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Police Procedural

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"Every week, these series churn through crimes to solve. New victims and suspects arrive, and every week they leave again when their problem has been solved and order restored. The characters who stay are cops. In the almost unimaginable deluge of American crime TV, the characters whose names we know and whose lives we value are cops."
Kathryn Van Arendonk, Vulture

A Police Procedural is concerned with an accurate representation of the day to day realities and procedures of the police and law enforcement. It's a sub-genre of crime fiction. The Police Procedural is almost the antithesis of the Cop Show. The Police Procedural does not focus on the characters' personal lives; instead, it focuses on the nuts-and-bolts of law enforcement: gathering evidence at the crime scene, getting search warrants, arresting suspects, interrogating them in an interview room, and doing forensic science and autopsies, all while adhering to legal restrictions and procedures.

This term is also sometimes used specifically to describe the "Reverse Whodunnit" style of crime drama made famous by Columbo, despite the fact that most examples have very little to do with actual police procedure.

Note that the focus on "realistic" police work doesn't mean the show has to be set in "reality". A show looking at the day-to-day crime-solving routine of the Space Police on Alpha Centauri is still a procedural.

Both the Police Procedural and the Cop Show are sometimes called "Precinct Shows".

See also: Criminal Procedural, Forensic Drama, Buddy Cop Show, Cop Show.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Fell is about a detective in a Darker and Edgier part of town.
  • Gotham Central follows the Major Case Squad of the Gotham City Police Department as they deal with crimes and the villains that plague the city.
  • Batman: Gordon of Gotham: Like Gotham Central, each story follows normal cops investigating crimes committed by non-costumed criminals, while Batman only makes cameo appearances.
  • Judge Dredd is a science-fiction police procedural with heavy doses of satire, Space Western elements and supernatural events.
  • Rivers of London is the comic book spinoff of the below-mentioned book series in Literature.
  • Top 10 is a superhero Police Procedural.

    Comic Strips 

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Blue Lamp is an early and iconic British example, in which the humdrum daily grind of a group of central London police is interrupted by the shocking murder of one of them.
  • Detective Story shows the everyday routine of the 21st Precinct, the issues they have to deal with, from petty complaints by citizens, to minor felonies, to major crimes.
  • The Enforcer (1951): The movie (told mainly through flashback) features the investigation of an organization based on the original Murder, Inc., as the police struggle to find a witness who can convict the Big Bad.
  • Fire in the Sky: Although this film is an alien abduction story, the focus is not on the abduction but on the police investigation. This police procedural takes up about half of the film time.
  • The Guilty has an unusual twist on the genre, being told entirely from the perspective of an emergency dispatcher.
  • He Walked By Night is a Ripped from the Headlines example about a manhunt for a Cop Killer in Los Angeles.
  • High and Low (1963): The second half of Akira Kurosawa's film, based on Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novel, King's Ransom.
  • Hit Team: The only Hong Kong movie that centers on the Hong Kong Police Force's secretive Surveillance Support Unit.
  • M by Fritz Lang and its sort-of sequel The Testament of Dr. Mabuse are some of the earliest cinematic examples, starring Otto Wernicke as Kommissar Lohmann of the Berlin police.
  • The Little Things
  • The Naked City is told from the view point of the staff working at the homicide department, and thus providing us with many of the details of daily detective work.
  • The Next Generation -Patlabor-: The live-action sequel of the Patlabor series, based on the movie timeline.
  • Powerful Four: The titular four is a band of Hong Kong police investigators who had to work together to take down an expanding crime ring.
  • PTU: A six-movie series produced by renown Hong Kong director Johnnie To, revolving around the daily activities of a Police Tactical Unit and how they deal with gunrunners, drug dealers, triads and assorted criminals in the seedy underbelly of Hong Kong.
  • Sicario has the FBI and state/city police in Arizona involved in investigating activities of the Sonora Cartel.
  • Sicario: Day of the Soldado has the Mexican Federal Police involved to help Matt. However, some of the officers helping out were paid off by the gangs to take out his unit.
  • Half of The Sniper shows the police manhunt for the eponymous killer, including showing how much of it is laborious legwork following avenues of investigation that ultimately go nowhere; while all the while the public is expecting them to work miracles.
  • S.W.A.T. (2003): Sgt. "Hondo" Harrelson builds a SWAT Team while a French mob boss tries to escape custody after getting caught by accident from a Spanner in the Works.
  • White Heat, despite being known mainly for James Cagney's manic performance ("Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"), with details on how undercover police go about gaining the trust of a villain, and details on how a vehicle tail is conducted.


    Live-Action TV 


    Video Games 

    Web Comics 


Video Example(s):


Hollywood Station briefing

Hollywood Station gets a briefing on a few things the officers need to attend to. Also, Lt. Don Thorne reminded Maddie that she can still get kicked out of the LAPD if she does violate rules, like separting from her partner at all times. The LAPD is one of the few police forces in North America still known to adhere to this rule.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / PoliceProcedural

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