They are elite, and have the best equipment and training their government can provide. They're carrying rifles and wearing body armor and helmets, looking ready for battle. If you ever meet one, be prepared to quake in your boots and change your shirt from the nervous sweat as they step out of their vehicle, walk over, and ask...
Despite being the best of the best, they are also everywhere and doing every security oriented job, including traffic cop. The reasons are various: laziness or lack of research on the part of the writers, Rule of Cool, conservation of animation or costuming budget, etc.
This can operate at different scales; it would be unusual to see special operations soldiers guarding every US Embassy (normally guarded by Marines), just as it would be unusual if every security guard, police officer, and traffic cop was a Marine, every clerk and retail worker was a cop, or darn near everyone was wearing a combat uniform.
Some examples may be justified by the story; for example, an area under military occupation or martial law will often see soldiers in many roles held by policemen under more normal circumstances.
- An episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has Togusa go undercover to investigate a facility for youths suffering from "cyberbrain addiction". The first sign something's up is the presence of an 8 foot tall cyborg covered in solid metal armor. Unlike many other examples of this trope where it's treated as being normal by the characters, Togusa immediately becomes suspicious of the facility because of it.
- Judge Dredd has this to a society crippling degree. The Judges are very well trained, very thinly spread, and apparently the only law enforcement or security force in the Mega City. A larger number of less trained people could go a long way towards keeping a lid on things.
- Judge Dredd writer Michael Carroll has said that the story he's always wanted to do is about the people who go through the gruelling process of becoming a highly-trained Judge ... and end up as a supply clerk or similar. The Judges do not have civilian support staff.
- Lampshaded and eventually justified in All Guardsmen Party. The party is harassed by an oddly determined and overarmed traffic cop who stops at nothing to take them down. It turns out that this particular cop isn't an ordinary member of the planet's police force—he's an Arbites, one of the Imperium's interplanetary law enforcers, who was tasked with managing the planet's whole police force, and got stuck managing traffic.
- Men in Black II: J re-recruits K from his retirement at a post office. The retiree deals with a spilled coffee by issuing orders like he's containing a nuclear breach. This scene does admittedly take place in the sorting room, and getting spilled coffee all over someone else's mail is a great way to get yourself in a whole hell of a lot of trouble, but it definitely hints to J that his old partner might not be entirely happy in retirement.
- Spies Like Us. An abandoned movie theatre is guarded by plainclothes men armed with automatic weapons. This is Rule of Funny as the 'theatre' is actually a working component of the Strategic Defence Initiative.
- In Star Wars it's averted by the actual films which are fairly consistent about noting that Stormtroopers are elite troops (we only see them so much because we see Vader so much), but the Expanded Universe tends to depict them as cannon fodder that are all over the place doing everything, especially videogames.
- Predating Stormtroopers are the Clone Troopers. Despite the very lownote canon number of clones and several mentions in story of how tightly stretched they are, Star Wars: The Clone Wars has them doing everything from street patrol to prison guard duties. Justified, albeit thinly, by the fact that the Republic didn't have a standing army beforehand; recruiting and training regular troops was still a work in progress when the war ended.
- In Leverage, a large processed food company hired ex-CIA agents to protect their recipes! According to Nate, it's common practice in the industry.
- Person of Interest. When this happens it's a sign that the apparently innocuous business the protagonists are trying to break into this week is actually an NSA Black Site.
- In The Unit, Jonas, Mack, and Charles spend an episode bodyguarding a prima donna singer because the brass doesn't want anything bad to happen to such a high-profile artist. Nearly everyone is unaware that the three of them are highly skilled special forces operators.
- Justified in the Planet Cadia from Warhammer 40,000. The planet is right next to the Eye of Terror and is the first line of defense against Chaos incursions. With a conscription rate equal to the birth rate, there is no difference between 'military' and 'civilian' in Cadia. What we call military camouflage is everyday fashion in Cadia, city planning is done as with defensive lines, and Cadian kids learn to shoot before they learn to walk.
Any Cadian who can't field-strip his own lasgun by age ten was born on the wrong planet.
- In The Matrix: Path of Neo there's a former cop turned security guard in charge of an abandoned church, the worst thing going on in it is graffiti.
- Lampshaded and exploited in A Miracle of Science, when a trio of Mad Scientists break into a government facility that's disguised as an ordinary recycling plant... with four security guards with rifles posted outside. The ringleader notes that this was an important clue to the location of the McGuffin they're trying to steal, and then for an encore he uses binoculars to look over a guard's shoulder when he enters the code to unlock the door when he goes inside to take a leak.
- Questionable Content uses it with a good amount of lampshading when a lieutenant on a space station is charged with carrying out standard security checks on new arrivals. This is despite the presence of an AI that can do molecular scans on them and their coming from a spaceport, which presumably has security of its own.
- In the Batman Abridged series there's a scene where Batman literally punches through a guy's windshield and demands "license and registration." After he causes the truck to crash he remarks "that's what you get for driving without a hubcap."
- Parodied in Invader Zim with Slab Rankle, a mall cop who seems to think he's some kind of military super commander, doing stuff like kidnapping and imprisoning misbehaving customers, boobytrapping the mall with lethal obstacles, and creating a horde of zombies to do his bidding.
- Can be Truth in Television on occasion in some parts of the world and at some times.
- At one time it was quite common to see officers of the then-Royal Ulster Constabulary carrying sub-machine guns on routine foot patrols, for example, but at the height of The Troubles there was likelihood they'd need them.
- In the Philippines it's not unusual to see even mall cops packing heat,◊ up to and including automatic weapons and shotguns. This is mostly because firearms, legitimately acquired and otherwise, are so common that more lightly armed guards are not taken seriously by most career criminals.
- US, British, and other NATO Special Forces are often tasked to man checkpoints in high-risk areas or when protecting an area with VIPs. They essentially pull the same security jobs as regular guards, but are very well-prepared to deal with troublemakers.
- There is debate in many places about the degree to which this is the case for law enforcement. Using the US as an example, 20 years ago pistols were the most firepower that most patrol officers carried, with semiautomatic rifles at the station maybe. Since then military grade gear and SWAT teams have proliferated. note There are even laws that let police departments get military surplus for peanuts. On the other side of the argument, pistols are still the standard patrol weapon, with more less-lethal options available, possibly with shotguns and/or rifles carried in the trunk, which mostly became a thing after the North Hollywood Shootout.
- There are some security companies in the United States that only hire off duty and retired cops.
- The infamous "Mall Ninja" claimed to be this.