in violation of Auxiliary Police policynote . It was eventually ruled a good and justified shooting, and the auxiliary even got into the police academy later on.
  • Bones:
    • Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan is a forensic anthropologist who studies the bones of human remains. She works with FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth to work on cases which require her expertise, and frequently helps interview witnesses and conduct interrogations. In the pilot she even went to arrest the murderer by herself, kneecapping him in the process. (The show admitted this was technically assault with a deadly weapon and she was chewed out both for the crime and general foolhardiness, but no charges were filed.) In her case, they at least explain that her main condition for assisting the FBI is that she be allowed to do the fieldwork not just stay in the lab (because the human side fascinates her even if she doesn't understand it). The other "squints" don't get nearly as much leeway as her, as Booth is always quick to remind them of the boundaries if they get overzealous.
    • A Victim of the Week was a data analyst for the CIA. When his superiors refuse to investigate a possible diamond smuggling operation he discovers, he investigates it himself despite having no field experience, training, or authority. He ends up getting a star on the CIA memorial wall, an honor normally reserved for operatives, for losing his life and resisting torture when he was captured by the enemy.
  • In Castle, although merely a shadowing writer, Richard Castle has been given a lot of responsibility within the unit, including questioning witnesses and examining evidence and crime scenes (albeit always with Beckett observing him). Lampshaded in one episode where he excitedly calls a newspaper to acquire confidential information after a brainwave, only to stop when they ask him who he is and hand the phone over to Beckett, sheepishly admitting that "I sometimes forget I'm not actually a cop."
    • At one point, Castle is no longer permitted to shadow the NYPD, so he gets licensed as a private investigator, assuming this will allow a return to the status quo. Beckett has to gently break it to him that, no, PIs don't get to investigate crime scenes alongside cops, they don't get to hang out at the station, they don't get to interrogate suspects, they don't get access to information on open cases. If he's serious about doing this, he has to do it on his own following an entirely different set of rules than what he's used to.
  • In The Coroner, Jane (the eponymous coroner) tends to take a far more active role in investigations than she really should, with Davey sometimes having to remind her that she is not a cop. Of course, she sometimes takes advantage of the fact that she isn't a cop to get witnesses and suspects to reveal things they would never tell the police.
  • CSI-verse:
    • The original CSI gets Flanderized into this in parodies but it's not as prevalent as it's made out to be. While the CSIs tend to do things that the police officers would be the ones to do in real life (like interviewing suspects or capturing them, though the latter tends to happen only when someone they plan to just speak to runs away), Grissom often reminds civilians he isn't a cop, and at one point was told to leave the scene by Brass when it became apparent that a suspect was still there.
    • Averted for the most part in the spinoffs, as the characters actually are full-fledged cops. However one CSI: NY episode had Mac do a technical one of these when he follows his stalker to Chicago, and tries to throw his badge to get into the Tribune building. The Chicago Police Department had to remind him that badges only work in their jurisdiction and he had no power in Chicago.
  • In Da Vinci's Inquest Da Vinci, being the coroner, is often the first person allowed at a crime scene, and gains special civilian privileges that allow him to access areas the police can't.
  • Due South: Benton is a police officer in Canada, but the show is set in Chicago. He does frequently remind people that he is acting purely as a private citizen, but acts as if he does have police powers.
  • In The Listener, Toby is a consultant for the IIB because of his mind reading powers. As a consultant, he's at the IIB's beck and call, but sometimes it seems like he is just another law enforcement officer: he often directs other police officers, executes warrants, leads interrogations, etc. This is lampshaded and rectified in the final season when Toby is made a full time IIB agent and is certified to carry a gun. On the other hand, the IIB is really just a Joint Task Force rather than a fully independent police agency and thus derives its powers from those of the participating police forces ie. the agents have arrest powers specifically because they are full time members of their respective police forces and are on special assignment with the IIB. Toby would have to join one of this police forces (most likely the RCMP) in order to be authorized to execute police powers.
  • The titular Lucifer tags along with the police as a "consultant". Since he actually is The Devil, he is able to use his powers of persuasion to get away with almost anything, despite being given no authority to act as a police officer at all.
  • Patrick Jane of The Mentalist will usually inform people that he is merely a consultant and not an actual police officer. However, when he deems it necessary he has no qualms about letting people think that he is a full CBI agent.
  • Midsomer Murders: One episode has Barnaby be removed from a case because his wife is tangentially connected to it. His replacement being a perfectly intolerable little dipstick, Barnaby gets to the witnesses first without mentioning he's not on the case.
  • New Tricks averts this. Brian, Jack and Gerry are retired police officers and are usually pretty good at identifying themselves as such. However, they do work for the police department as investigators so they have the official authority to question people and access police records. They do not, however, have powers of arrest; when Ted detains a suspect in one episode to prevent her from avoiding their questioning, he pays for it later.
  • Shawn Spencer from Psych will often tell people he's "The Head Psychic for the SBPD" as if he's an actual officer, when he's actually a consultant/hired-on Private Detective. Doesn't stop him from investigating everything and everyone vaguely connected to a high profile or interesting case, even cases he hasn't actually been hired for it. Da Chief puts up with it because he gets results. It's to the point cops from other jurisdictions have assumed Shawn is the boss and Detective Lassiter is supposed to answer to him, rather than the other way around (though in a comedic twist, sometimes that's because Shawn told them as much).
  • Subverted in the second episode of Quantico. After washing out of the FBI Agent training program Caleb comes back as an analyst trainee. He tries to follow his former classmates to a simulated bust, but is sent back to his seat by the instructors because analysts stay in the office.
  • Dr. Quincy from Quincy, M.E. was a medical examiner who took an unrealistically active role in investigating deaths. Within the first season alone, he interviews witnesses and suspects (in the pilot he follows a lead to Mexico!), chases and captures crooks, locks down a hotel to investigate a possible epidemic, and conducts examinations of witnesses in coroner's court. Quincy's supervisor and the actual cops frequently remind him that he isn't a policeman, but of course if he listened we wouldn't have a show.
  • In Torchwood, though they do have authorization to be at crime scenes under the Masquerade of "special ops", and one of their group is a trained police officer, the rest of Torchwood Three consist of a pathologist, a computer expert/hacker, and...the guy who gets everywhere to work on time and looks good in a suit. In one episode, Jack has to call the police, who are not happy with this arrangement, for help when everyone but Gwen winds up locked in the base with no power; the officer who takes the call puts it on speaker and calls the entire station over to mock them.
  • The unaired Wonder Woman (2011 pilot) had a particularly bizarre version of this. Wonder Woman appears to be completely above the law, while at the same time her actions have legal consequences. This allows her to torture information out of a suspect in police custody to find a secret lab. The police can't use that information because it was retrieved through torture, but Wonder Woman herself faces no consequences for torturing a man. Then she breaks into that lab. The police can then come investigate because it's now a crime scene, but again Wonder Woman is completely off the hook for committing those crimes.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney: Phoenix does this constantly, and often swipes evidence from the scene of the crime, and gets info out of the police. Justified in that, the in-universe laws allow for this, and Phoenix often has to prove that he's connected to the case as a lawyer by showing his attorney badge.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Spongebob is made a hall monitor by Mrs. Puff. He then thinks that he can use the authority to help people outside of his boating school, so he goes to the Bikini Bottom city and finds that the traffic light's broken. Then he steps up as a traffic police and helps the boats cross the crossroads in his usual haphazard fashion. Nothing seems to be bad, until he goes off and it's revealed to the audience (unbeknownst to him) that those cars he helped are piling up in a giant crash. He's then wanted by the police for this. To compound this, SpongeBob deputizes Patrick, who puts on an ice-cream cone in lieu of an uniform. When the real police arrive, Patrick calls them "brothers" and points at the cone as if they would instantly know what it means.