Sheldon: Can you at least refer me to a rogue ex-cop?
Police Officer: ...What?
Sheldon: You know, one who was drummed off the force because he refused to play by the rules and now hires himself out to impose his own brand of rough justice?
Police Officer: ...No.
Sometimes the police can't help you. They are too caught up in paperwork, legal procedure, jurisdiction, and other things that it may be weeks or months before something gets rolling. It's not always their fault, as those same rules are theoretically what protects you from being unjustly harassed by the police.
So sometimes you just don't have the police option when things go bad. Maybe you have a strict time limit, maybe the bad guys demand to leave the police out, they may even be monitoring the police channels and will know something is up, maybe the bad guy is so squeaky clean the regular procedure can't touch him anyway. When that happens, your only option is to find someone or a special group of people who operate on the grey side of the law.
If not a basic part of the premise where the heroes are the ones hired out, these guys tend to be fairly shady individuals who you don't want to become friends with.
The difference between this trope and Police Are Useless is that with that trope, the police can't help you either out of incompetence, disinterest, or corruption. In this case, the police would leap into action immediately, but due process slows them down. Jurisdiction Friction can sometimes be involved, since there are times that the reason police can't help is because of a division of duties (e.g. Homicide specifically handles the investigation of murders and the like, Vice deals with drug-related crimes, Missing Persons is Exactly What It Says on the Tin).
Compare Recruiting the Criminal.
- Durarara!!: Part of the reason Shizuo's never been arrested for his constant, massive property damage and brawls is that his typical victims are people with criminal dealings who can't go to the police without being arrested themselves.
- Highschool of the Dead's anime adaptation has Saya specifically imply this when Kohta suggests they call the police. The fact that Takashi and Rei have already tried and failed twice to reach the police via Takashi's cell phone only makes Saya's comments on the matter more realistic than pessimistic in light of the zombie outbreak.
- In Little House with an Orange Roof, the two protagonists buy the same house from a Shady Real Estate Agent. When they call the police they're told "We can't help you." This makes no sense (the police aren't depicted as corrupt or anything) but there's a lot of Fridge Logic about how the situation could even arise in the first place.
- My-HiME: In episode 2, Mai confronts Natsuki, who was partly responsible for sinking the cruise ship in episode 1. Mai threatens to go to the cops. Natsuki scoffs, telling her that there's nothing the police can do about the powers lurking in the shadows of their school. Mai quickly learns that she's right, though by that time they become Fire-Forged Friends.
- Brute Force: After Uproar is stolen from Dr. Pierce's lab, Pierce goes to Mr. Frost to report it. He suggests going to the police (or to the army), which Mr. Frost shuts down.
Mr. Frost: No. No Police.
Dr. Pierce: What? We have to tell them—
Mr. Frost: Tell them what? That we built a super-powered gorilla and lost him to a bunch of clowns? At best we'd be laughed at!
- Captain America: When his personal pilot Colonel John Jameson goes missing, Cap personally investigates rather than contacting the police or other authorities, going so far as to personally visit John's father J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle to inform him of John's disappearance. There's several reasons Cap chooses to do this: John's appointment as his personal pilot was a secret assignment (to the point JJ was completely unaware of his son's whereabouts), as a popular and well-known hero (thanks to being a veteran astronaut) John's disappearance would be hugely embarrassing to SHIELD and the US government, and most importantly John is a good friend.
- Spider-Man: In the classic The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) story arc Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!, Spider-Man is the first to engage Juggernaut because he happens to be in the area when the villain makes landfall (thanks to his psychic ally Madame Web warning him of an incoming threat). There simply wasn't time for Spidey to contact the police (not that they'd listen to him anyway). The police later muster their forces to try to stop Juggernaut after Spidey fails and retreats to find help. Despite the presence of their special anti-superhuman unit Code Blue, Juggernaut is unsurprisingly so far out of their league that he's barely slowed down. In the second part of the story, the police opt to only observe the Juggernaut as he makes his way to the Hudson River to leave since they recognize there's not really much they can do to stop him and are also focusing on rescue operations (including Madame Web, whose life support system was damaged by Juggernaut). A vengeful Spider-Man has other ideas and keeps going after Juggernaut to stop him from harming anyone else, resorting to tactics he'd never use against his own Rogues Gallery because they'd be fatal. When Spidey finally manages to bring Juggernaut down by burying him alive in a construction site, the police are shown monitoring the site to make sure he's down for good.
- Played With in The Karma of Lies. While Adrien does go to the police to report Lila stealing from him, he proceeds to sabotage his own case in several critical ways. 1) He completely dismisses the concept of "due process", expecting them to give him top priority because he's Adrien Agreste, and to believe everything he says without conducting their own investigation. 2) His Moral Myopia means that he completely fails to see that there's anything strange or potentially suspicious about the fact that he knew Lila was a Con Artist, but let her string along his classmates for months without saying a word, only acting now that she's stolen from HIM. 3) He also fails to consider that since his father was recently unmasked as Hawkmoth, they might suspect him of working with the terrorist. 4) Adrien also rejects the notion that he handled the situation poorly, proclaiming that the Police Are Useless instead.
- In Big Trouble in Little China, twice someone says that they should call the police (Jack and Margo later on). The answer both times is "the police has better things to do than get killed", the first time being because the Triads are too violent and powerful and the second time because dealing with Chinese ghosts and storm gods trying to take over the world is most definitely beyond their capacity. Sure enough, when the police finally interfere with the plot, it's after all of the insanity has ended and they are trying to (mostly off-screen) make sense of The Unmasked World.
- Clue. No-one wants to involve the police because they are all being blackmailed for crimes they've committed, such as running a brothel for Miss Scarlet, accepting bribes for Miss Peacock, adultery with a patient for Professor Plum, war profiteering (and soliciting prostitutes from Miss Scarlet's brothel) for Col. Mustard, etc.
- In Home Alone, the phones are out due to a tree falling on the lines. Pre-cellphones, obviously. Notably, Kevin does call the police after softening the Wet Bandits up with his own traps.
- In the movie Inside Man, the police are involved in the bank robbery and hostage-taking almost from the beginning, but the Corrupt Corporate Executive cannot tell them about the secret safety deposit box he keeps in the bank. Instead, he hires a shady but discreet 'fixer' who can use her political connections and plain bribery and extortion to make sure that the contents of the box never become public.
- Enforced in The Purge series. In addition to all crimes being made legal, emergency services are also suspended during the Purge, meaning the police won't help you.
- Taken operated under the idea that they had a small window of opportunity after Kimmie was kidnapped by a prostitution ring and she was lucky her father Bryan had all the skills necessary to track her down. Bryan does consult some friends in the Paris government for help, only to find some pushback in legal matters as well as some internal corruption.
- In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the Pevensie children find Mr. Tumnus' home ransacked and a note explaining that he's been arrested for fraternizing with humans, Lucy's first thought is to go to the police. Peter shoots this down by pointing out that a) as the note shows, the people who took Tumnus were the police, and b) if fraternizing with humans is enough to get you arrested, then actually being human is bound to result in worse.
- Animorphs, especially book 45. Marco's dad wants to call the cops, but half the police force is controllers, so no good.
- Sherlock Holmes: On several occasions, Holmes is approached by clients who for whatever reason can't or don't want to involve the police. Sometimes this is due to the Villain with Good Publicity angle (as was the case with Professor Moriarty), sometimes due to the sensitivity of the case (as with the blackmailer Milverton or those cases where Sherlock's brother Mycroft calls on his services), and sometimes the police can't take action because it's unclear if a crime has even taken place (as was the case with the Red-Headed League). In the case of the latter, Lestrade often suggests visiting Holmes since he knows that even if there is no actual crime, Holmes would find some interest in the unusual nature of the complaint.
- The Toymaker's Apprentice: When Stefan gets word that his dad is a prisoner of the mouse queen, his first instinct is to go to the police. Christian immediately shoots down the idea, stating that the story is too outlandish for the police to believe him.
- The A-Team operated under this, as stated in their Opening Narration.
- Better Call Saul: Attempted to be exploited by Nacho, who robs people that he knows are criminals and thus they won't go to the police because if they do, they will have their own misdeeds exposed in the ensuing investigation. The fact that it's "attempted" is because he then steals from Daniel Warmolt, a crook who is so stupid that he does exactly what Nacho didn't want and does call the police, placing the two of them (and many other crooks) in trouble.
- In the episode "Gone" of Bull, Bull was told by the kidnapper not to call the police or he'll kill Astrid unless he's given the ransom money. This forces everyone at the Trial Analysis Corporation (TAC) to use their contacts in the banking sector and talk to civilians who may have security cameras to locate the kidnappers.
- Burn Notice is all about how Michael has the skills needed for extra-legal help and because of being Burned, that is about the only job he can get. A lot of the time, a client is in a situation where they will face legal problems for taking a bribe or something similar if they go to the police, so often this involves getting the bad guy to do something illegal in front of the police so the client stays clean.
- At the start of "The Zarnecki Incursion" of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon is revealed to have called the cops on a theft... of his World of Warcraft inventory by an online hacker. Neither the cop nor Sheldon's roommate, Leonard, are amused by this, with the officer only remaining on standby as Sheldon is hyperventilating.
Officer: I'm sorry for your loss, but the Pasadena Police Department doesn’t have jurisdiction in... Pandora.
Sheldon: That's from Avatar! World of Warcraft takes place in Azeroth — goodness gracious, how are you allowed to carry a gun?
- Played with in an episode of Columbo: a woman arrives at the police department to make a missing person's report, but Columbo and an attending sergeant explain that someone has to be missing for at least 24 hours before police can get involved. However, since he's just gotten off duty Columbo offers to accompany the woman and at least have a look. Notably, there was also a bit of a jurisdiction issue: Columbo is under Homicide, not Missing Persons. He even points this out to the woman.
- Doctor Who: In "Pyramids of Mars," Laurence Scarman wants to go to the police about the goings-on at the priory. The Doctor immediately shuts him down: "They'd only hamper my investigation...This has something to do with time, and time is my business."
- Forever: Despite working closely with the police every day, when Henry is faced with an immortal stalker he feels he can't go to the police without putting his own secret at risk, or being thought insane if he were to tell them.
- This starts with mysterious phone calls from The Voice in the pilot, and reaches a climax in "Skinny Dipper" when Adam kills Henry in the course of proving his own immortality, then frames Henry for murder. Henry and Abe are mere minutes away from fleeing the country when Jo arrives, and Henry is clearly in agony when she asks him to explain himself. In the end, Henry tells her about having a stalker, but not about either of them being immortal.
- It comes up for a final time in "The Last Death of Henry Morgan," when Adam's pugio dagger and possible Immortal Breaker resurfaces and Adam begins murdering his way towards reclaiming it. When Jo confiscates the pugio Henry fears so much for her safety that he connives to steal it from evidence and return it to Adam rather than trying to kill him with it, much to Adam's disappointment, putting both his and Lucas's jobs at risk and driving a large wedge between Henry and Detective Martinez.
- In the Friends episode "The One with the Giant Poking Device", the gang thinks that Ugly Naked Guy has died...
Monica: We should call somebody.
Ross: And tell them what? "The naked guy we stare at all the time isn't moving"?
- The premise of Leverage, helping people who are normally outgunned or out financed against the bad guys.
- In "The Broken Wing Job," Parker is stuck back at the bar/team's base due to a torn ACL and overhears bad guys plotting what she takes to be a jewelry store robbery. Incapacitated, she recruits a waitress to help her thwart the plan. When the girl says they need to call the cops, Parker balks and tells her bringing them in will just cause more people to get hurt. Subverted later when she discovers two patrons are Portland PD officers and orchestrates their involvement in the men's capture. Ironically, one of the officers is the only person to get shot.
- Zigzagged on Person of Interest. Finch hires Reese to stop the irrelevant threats because alerting the police would eventually cause them to ask where the information is coming from. However, they do work with police. Averted when Samaritan tries to offer the Machine an olive branch. Through anonymous tips to the police, Samaritan was able to stop every crime in New York City for a day.
- In the Pose episode "Butterfly/Cocoon", one of Elektra's clients suffers an overdose when she leaves him unattended, and her first instinct is to call the cops. Her friends all point out that as a black trans woman, Elektra would almost certainly be made a scapegoat for the client's death if she went to the police, and thus they work together to dispose of the body before the cops find out.
- In Feng Shui, don't expect help from the cops if you're fighting the Ascended. Fifty-fifty, the guys they send after you will be the cops.
- In Warhammer 40,000, if an Imperial investigator finds proof of a Genestealer infestation, there's a very good chance they won't even bother informing local authorities and go straight to someone with the authority and firepower to go in at full force and kill everything there (most often the nearest Space Marine chapter). There's a practical reason for this: normally, if an investigator discovers proof of a Genestealer cult being active, that means there's a very good chance any local authorities will have been subverted as well.
- Averted in Ciaphas Cain, surprisingly, where the head of the police is in fact one of the people who are ruled fine. Still played straight in other areas, since the cult is watching the police, so police helping nearly gets Cain killed.
- Yandere Simulator: Osana's dark secret is that she has a stalker who kidnapped her cat. During a phone call, Osana threatens the stalker that she'll call the police if he doesn't leave her alone, to which he responds that he'll kill the cat if she does this. If the player chooses to befriend Osana and rescues her cat, she'll be able to report the guy to the police.
- Devil's Candy: The students discover Methia's group plotting something involving Elliot and their school and try to dig deeper, causing them to be found out by the criminals. Nemo suggests calling the cops only for Kazu to point out the mob effectively owns the police and they'd probably just get extorted for money.
- Played for Drama in Wormwood Institute. The school advises its students to not call the police about the disappearance of Helena Ives. While the PSA explains that it's an internal investigation by the school, it's heavily implied that the school did not want the truth about its student life going to the authorities.
- Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, The Rangers often hang out at police headquarters precisely to pick up cases that come in which the police are unable to investigate, such as a missing kitten in one episode, or a missing toy train in another.
- In Dan Vs. Elise's Parents, Dan's initial plan to get rid of Don and Elise Sr. is by framing Don as part of the mafia. This gets the police involved against Don, according to plan, but with a Dirty Cop involved, it also gets the actual local crime syndicate against Don as well. Thinking Don getting killed is too far, Dan tries to tell the police about the real syndicate while maintaining Don is a mob boss himself, but between the absurdity of the situation and Louie being trusted by the police captain, this goes nowhere, forcing Dan and co. to take matters into their own hands.
- In the episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! with the Wax Phantom, the gang initially suggest calling the cops, but the station manager explains that the radio station is already in trouble due to an earlier publicity stunt, so invovling the cops now might get them shut down.
- This (aside from considerations like saving face or showing strength) is principally the reason why criminal gangs tend to resort to violence against each other when disputes arise; in legitimate businesses, disputes between companies and their competitors (or their employees, or their customers) can be settled via the legal system, and the state can enforce the outcome. Criminals, however, do not have recourse to the law, and so are left with other means of settling disputes or punishing people who step out of line.
- This is also why some very common scams revolve around trying to get someone to hand over money for some kind of illegal good or service (drugs and sexual services are common) and then simply keeping the money and not delivering; people are unlikely to go to the police to report that they were scammed in the process of doing something illegal.