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Police State

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"Justice has a price. The price is freedom."
Judge Dredd, "America"

The stereotypical enemy of La Résistance, and a must have for any self-respecting Dystopia that is not in total anarchy.

Police Brutality is the standard operating procedure here and they are most likely incredibly corrupt. One popular portrayal is having them dressed perpetually as SWAT Teams. If they need a vehicle, they aren't likely to settle for a car. Fascists' Bed Time will be enforced.

Truth in Television, of course, but we won't list such situations. It's not always obvious when a country is one of these.

Variants: Culture Police, Secret Police, State Sec. Subtrope of The Dictatorship and Dystopia. An America that has become one of these is an Oppressive States of America.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Amestris is a military-police state. On the other hand, it's more or less justified, as the entire country was created for the sole purpose of housing Father's giant transmutation circle for godhood, so he's the Chessmaster behind the government as well.
  • Death Note: The whole world practically functions as Light Yagami's own personal Police State for 6 years after L's death.; With Kira's law being the only law and people worshipping and obeying him as a god.

    Comic Books 
  • Flash Gordon: The parts of the planet Mongo controlled by the Emperor Ming.
  • In the Judge Dredd universe, all of the major governments are Police States of varying flavours and levels of corruption, in a more literal manner than the norm. At least in the US, it is the long-term result of the growing power of the Justice Department initially to combat out-of-control urban crime in the new Mega-Cities. First the constitution was repealed and the entire judiciary (which was hopelessly corrupt) abolished, with Fargo merging the responsibilities of the Attorney General and Chief Justice into one office. His successors militarized it further, to the point where the JD became a wholly independent State Sec. Then the President derelicted his duties by plunging the world into nuclear war, forcing the Judges to depose him and basically became the entire government.
    • Dredd's own Mega City One is often shown to be one of, if not the nicest, or at the very least less-corrupt, places on Earth. Other cities, on the rare occasions they are featured in the main continuity, are variously portrayed as corrupt, criminal regimes, run by Freemasons, falling apart, nuked, even more oppressive, infested with zombies, religious dictatorships or horrifically cheery themepark versions of Ireland. The world of Judge Dredd is such a Crapsack World that if your city is just a police state, you're incredibly lucky!
    • Outside the Mega Cities, the Cursed Earth is less dictatorial, but generally far less pleasant overall.
    • Judge Fargo, the founder of the Judge system, never wanted America to be a police state forever. On his deathbed, he begged Dredd to restore the American Dream of freedom and democracy. Dredd allowed the Judge system to remain indefinitely.
  • The Planet Georwell in Justice Machine.
  • Latveria was like this before Doctor Doom came to power; he just does it better, partly by using an army of killer robots instead of a human Secret Police. How pleasant or otherwise a place to live the country is for the ordinary Latverian varies by continuity and writer, but knowing Doom it's a safe bet that the trains really do run on time.
  • V for Vendetta is set in a Britain gone fascist, complete with armies of jackbooted thugs doing Police Brutality.
  • In DC Future State, Gotham has become this when Simon Saint and his Magistrate ends up being becoming the new police following the mysterious "A-Day". In the mainstream continuity, in Batman (James Tynion IV), it seems to be heading in that direction until the Scarecrow, realizing just how terrified Gotham is, decides to hijack the plan.

  • The Lemony Narrator of Equestria: A History Revealed seems to believe she's living in one, with Celestia's secret police, fallacy police, and paranoid police. But with that last one, coupled with her Conspiracy Theorist nature, it's probably just all in her head.
  • My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic: The narration states that it's benevolent; the readers (and at least one character) would beg to differ.
  • The Discworld Expanded Universe of A.A. Pessimal has lots of police states. Ankh-Morpork has Lord Vetinari in charge and who arguably doesn't need a secret police: it has Sam Vimes, the (reformed) Cable Street Particulars, Dark Clerks and the Guild of Assassins, who along with the other Guilds tend to each have part of the picture as to what's going on at any given moment. But Vetinari is the man assembling the jigsaw puzzle. However, Quirm has the Deuxieme Bureau; Rimwards Howondaland has its own Bureau of State Securitynote . Far Überwald may turn out to have a Kommittee of General Benevolence overseeing its citizens and Cenotia is rumoured to have a shadowy organisation called Shin Pa'd, or perhaps The Institute, with an interest in defending its own quiet backwater of the Circle Sea.
  • In Weight of the World, Atlas becomes a military-police state after the fall of Beacon. There is a strict curfew, owning board games that "encourage aggression" is illegal, soldiers round up people they claim are criminals in highly public and brutal arrests, and said "criminals" are sent to a place known as the Transformation Institute to be "reeducated".

  • Battle Royale is set in an alternate, fascistic version of Japan that, after winning World War II, began doing things like forcing 50 random teenagers to fight to the death annually in a deranged attempt to combat delinquency.
  • Brazil is a unique variant where the Police State is laughably incompetent, clearly beginning to collapse under the weight of its own bureaucracy, and somehow manages to do far more harm than it would if it were deliberately malevolent instead of simply stupid.
  • Children of Men: In 2027, after 18 years of global human infertility, civilization is on the brink of collapse as humanity faces extinction. The United Kingdom, the only stable nation with a functioning government, is deluged by asylum seekers fleeing the chaos and war which have taken hold around the world. In response, Britain has become a militarized police state as British government forces round up and detain immigrants.
  • Cry Freedom: It's set in South Africa during The Apartheid Era, therefore this naturally is the case. The very first scene shows white police violently breaking up a temporary settlement by black people. South African police are the main representatives of the apartheid regime throughout the movie, constantly harassing, detaining or even killing dissidents. Truth in Television for the time.
  • The government of Libria from Equilibrium, whose anti-emotion laws are enforced by motorcycle-helmeted Sweepers and Gun Kata trained Grammaton Clerics.
  • The Girl From Monday: Triple M has turned the US into one, with its black-clad paramilitary police everywhere hauling dissidents off, and spying on all the citizens.
  • Judge Dredd depicts Mega-City One as a post-apocalyptic city covering the greater New York area controlled by the Judges and ruled by the Council of Five. While the Chief Judge is pretty much a dictator, Fargo does balk at the suggestions of his more draconian cohorts.
  • In A Clockwork Orange it's strongly implied that the government is devolving into one of these. The "cure" itself even comes about because they need to free up space for future political prisoners, and the government starts recruiting street thugs as police (including Alex's former "droogs").
  • America becomes this after the Big One in Escape from L.A.. It's implied to have been heading this way in Escape from New York.
  • In Super Mario Bros. (1993), under Koopa's rule, the police can arrest people for singing anti-Koopa songs while ignoring Daisy's kidnapping. When an APB for plumbers is issued, they're quick to arrest the Mario Brothers as well.
  • What Happened to Monday has a daily presence of guards trying to detect any second or third children in a nation that has adopted a one-child policy, promising to cryogenically freeze any children in hopes that a future world will have less population. They don't freeze them.
  • V for Vendetta: The Norsefire regime has instituted one, with secret police patrols constantly on the streets, ubiquitous surveillance of the citizens, and people being taken away never to be seen again very regularly.

  • Efrafa is the dictatorship-warren established by General Woundwort in Watership Down, with a rigidly-enforced system of concealment to prevent its discovery by Men.
  • C. S. Lewis has something of a pattern here:
  • Oceania in the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with probably the biggest example being the Thought Police.
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Randall Flagg's Las Vegas colony in The Stand probably applies here, considering people are frequently crucified for crimes.
  • Dune has Giedi Prime under the Harkonnens.
    • The Harkonnens attempt to do this with Arrakis, but it doesn't work out.
    • The entire universe under the rule of Leto II. It's all to save humanity, though, so it's a bit more complex than all that,note  but it doesn't make anyone at the time any happier.
  • The post-apocalyptic nation of Panem in The Hunger Games.
  • Inquisitor Umbridge tries her best to turn Hogwarts into one in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort turns the Wizarding world of England into one in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
  • Ansul under Ald occupation is this in Voices, the second Annals of the Western Shore book. The Alds conquered it and oppress the population, but not for colonization—they only send soldiers there because they only came to smash the heretics.
  • The Federation in Shannara is like this, especially in The Heritage of Shannara, when it was a xenophobic, expansionist state, where magic was outlawed, State Sec controlled all aspects of life, and The Shadowen were pulling the strings.
  • Tom Sharpe's Piemberg farces, set in The Apartheid Era, center on the South African Police Force in the sleepy city of Piemberg, a place stuck in a late-Victorian time warp where colonial mentalities prevail (on the part of British South Africans) and a desire to replay the Boer War exists (on the part of Afrikaners). Both ethnicities unite in despising and distrusting blacks, however, and this is where the racist and incompetent SAPD excels. And beyond the regular uniformed police is BOSS, the Bureau of State Security. Headed locally by a psychotic and hysterical paranoic called Verkramp, who sees conspiracies against a White South Africa - everywhere. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Westeros was this during the tenure of Brynden “Lord Bloodraven” Rivers as Hand of the King. As he was a particularly powerful skinchangernote who could control ravens, a greenseer and had a good knack for glamours, he was able to spy on quite a lot of people in order to root out any Blackfyre sympathizers (real or not) and punish them. As shown in The Sworn Sword and The Mystery Knight, a lot of people felt that they couldn’t speak openly for fear of being perceived as treasonous.
  • Janusz Zajdel gives us the following examples:
    • Paradyzja, whose government spreads paranoia about Earth wanting to attack them, but actually fears its own citizens.
    • The lunar colony in Cylinder van Troffa, supposed to be the means for humanity's "best" to survive while Earth is uninhabitable. Because of this, Luna runs on "lifeboat rules", with tight Population Control and fervent suppression of rumours that the next generation of lunarians might be unable to survive in Earth gravity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Barrier: New Spain became a dictatorship twenty-five years prior to the beginning of the series. In one episode, two government officials discuss the fact that the police is gaining too much power. Meanwhile, corruption and casual Police Brutality are already a reality for the large portion of the population that isn't part of the political or economical elite.
  • The United Kingdom becomes this in the ending of Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment, as the Waldo movement has replaced the British parliament in a wave of cynical populism. The protagonist, Jamie, is shown to have become a homeless alcoholic who is tased and beaten by police after throwing a beer bottle at a Waldo sign. What's worse, the Waldo movement is spreading globally across the world.
  • Doctor Who:
    • An inversion is seen in the serial "The Happiness Patrol" from 1988. The eponymous patrol used their "fun guns" and pink uniforms to suppress anyone seeming miserable or unhappy, whom they labelled "Killjoys". Some were executed by means of deadly sweets...
    • Played straight in "Turn Left", which shows how a universe without the Doctor would play out. As London and most of its surrounding area is wiped out by the crash of the Titanic (which the Doctor prevented in "Voyage of the Damned") and other countries are ravaged by alien attacks, Britain becomes one of these.
      • The most striking moment occurs when Donna's Italian housemate is taken to a "work camp", as Britain has become heavily anti-immigrant, yet can't kick them out since the oceans closed. As they climb into the army truck, Donna's grandfather Wilf starts to cry.
        Wilf: "Work camps". That's what they called them last time!
    • Played straight in in "The Beast Below", where England is turned into one of these. The government is keeping a secret and any dissidents who try to find out what happened are fed to the eponymous Beast Below. The Doctor figures this out pretty quickly since nobody is visibly reacting to his usual weirdness and nobody stops to inquire why a child is crying. They are too afraid.
  • Colony: RH forces conduct random (and sometimes physical) inspections, and curfews are always enforced from 12 to 6 AM with orders to shoot anyone who is caught violating rules. Massive surveillance operations are done to control the populace and slave labor policies are used for anyone caught committing crimes against the CTA.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: The Republic of Gilead. Black-clad soldiers are constantly patrolling the streets, and secret police vans snatch people off the sidewalk. In a flashback to the rise of Gilead, they respond to the women's rights marchers with machine guns and mortars.
  • The Purge: We usually see the universe of the Purge through the lens of its brutal, lawless titular annual event. Season 2 shows that everyone is constantly monitored and committing crime of any kind will have the police sent after you in minutes the other 364 days of the year (or for violating the rules of the Purge — this also explains how they enforce those, as otherwise it would be logistically impossible). Depending on the violation, suspects can potentially be stripped of their rights as citizens, showing that the government now prevents crime on off-Purge days through draconian punishments (it's later revealed capital punishment is used liberally for all major felonies).

  • Three Days Grace's music video for "Just Like You" features the SWAT officer stereotype.
  • Disturbed's music video for "Another Way To Die" has a military-like group controlling all the earth's remaining water supplies and suppressing any form of agriculture not within their control.
  • "The State Within" by Funker Vogt:
    They can fake everything
    To prove that you are guilty
    They can erase your life
    Steal your whole identity
    There's not much you can do
    Resistance is impossible
    In the end they take your life
  • Corey Hart's Sunglasses at Night is about life in one of these, mixed with Stalker with a Crush.
    I wear my sunglasses at night
    So I can, so I can
    Watch you weave
    Then breathe your story lines
    And I wear my sunglasses at night
    So I can, so I can
    Keep track of the visions in my eyes


    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: The Capellan Confederation is outright described as a police state in the game's lore, being highly centralised and with a powerful government that controls practically everything about its citizenry, including whether or not they are 'citizens' at all or simply 'servitors': All children are officially 'wards of the state' until they can be assigned to either category. The Draconis Combine is slightly less centralised and has less direct power over its citizenry, but is even more authoritarian as a highly stratified feudal society where the Coordinator has almost unlimited power. The Lyran Commonwealth was briefly this under Alessandro Steiner, predecessor to Katrina Steiner (the actual Katrina Steiner, not her granddaughter Katherine). His idea of loyalty to the realm involved judicious use of LOKI operatives to suppress dissent. Unfortunately, the Lyran Commonwealth is notoriously full of General Failures, so this doesn't work nearly as well or as effectively as he'd have liked, and eventually led to Alessandro getting deposed by the infinitely more reasonable Katrina.
  • In Nomine: Hell is overseen by the pervasive and merciless inquisition of Asmodeus and his servants, who ruthlessly purge the infernal ranks of any demon judged incompetent, treasonous, or insufficiently committed to Lucifer and his goals.
  • Misspent Youth by Robert Bohl, ahas you play a group of teenage anarchists out to change the world. The group creates Systems of Control that are sci-fi-ish details about the world that the Authority uses to mess with your lives. These frequently include a police state, especially if the Authority's Visage is State.
  • Paranoia: The setting's sole surviving human settlement is run by a powerful self-aware computer who is also, unfortunately, quite insane, and is absolutely convinced that every misfortune real or imagined is caused by communist or mutant saboteurs, despite most forms of communist theory or texts having been lost for centuries (the mutants are quite real, however). The Computer is always watching, and anybody who engages in communist activity or who is a mutant... or who can in any way be misidentified as part of those two groups... or who runs afoul of the Computer's many, many badly-worded and contradictory laws... is in for an unpleasant time.
  • The Splinter: Earth is a police state controlled by a single corporation. Make sure to watch tv every night and report suspicious activities to the police robot that's most assuredly watching you right now. It's for your own safety.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Imperium of Man is one of these. The Adeptus Arbites are the civilian law enforcement, keeping an eagle eye on everyone and acting on crime and criminals with Judge Dredd-level intensity. Further up the chain, the Inquisition watches everyone.

  • Beast Wars: Uprising: Cybertron in the 24th century, where the Maximal Command Security Forces are the main arm of the Builders, and it's possible get into trouble for looking in a reflective surface too long. Most of the MCSF only sign up for the job because it means exemption from The Games, and so are usually apathetic and corrupt at best.
  • BIONICLE Metru Nui is run as this, as it is patrolled by armies of Vahki who are ruthless in hunting down law breaking Matoran.

    Video Games 
  • Sid Meier's Civilization series:
    • Civilization III gives us the Fascist form of government, which offers benefits to military support but also for reasons not completely explained causes many settlements to lose a few units of population when you switch to it.
    • Civilization IV has "Police State" as a civic option, with a swat officer in its portrait. Using the police state speeds up weapon production and halves the effects of wartime anger, presumably because people are too afraid to speak out or protest.
    • Civilization V features this under the Autocracy tree, which gives +3 Happiness from every Courthouse built, and also halves the time it takes to build them. In the Gods and Kings expansion, it reduces the efficiency of enemy spies by 25%, and gives YOUR spies a +25% bonus to catch the enemy spies.
    • Alpha Centauri has police state as a social engineering option and practically downright states that a few factions use them (The Hive is more or less forbidden from using anything else). You can even go for complete Thought Control once you research the technology "The Will to Power" (the Nietzsche reference is intentional, and also intentionally twisted—Chairman Yang understands what Nietzsche was saying, he just wants to take it in a wholly different direction).
  • XCOM 2's ADVENT Administration is a global puppet government established after aliens invade and world governments surrender after the titular XCOM Project from XCOM: Enemy Unknown fails to combat the aliens. Ostensibly, it is run by human officials in cooperation with benevolent aliens, and is protected by an army of apparently human ADVENT Peacekeepers. In reality, ADVENT Troopers enforce a global police state that monitors all communication and public activity in city centers. They favor ID scanners in the streets, military checkpoints on seemingly every other block, patrols kitted out with assault weapons, automated turrets in public places, and a massive electronic/psionic surveillance system that links everything together. It doesn't help that all ADVENT forces wear heavy eye-concealing helmets.
  • Half-Life 2's Combine fits the bill, the Civil Protection do the most of the brutality though.
  • Fallout 3's Vault 101 security officers are to stop anyone from leaving the Vault, even if it means using deadly force.
  • Mirror's Edge. Mostly played straight. The government is a totalitarian police state that monitors all communication and public activity; however, the city cops dress rather casually (blue t-shirt and pants).
  • This is what Silvermoon, the Blood Elf capital in World of Warcraft is, or at least was before Kael'Thas was exposed as a madman. It had automated arcane sentries on every street corner, occasionally spouting propaganda, and anyone critical of the regime was quickly apprehended by the city guard and brainwashed via magic.
  • In the Injustice universe of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Superman has turned his world into a totalitarian police state called the One World Regime following a horrible tragedy orchestrated by the Joker that cost millions of lives and pushed him to his breaking point. This regime is opposed by Batman and the heroes under his banner, along with a handful of heroes from the prime universe who find themselves transported there.
  • In Season 1 of Batman: The Telltale Series, Harvey Dent gets elected mayor of Gotham City and after he's wounded and potentially disfigured by The Penguin and a terrorist group known as the Children of Arkham, he snaps and slowly turns Gotham into a police state with armed guards on every street corner. He blows up an entire city block to destroy the Children of Arkham's drug supply, throws Bruce Wayne into Arkham without a trial and sets fire to his house, and tries to have his enforcers kill either Bruce or Gordon in Crime Alley. If Batman decides to focus on stopping The Penguin instead of Two-Face, he starts silencing his opposition and even goes so far as to try to have his enforcers kill off the entire GCPD before holding public executions in what's left of Wayne Manor, with his hostages including a police officer and a newscaster who spoke out against him.
  • Freedom Wars has warring police states as one of the only forms of civilization left in the future. People living in panopticons are under constant surveillance, and any infraction, no matter how slight (including the crime of being born and representing a new drain on limited resources) is punishable by prison sentences that can easily exceed a million years.
  • The Federation in Escape Velocity Nova is, by the time the game starts, something like this. It is relatively light on the oppression for something on this page (it does still maintain the formal structure of the democratic federation it was founded as, and the rulers has to pretend to the public it still is a working democracy), but it is effectively ruled (in secret, obviously, though there is a Rebellion out to oust them) by its FBI-counterpart, the Bureau of Internal Investigation. Once you start working for the Bureau in the Federation storyline (which is fairly quickly), the missions you are allocated end up being to go to a planet, pick up a captured 'spy' or 'terrorist', and bring them in for interrogation. With each mission, it is increasingly obvious that the crimes in question was being a political dissident, culminating in you being ordered to bring in what turns out to be the Councillor — Senator, more or less — for Port Kane.
  • In the original PlanetSide, the Terran Republic is a military oligarchy that mercilessly crushes any form of dissent with riot police or tanks. In the sequel, the Republic is an actual republic, but The Remnant on Auraxis has taken on a much more authoritarian bent due resource shortages.
  • In E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy, the Federation is a totalitarian police state rife with corruption and ineptitude; every Federal area is infested with looters and pirates, and it's rare to find a Federal officer you can't bribe. E.Y.E seeks to overthrow it, albeit more for the power than the desire to actually help people.
  • In the Flash game Deep State, creating a police state in Eastern Europe is the end goal, and is accomplished by running protection rackets, selling drugs, smuggling weapons, manipulating the press and other False Flag Operation including terrorist attacks against yourself and other countries. The main mechanic is balancing the population's fear (so that you can keep passsing ever-more intrusive surveillance laws, militarizing police, curtailing civil rights, what have you), the population (the more people die, the more scared they are, but the less money they make) and your income (as you can't make as much money when the population doesn't feel safe, which is needed to fund your money-making operations).
  • In Spider-Man (PS4), after a terrorist attack instigated by the Demons, Mayor Norman Osborn hires Silver Sable and her mercenary company Sable International to end their threat. He gives them full authority, which allows them to establish restrictive curfews, checkpoint areas, and invasive surveillance throughout the city. They also arrest civilians at any sight of dissent and constantly oppose Spider-Man and the police. Unfortunately for Osborn, reality bites hard; the American public and federal government do not exactly respond well to a municipal government official acting like a tinpot dictator, and he winds up resigning in disgrace once everything is resolved at the end of the game, with a strong implication that he just barely avoided serious legal prosecution.
  • Stellaris has a Civics (principles behind a government) actually called Police State. In practice, it can fall anywhere between "highly repressive police force" and "a ridiculously high proportion of the population, up to and including one half of it are police officers".

    Web Original 
  • After the German democracy falls in the Chaos Timeline, pretty much every major power on Earth is this.

    Western Animation 
  • Mayor David Hull in Beware the Batman declares martial law in Gotham City, turning both the Gotham City Police Department and Harvey Dent's Special Crimes Unit into a death squad targeting Batman. However, Hull is forced to do this by a disfigured and increasingly insane Dent. Commissioner Gordon quits in disgust.
  • The Justice Lords from the Justice League did this to most of the world in their alternate universe.
  • In The Legend of Korra, Councilor Tarrlok reacts to the Equalist (nonbender revolution) capture of the Pro-Bending Arena by enforcing a curfew on all nonbenders, punishable by being thrown in jail. Tenzin naturally objects, but can't get a majority opinion on his dissent. Until Korra confronts Tarrlok, no one seems to point out that this curfew only makes Republic City into the oppressive state that Amon wants his followers to believe it is.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: When Jenny finally visits the Cluster homeworld in the Big Damn Movie, it unsurprisingly turns out to be this. Unlike many examples, most of the populace doesn't actually know they're living in a police state; Queen Vexus and her Secret Police have such complete control over the planet that their citizens are thoroughly brainwashed into thinking Cluster Prime is a happy, prosperous world of freedom and that anything Vexus does is to protect them from foreign invaders.


Video Example(s):


A Better World

"If you want people to respect the big laws, you have to enforce the small ones."

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