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Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist

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The Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist represents the law, who is intent on capturing a criminal. It just so happens that the viewpoint character of the work is a Lovable Rogue or some other criminal.

The Inspector must be sympathetic, unlike the Inspector Javert. He believes in the law but won't sacrifice his humanity at its feet. He's doing exactly what he should be doing, and even doing it fairly well, but never quite as well as the protagonist is doing his job. As a series goes on, chances are he'll develop a great deal of respect for his quarry, and may be quite prone to teaming up with the protagonist. He also does not chase wrongly accused criminals. Don't try to fake being a victim of his target; the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist knows his quarry, and can often tell right off "That's not his style." Likewise, he can often figure out pretty quickly if an innocent target is being framed by his archnemesis.

This sympathy can be played for laughs, and humiliated left and right by the protagonist. Thus, this character runs a risk of becoming a joke among fans (or even in-series) if he never has any on-screen successes, especially if Flanderization sets in. A common way of preventing this is to have the character be a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass against lesser crooks, thus racking up an impressive career record of arrests even if it is primarily cleaning up after his main quarry has defeated them. Perhaps he even deliberately lets the main villain go because the alternative is letting more vicious ones escape. Occasionally, he may even catch him, only for the criminal to escape other, more foolish characters, or receive The Pardon. Regardless, when his superiors try to replace him, that replacement usually finds himself totally outmatched by the rogue and humiliated to the point where the Inspector is reinstated as the only police officer who has a decent chance of capturing the quarry.

More likely to be Lawful Good than Inspector Javert, because he has the answer to the question "To Be Lawful or Good". Many times, it is also revealed that he is VERY good at his job... but that his elusive quarry is SO good as to make him look foolish. Spotlight episodes might even prove him to be quite formidable. The protagonist himself may even praise him, and usually enjoys getting chased.

This character is also always considered an important one in the series, even if he is secondary to the protagonist: the series would just not be as interesting without a foil for the hero. Expect him to have a few episodes dedicated exclusively to him, like showing his point of view for an entire episode or showing his life outside chasing his prey. Can easily become an Ensemble Dark Horse if he's likable enough (which he usually is).

In case he's working for the Police State, he will end up being a Token Good Teammate at the best, and Heel–Face Door-Slam at the worst.

A subtrope of Hero Antagonist. See also The Rival and Noble Top Enforcer. Compare Determinator, Meddlesome Patrolman. Contrast Inspector Javert (who may be villainous, though rarely actually evil).

Simple inspector identification test: if it would be unjust for the inspector to actually arrest the hero, but the inspector doesn't know or doesn't agree, he is Inspector Javert. If it would be just to arrest the hero (a Gentleman Thief is still a lawbreaker) but it never seems to happen or stick, despite him being good at his job, it's Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist.


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  • Old Cookie Crisp commercials, which replaced the ones about their old mascot, Cookie Jarvis, had Officer Crumb chasing after the Cookie Crook and Chip the Dog for stealing Cookie Crisp. He never succeeded... until they changed the commercials to have Officer Crumb catch them in the end. Later the Cookie Crook and Chip the Dog were scrapped entirely for Chip the Wolf.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The former Trope Namer is Inspector Kouichi Zenigata from the Lupin III series. He set the standard for a whole host of wacky detectives following in the example of his relentless pursuit of Lupin. By this point, he's come to admit he wouldn't have any idea what to do with himself if he did catch Lupin. He's also very much in the "good, just not as good as his quarry" column — he gets closer to catching Lupin than anyone who tries to replace him, he's a one-man police force against any lesser criminal and can have quite a good time beating up an entire gang of muggers barehanded. It's openly stated that his stellar arrest record (i.e. cleaning up after Lupin) is the only thing that's kept him from getting reassigned, and even if he's got a low chance of capturing his rival, it's still better than no chance at all if his superiors set someone else after Lupin.
    • Zenigata has actually been able to catch Lupin clean a few times. In the original manga and anime, he caught him with a very cleverly laid trap and kept him behind bars for a year until his scheduled execution. It took Lupin a Batman Gambit to escape that time.note  The bottom line is Zenigata is capable of catching Lupin from time to time. Lupin staying caught? Ah, now that's the tricky part, ain't it?
    • He's also let Lupin go more than a few times, too. While Lupin is his archenemy, it's a matter of the two being on reasonably good terms with each other, and he'll stop chasing Lupin and work with him directly if there's a worse villain to be caught, even to the point of ignoring Lupin escaping if the bad guy is a bigger threat. His finest hour probably came in The Castle of Cagliostro when an impromptu Enemy Mine with Lupin and his friends led to him busting a massive worldwide counterfeiting operation live on camera in front of the entire world, although in this case he did resume chasing Lupin right afterwards.
    • In one episode, Lupin even goes as far as to give up his loot and seriously risk being captured, because doing anything else would amount to intentionally leaving Zenigata to suffocate to death into an airtight armored truck (even though the circumstances that lead to this was not Lupin's intent). Zenigata returns the favor by stopping the police a moment before they are finally going to snare Lupin.
    • In turn, Lupin will help Zenigata clear his name if there's an issue. Voyage to Danger and Goodbye Partner are two of the more prominent examples; the former has Zenigata taken off the case for failing to catch Lupin and replaced with a more bloodthirsty agent. The latter has Zenigata arrested, accused of conspiring with Lupin all this time; Lupin takes on a spur-of-the-moment challenge to prove he's not working with Pops. Both times, of course, there's a bigger bad behind the plans, as detailed above, that Lupin ends up helping Zenigata bring to justice.
  • In Gunsmith Cats and its pilot of sorts, Riding Bean, Percy is the head investigator, obsessed with catching Bean Bandit the legendary Road Buster. Bean finds him most amusing, even though at one point he frames Bean for a murder so he can squeeze favours from the mobster who actually committed it. He's less sympathetic in Gunsmith Cats: Burst, where Percy tries to have him assassinated and will happily put innocent lives at risk, order his men to near-suicidal maneuvers and let far more dangerous criminals get away if it brings him closer to catching Bean.
  • Sherlock Hound's portrayal of Inspector Lestrade has elements of this when chasing Moriarty. Fittingly, Hayao Miyazaki, one of the directors, also directed several episodes of Lupin III and later on The Castle of Cagliostro.
  • Kaitou Saint Tail has fourteen-year-old Amateur Sleuth Asuka Jr. chasing Phantom Thief Saint Tail, who, unbeknownst to him, happens to be his own classmate and bickering partner Meimi Haneoka. He starts off as a straightforward example of this, considering Saint Tail to be a Worthy Opponent but believing that "a thief is still a thief" no matter how altruistic her motives are. Things get a little more complicated when the second half of the story hits, because after an incident occurs that tips him off to the idea that Saint Tail might be Meimi, it turns out that he's actually very in love with Meimi and is so devoted to her well-being that he's willing to completely rethink his approach regarding Saint Tail for her sake. This results in him getting shifted to the Deuteragonist position as he starts going out of his way to figure out what's going on with her, and once the stress of being a Phantom Thief starts destroying her emotional health, the storyline of "detective chasing a thief" is redefined as "Meimi emotionally isolating herself and falling increasingly out of touch with reality while Asuka Jr. tries to get through to her", meaning that him "catching" her would actually be a very, very good thing.
  • Magic Kaito:
    • Hakuba Saguru from can be seen as a serious version of this or, in his worse moments, a genuine Inspector Javert. However, he does do a fair bit of good despite his attempts to catch the gentleman thief protagonist and views him as a Worthy Opponent. Also notable for the huge amount of Ho Yay his obsessed chase produces.
    • Don't forget Inspector Nakamori, who is pretty much exactly Zenigata. He's an actual cop in charge of an entire division devoted exclusively to catching Kaitou Kid. He's also totally, unhealthily obsessed and does not even approach being smart enough to beat Kid, instead getting taunted and gently humiliated whenever he faces off against the thief. (Though he is more competent when not dealing with Kid.) And ironically, Nakamori's daughter Aoko is the closest to Kaito's love interest.
    • The Magic Kaito manga was arranged with a lot of homages to the original Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar so that Nakamori is a clear Expy of the much-toyed-with Ganimar, and Hakuba Saguru's original arrival is timed and delivered to be reminiscent of 'Herlock Sholmes' in Lupin. He's even wearing Holmes cosplay.
    • Eventually, he gets yet another Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist... Conan Edogawa. Kid has actually had much more success as a guest star on Conan than he did with his own comic.
  • Detective Leon Orcott of Pet Shop of Horrors. He finds Count D to be a threat to humanity. Count D finds him to be endearingly/irritatingly thick-headed. Both are correct in their assessment. This doesn't stop either of them from having tea with one another several times a month.
    • Leon also finds himself disturbingly attracted to D (disturbingly so because D is male - sort of), just as D finds himself disturbingly drawn to Leon (disturbingly so because Leon is human). Eventually, as Leon really begins to trust D, he lets his little brother live in the titular Pet Shop because he feels it would be the safest environment for the kid. ... And he still tries to arrest D occasionally after that.
  • D.N.Angel:
    • Satoshi Hiwatari is a unique example. First, he is a 13-year-old Teen Genius who is already a detective chasing down Dark (Gentleman Thief who possesses those in the Niwa family) and goes undercover as the classmate of Daisuke Niwa, whom Dark is currently inhabiting. Second, he is actually the host of another Split Personality, Krad, who is much more Ax-Crazy and a straight-up Big Bad; the two often conflict with each other.
    • Inspector Saehara falls into the comic side of this trope due to Dark already having a rather more competent nemesis in Satoshi/Krad. He does at least realize it would be out of character for Dark to kidnap someone.
  • One Piece: The series is based around pirates, so there's obviously examples.
    • Captain, later Commodore, even later on, Vice-Admiral, Smoker. He's a marine, and catching pirates is his job — not wrongly so since a lot of Pirates really are terrible criminals in this world. It just so happens our hero is also a pirate, if a really nice one that never pillages or hurts innocents. He catches plenty of other, less nice pirates along the way and actually helps with foiling the plans of the Big Bad in the Alabasta arc. Also notable in that Luffy stands no chance against him in a fight and Smoker would have absolutely no problem taking Straw Hat in if not for dumb luck, circumstance, or help from allies always getting Luffy out of Smoker's grasp. Well, at least until Luffy learned Haki. These days, their relationship is this and Worthy Opponent.
    • Luffy actually encourages Coby to become this when he hears that Coby wants to become a Marine, although they haven't yet come into conflict.
    • While the most visible Admiral, Admiral Akainu, is very much an unsympathetic General Ripper, the others are actually fairly decent people. Admiral Aokiji opposes Akainu's more extreme tendencies and leaves the Marines when he's made Fleet Admiral, and Admiral Fujitora pulls a Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! when it looks like the World Government might cover up Doflamingo's wrongdoings in order to save their reputation.
    • Ironically, this was the relationship that Luffy's grandfather Garp had with the previous Pirate King. So much so, that Roger, recognizing that they had pretty much become friends to the point that he trusted him as much as he did his own crew, entrusted Garp with his unborn child. The fact that Luffy and Smoker's relationship is so similar to their respective predecessors makes it more symbolic.
  • L from Death Note would qualify as a more serious and less hands-on example. As the world's greatest detective, he early on (correctly) fingers out the main protagonist as the most likely candidate to be the notorious serial killer known as "Kira" and continues to pursue his hunch for the rest of the series, even when circumstances (orchestrated by Light of course) seem to disprove this. The rest of the Kira Investigation Task Force counts as well, in particular Light's father Souichirou who is probably the most morally right character of the series and lacks the ruthlessness that L has.
  • Misaki Kirihara of Darker than Black manages to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the series despite spending most of it working against the (amoral, but generally also sympathetic) main characters. It helps that the series runs on Grey-and-Gray Morality.
  • Cat's Eye:
    • Inspector Utsumi will never, ever catch the three Classy Cat Burglars. Because they're just that good, because they're unpredictable and completely insane, and because his girlfriend, who he lives with, is one of them and she and her sisters have little qualms about taking advantage of this.
    • Cat's Eye has an entire group of these assigned to catch the titular thieves. The most notable is Mitsuko Asatani, the only one to come as close as Toshio to arrest them thanks to her common sense and realizing immediately who the Cat's Eye are, and, while unable to prove it, she uses this knowledge to prepare ambushes that come just this close to catch them.
  • Several police persons appear in Hana no Ko Lunlun, ranging from this trope to Inspector Javert. The most archetypical Sympathetic Inspector Antagonists are the policeman who chased after Sayid and Scharo in the first part of the Morocco miniarc, and the inspector from the Egypt episode who pursues a Gentleman Thief that Lunlun has befriended and actually succeeds in catching his target. Poor Lunlun never knew she was aiding an outlaw, tho.
  • Bright Honda in Shadow Lady is a skilled detective and a wizard with gadgets, but he's trying to take down a supernatural cat burglar.
  • Meguro from MW; he guesses right who the bad guy is but lacks evidence.
  • Kotarou Amon from Tokyo Ghoul, having been shaken out of his black-and-white view of the world after encountering Kaneki. He remains determined to fight Ghouls and stands in Kaneki's way but also considers him a Worthy Opponent that he desperately wants to learn more about. Roughly half of the series follows him, making him the secondary protagonist for chapters focused on the human side of the story. The second time they face each other in battle, he even allows Kaneki to escape while insisting that tending to the wounded is more important. In their final showdown, he finally gives his name to Kaneki and both mentally beg the other not to die. Even after he loses his right arm to Kaneki, he insists that he can't die, because then it would make Kaneki a murderer — the very thing he begged Amon to not make him, during their first encounter.
  • In the Kaitou Kirameki Man series of the Time Bokan franchise, the iconic Terrible Trio were bumbling cops who always failed at catching the Gentleman Thief protagonists.
  • Kyouya Onodera is this in Talentless Nana. He is an Amateur Sleuth trying to discover the secrets behind the school for superpowered "Talented" individuals and his sister's disappearance there a few years earlier, all noble and sympathetic goals. However, this puts him in direct conflict with the series's Villain Protagonist, Nana Hiiragi.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman from the perspective of the Classy Cat-Burglar Catwoman. He is dedicated to justice and she plays loose with the law, but they bail each other out on occasion.
    • Catwoman also had GCPD Detective Carlos Alvarez in her solo title
    • Batman is also this for the Huntress, especially in Cry for Blood. He is just trying to stop her from murdering people and is willing to seriously entertain the idea that she is being framed for the initial murders. In the end, Huntress betrays Batman and murders Don Cassamento in a way that Bats cannot touch her for.
  • Caleb Hammer, honorable Pinkerton Detective, hunts down Kid Colt in the miniseries Blaze of Glory. Sympathetic enough that he wound up avenging the man he was hunting in the end.
  • Inspector Ginko in the Italian series Diabolik. He's just as good as his quarry... And, being that good, he has already taken down a few mob bosses with the entire organization and, in collaboration with Diabolik, crippled a terrorist organization. According to Diabolik himself, the only reason he wins is that, being a cop, Ginko is more restricted in the actions he can take, while Diabolik and his lover Eva Kant can do whatever they want and he still expects to eventually die because of him, either killed while resisting arrest or by execution (Diabolik has a death sentence waiting for him) after being arrested and Eva, for whatever reason, cannot break him out in time. Both have already almost happened, multiple times.
    • To show how good is Ginko: in the very first story, Ginko succeeded in identifying Diabolik, expose his use of Latex Perfection, and nearly caught him, with Diabolik escaping with the loot only because he didn't cry in pain when Ginko shot the scarecrow he was hidden in, making Ginko believe he had already run away. A flashback in a following story shows that Diabolik had already tried to steal the target of his first story, but Ginko managed to arrest him (Diabolik escaped only because he was wearing a mask at the moment of capture, and managed to change identities the moment the prison guards looked another way).
  • Finch in V for Vendetta is an effective and honorable detective, it's just that V's terrorism and vigilantism is more effective, through judicious use of Batman Gambits. At the end of the story, Finch manages to find and kill V, but the comic strongly implies that V wanted this to happen, making it his ultimate Batman Gambit.
  • In The Incredible Hulk comic books, Doc Samson kept trying to stop the Hulk when he was savage or grey. He ought to be good at it since he's almost as strong as the Hulk, but as the grey Hulk put it: "Know what "almost" means? NOTHIN'!" Doc Samson's origin story pointed out that he got his powers by draining them from the Hulk, but that the Hulk was (relatively) calm at the time... and Hulk gets stronger as he gets angrier. Of course, since the Hulk's baseline is still pretty darn strong, Samson is no slouch against most opponents.
  • In the 1970s both Man-Wolf and Morbius headlined their own series in monster anthologies. Their shared Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist was Simon Stroud of the "Special Police Task Force". He was an honorable man who tried to capture them alive and used lethal force only against truly "inhuman" foes. He made his last appearance as a genuine hero and sympathetic character in 1980. Stroud resurfaced in the 1990s Morbius series Averting this trope as a man utterly obsessed with killing Morbius, having long since abandoned his career, alliances, and much of his morality in favor of hunting his vampire. In one story arc of this later series, Stroud briefly ends up in a Mental Institution. It is mentioned that the other patients live in fear of him.

    Fan Works 
  • A sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines has the Black Arachnid as the main protagonist, who is portrayed as a Gentleman Thief, and whose main motivation is living up to a promise he made to a childhood friend of becoming famous one day. Said friend is Ito Jenny, who fills the role of Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist. While she's saddened that her friend has taken the path of a criminal, ultimately resolves to live up to the promise herself and become the best police officer she can be, even if it means that she'll have to arrest her friend one day.
  • To Hell and Back (Arrowverse): Eddie Thawne to the Streak/Flash. While the latter genuinely has his heart in the right place and has saved the lives of several innocent civilians, that doesn't change the fact that he's a vigilante who has committed several petty crimes and even committed murder (albeit, even that was largely justified). However, Eddie gradually loses his more sympathetic traits as his obsession with the Flash grows, turning into an Inspector Javert.
  • Mastermind: Strategist for Hire features Detective Tsukauchi as the antagonist, trying to track down and ultimately capture Mastermind. He ends up gaining another sympathetic trait after Mastermind kills All Might, his best friend.
  • In A Rabbit Among Wolves, Ozpin becomes this to Jaune after he (accidentally) kills Adam Taurus and takes control of the Vale branch of the White Fang. Not being aware of Jaune's true goals, Ozpin spends the story trying to track down Jaune.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Bad Guys (2022): Misty Luggins, the police chief of Los Angeles, has had the Bad Guys on her radar for years as their infamy and their stolen riches grew in equal measure, but has never successfully caught them. Even their capture after the Golden Dolphin heist is short-lived when they're sent to Marmalade's compound to reform instead of jail. She finally gets to arrest them properly at the end, but only after they turn themselves in, something which she didn't actually expect.
  • Tangled: Maximus, a royal mount that was separated from his rider, chases Flynn, a Loveable Rogue who "kidnaps" Rapunzel. They eventually warm up to each other.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Lord of War: Jack Valentine is an Interpol agent who won't break his own rules, or laws he has no control over, in his pursuit of an amoral criminal.
  • Now You See Me: FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes and Interpol Agent Alma Dray, who are charged with capturing the notorious "Four Horsemen" immediately after their first heist at the Las Vegas show. Subverted when it turns out that Dylan is actually the Fifth Horseman who had been directing them, making him a Mole in Charge, and Alma agrees to keep his secret.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Norrington is pursuing Jack out of duty and orders. Jack is, after all a pirate, and piracy was a huge threat to settlements. Several of the deleted scenes feature Pet the Dog moments for Norrington. Notably, he tells Governor Swann that whatever his personal feelings towards Will, he's duty-bound to try and rescue him from Barbossa. He also has a moving heart-to-heart talk with Elizabeth after she "accepts" his proposal. Even Jack admits that he respects Norrington as "a man who knows what he's after."
  • Tom Hanks's character Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can hunts down a very skilled conman/forger.
  • Detective Martin Prendergast in Falling Down is the Hero Antagonist. He opposes and tries to calm down the rampage of the Villain Protagonist while also telling him that his grievances are no excuse for the several violent crimes he commited that day.
  • Keyes' job in Double Indemnity is to sniff out insurance fraud like what Walter and Phyllis are doing by murdering Phyllis' husband for the insurance money she would get upon his death.
  • Shinjuku Incident has detective Kitano, playing the role to its extreme. He's a bit of a jerkass for parts of the film, but he is nonetheless shown in a positive light, in a sense even more so than Jackie Chan's character. Subverted/played with, though, in that rather than chasing Steelhead to the ends of the earth, he agrees not to do just that...after he almost dies chasing Steelhead to the ends of the earth.
  • The nameless LAPD detectives of 1-Baker-11 in Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) are a perfect example of this and Hero Antagonist. Maindrian Pace has been stealing cars, then, after being tipped off to his final theft and instituting a stakeout, Pace rams their car and flees from the scene after being signalled to stop. They are the only police car to chase Pace the entire pursuit, from beginning to end.
  • Inspector Kong from So Close begins the movie as this. The protagonists are a pair of professional killers. Once they're betrayed and Kong is framed, however, she joins the remaining hitwoman to clear her name.
  • Paul Giamatti's chief inspector in The Illusionist (2006) sympathizes and even admires the hero, but works at the pleasure of the villainous aristocracy. He ultimately allows the hero to get away with his master plan.
  • Fear City: Detective Wheeler (Billy Dee Williams) is a legitimate good guy who wants to catch the killer as badly as Rossi does, he's just at odds with the adult club owners because he's a stickler for the law. By the end, Wheeler does gain a bit of respect for Rossi and lets him go after he single-handedly defeats the killer.
  • NYPD Chief Rotzinger in Quick Change, who diligently hunts the bank-robber protagonist Grimm and his two accomplices; he and Grimm share more than few traits and you get the definite impression the two men could have been friends were circumstances different.
  • In Mortdecai, Scotland Yard Inspector Martland turns into one as the story progresses. At the start, he serves as Charlie's ally, partly because of his attraction to Johanna, but later he gets more and more in the way of her and Charlie's own goals, such as by burning the (fake) painting when he finds it and intervening in the auction near the end.
  • Death Hunt: Sergeant Millen knows that the local mob antagonized Albert Johnson to begin with and are asking for his head. He offers Johnson safety if he'll come down to the station with them, but this is ruined by a member of the mob opening fire unprovoked. Millen knows that there's nothing for him to do but kill or take in Johnson from there, even if he doesn't enjoy it.
  • Deputy Samuel Gerard of the U.S. Marshals and his team are this in The Fugitive. Their job is to recapture Richard Kimble, a man convicted of capital murder who has escaped from a prison transport bus, and they do it well. Whether the prisoner is innocent or guilty is not up to them to determine. In the end, Sam realizes Richard's innocence and convinces him to surrender for his own protection, so he can get a new trial.
  • FBI Agent Peter Sadusky in the National Treasure series is put on the trail of the heroes after they steal the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives. He's a genuinely good guy, but has his duty to enforce the law and isn't willing to let Ben walk. In the end, Ben trades the Declaration and the location of the real Big Bad Ian Howe for immunity.
  • Sheriff Rowlings is such to Gentleman Thief Frank in Robot and Frank. While Jake, the person Frank has stolen from is clearly an Asshole Victim, Rowlings is a pretty affable and lawful cop and has a bit of a Friendly Rivalry banter going on with Frank at times, his antagonism comes mostly from having to take a case from Jake and being fairly competent and persistent in doing so. The harrowing ultimatum that drives Frank's Sympathetic P.O.V. in the end (of either turning himself in or memory wiping and thus "killing" his robot assistant that he treats as a living being) Rowlings does not even seem to be aware of.
  • John Frazier, the insurance fraud investigator in Ocean's 8. Yes, his investigation could put our heroes in jail, but he's a genuinely nice, upstanding guy, and he's just doing his job to the best of his ability. Notably, Debbie bears no ill will towards him, and he actually considers her a friend despite knowing she's a crook. (It's revealed that he's investigated the Oceans many times, so they're now friendly enemies at worst.) He's even willing to cover for Debbie and let her get away scot-free if she just returns the necklace she stole. She doesn't take him up on it, but it was a sincere offer.
  • In Peppermint, Detective Moises Beltran knows that he's chasing a person who's killing criminals exclusively, but still pursues her because she's breaking the law. At the end of the film he helps her escape confinement, after telling her that many in the Los Angeles Police Department applaud her actions.
  • In Blacula, Tragic Monster Villain Protagonist Prince Mamuwalde is hounded by a pathologist, Dr. Gordon Thomas, and his white colleague, police Lt. Jack Peters. To make things extra personal, Gordon is dating the sister of Mamuwalde's own Love Interest.
  • Another blaxploitation horror movie, Sugar Hill (1974), has this with Lt. Valentine, a cool young detective and Implied Love Interest for the heroine. He's investigating the murders of her Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the mob.
  • I Was a Teenage Werewolf sets up Detective Donovan as sympathetic to troubled youth Tony in its opening scene, trying to help him get his life together, and advising him to seek help from local psychologist Dr. Brandon. Unfortunately, Dr. Brandon is nuts and he turns Tony into a werewolf through hypnosis. Naturally, it falls to Donovan to solve all the suspicious animal attacks around town, and it's Donovan who eventually has to gun down the wolfed-out Tony.
  • In the classic gangster movie Little Caesar, the title character (Edward G. Robinson) is pursued by Sergeant Flaherty, a cop that the movie goes out of its way to make you like. This was mostly out of compliance with The Hays Code, which insisted that the law be portrayed positively and criminals - even a Villain Protagonist like Caesar Bandello - always get what was coming to them.
  • Birds of Prey (2020): Detective Montoya is the only outright good character in the movie, and spends most of her time investigating both Harley Quinn and the Big Bad.
  • The Boondock Saints: Paul Smecker is the Agent Peacock sent to investigate the McManus brothers' vigilante rampage against Boston's criminal underworld. As the film goes on, however, he eventually comes to sympathize with them and becomes their Friend on the Force, even assisting them during the climax. In the sequel, Eunice Bloom takes his place as his Distaff Counterpart.
  • The Last Boy Scout: In contrast to his hotheaded partner Detective Bessalo, Detective McCaskey is a polite, kindly man who just so happens to suspect that protagonist Joe Hallenbeck murdered his partner, something that was actually perpetrated by a villainous conspiracy he knows nothing about. He's ultimately killed by the same conspiracy so they can pin his murder on Joe.
  • The Newton Boys: FBI agent Aldrich pursues the Newton Gang but doesn't display any abrasiveness or No Sympathy moments. He does a good Sherlock Scan to expose the inside man who helped plan the Train Job and offers the brothers a good deal in exchange for their cooperation after finally capturing them.

  • Arsène Lupin, the original Gentleman Cambrioleur, had Ganimard, the original Zenigata. Lupin himself admits that even though Ganimard doesn't have his or Holmes's intellect, he made up on pure tenacity and determination. Not that Lupin ever had any qualms about making him look like a fool though. Notable for being the first one ever to arrest Lupin.
  • In the Moist von Lipwig POV Discworld novels, Vimes is this, though an unusual case as those who've read the whole series will be familiar with him as a protagonist. Moist himself is an experienced conman and competent forger who has trouble shaking off old habits when he becomes a Boxed Crook.
  • Most of the police officers who pursue The Saint fall into this category, especially Chief Inspector Claud Eustace Teal of Scotland Yard and Inspector John Henry Fernack of the NYPD. Teal is portrayed as an excellent detective, just not quite as good as the Saint, and Templar regards him as a Worthy Opponent and often has Enemy Mine situations where he helps Teal catch lesser crooks. (Teal is grateful for this, to an extent, but never lets it stop his dogged pursuit of the Saint.) Teal was so important to Simon Templar's early adventures that two collections were named after him. He also saved the Saint's life at least once.
  • Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment is probably this; subverted in that he succeeds, hence the second part of the title. What's so impressive about Porfiry is that the protagonist, while guilty, just manages through a combination of luck and Xanatos Speed Chess to make it so that there is very little evidence against him; the only way he could be convicted is if he confesses. Porfiry, knowing that the protagonist is guilty but not possessing enough evidence to convict, manages to hound and mess with him enough to convince him to confess.
    • Interestingly, even while he was messing with the protagonist with such ideas as reduction of sentence and suicide, he seemed genuinely concerned for the protagonist's moral welfare. (Only after, however, he is utterly certain that the protagonist will confess. Knowing he's caught the right guy and clinched the case, he takes some time out to feel sorry for him.)
  • The Great Greene Heist:In To Catch a Cheat, Honor Board member Serena Bianchi is obsessed with investigating Jackson and busting him for his High-School Hustler antics. She hopes that doing so will get her made head of the Honor Board, but also has a lot of genuine indignation about how Jackson keeps getting away with outrageous misbehavior. She is compared to Isabel Lahiri from Ocean's Twelve, right down to being manipulated and ultimately befriended by the main characters.
  • Jakub Wędrowycz's wannabe nemesis, officer Birski, who rarely succeeds in arresting him, and even then only manages to do so on charges of producing moonshine (as opposed to a whole lot of other outrageous things Jakub tends to do).
  • Nikolay Yudin from the KGB, representative of the Council for Religious Affairs in Pskov in Everyday Saints. He is a very nice and kindly man, not Drunk On Power despite his rank, it's just that he has the authority to interfere in the monastery's life on the state's behalf.
  • In Shadow of the Conqueror, Vigilante Man Daylen is seen using his powers in public, which prompts Lyrah and Cueseg to track him down, intent on finding out if his killings were justified, as well as to force him to join the Archknights.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Chloe O'Brien becomes this in the final season of 24 when Jack undergoes a Face–Heel Turn in his quest to slaughter the mastermind of the attacks on New York whose actions lead to the death of Renee Walker. Chloe wants to expose them, as opposed to Jack who just wants to kill them regardless of who gets hurt in the process.
  • Detective Quentin Lance on Arrow zigs-and-zags as an example. When he is first introduced, he is an enemy of both Arrow and Oliver. He hates Arrow because the vigilante kills other criminals, preventing the process of government justice. He hates Oliver for cheating on his daughter Laurel and blames him for his daughter Sara's death. As Oliver tries to atone for his sins and the sins of his family, Det. Lance becomes Arrow's Commissioner Gordon, helping Arrow arrest criminals instead of killing them, and inadvertently proving Oliver isn't the Arrow. As Oliver becomes more involved with the League of Assassins, Det. Lance becomes more distant. His grudge against Arrow and Oliver increases, becoming convinced of the connection by Ra's Al Gul. Oliver is working hard to atone for his sins but remains a criminal in the eyes of the law, and Detective Lance has teams of police working overtime to arrest the Arrow. After Ra's is defeated, Quentin finds himself working directly for the bad guys in the form of Damien Dahrk, but manages to pivot round to Team Arrow again.
  • The Arrangement (2017): Subverted with detective Gaffey. She's introduced as a detective investigating The Institute of the Higher Mind and she's shown to be immune to their bribes or connections. But when she does get something concrete on them, instead of exposing them she uses it as Blackmail to get Kyle (their Hollywood superstar spokesperson) to sleep with her.
  • The various Army commanders (of which there were five or six) who pursued The A-Team flip-flopped between this and Inspector Javert depending on the script & characterizations. Colonel Decker managed to embody both tropes, being a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • Hank Schrader of Breaking Bad diligently hunts an elusive crystal-meth manufacturer known to him only as "Heisenberg". Little does he know that "Heisenberg" is actually his brother-in-law Walter White, the Justified Criminal (at first) protagonist of the series.
  • At the start of Burn Notice season three, Team Westen tangles repeatedly with Detective Michelle Paxson from Miami-Dade PD, who is investigating their definitely well-intentioned but technically illegal activities. They toy briefly with getting her arrested but balk at the idea because she's an honest cop. Michael eventually convinces her that he and his team really are the good guys and that she can safely back off by helping her make a major arrest and pinning some of their own stunts on the perp.
  • The title character of Columbo. Due to the show's Reverse Whodunnit format, the typical episode is told from the perspective of the murderer, trying to cover their tracks as Inspector Columbo gradually closes in on them. Unlike most examples of this trope, however, Columbo is extremely good at his job (as much as he likes to act otherwise) and Always Gets His Man at the end of an episode.
  • Police in general in Covert Affairs on several occasions. Both Annie and the Police of the countries she is working in are doing their respective jobs.
    • FBI Agent Rossabi deserves special mention. After several frustrating but generally friendly run-ins with Annie, their final encounter leaves him in tears when he winds up being coerced into tampering with his own murder investigation.
  • Dexter: Sergeant James Doakes is the only person in Miami Metro who notices that something is not quite right about Dexter and starts to investigate him in his spare time. While Doakes himself can be an abrasive jerkass to the rest of his colleagues, he is (for the most part) genuinely on the side of the law. Doakes has his own dark side of Paying Evil unto Evil, which is suggested to be the main reason why he could see Dexter for what he is. Not long after he discovers evidence that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher, Doakes is framed for Dexter's crimes and is killed in a fire before he can prove his innocence.
  • Doctor Who: In "Planet of the Dead", the detective pursuing Lady Christina is mostly played for laughs, ignored by UNIT and other authorities, and in the end, the Doctor helps her escape as he watches in futility. Some people have criticized this, considering Christina can come across as a rather selfish Designated Hero and the cop was completely justified in arresting her.
  • Paul Ballard on Dollhouse spends most of the first season trying to uncover the titular operation. Many would consider him the true protagonist of the show, apart from Echo who is a victim he is trying to save.
  • Firefly gave us a single-episode example in the form of Sheriff Bourne in "The Train Job". He nearly catches Mal early on (thwarted only by the intervention of Inara), and after cornering Mal, he decides to let him go when he sees that Mal was in the process of returning the stolen cargo, having learned that it was actually medicine needed to alleviate the villagers' debilitating lung disease.
  • Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez in From Dusk Till Dawn is determined to hunt down the Gecko brothers, the protagonists of the series.
  • Jack McGee of The Incredible Hulk (1977) became this in later seasons, although he's a reporter, not a cop, eventually getting A Day in the Limelight episodes demonstrating how his obsession with the Hulk has affected his career, relationships, and general mental health.
  • Inspector Raquel Murillo in the first two seasons of Money Heist is the heroic cop in charge of bringing down the bank robber protagonists. Her personal life is delved into and the heist's mastermind expresses regret that she has to be manipulated around.
  • Officer Guidera of Lupin (2021). He figured out that the thief he's chasing based his style on the literary character Arsene Lupin
  • Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger plays with this trope by having two diametrically opposed Super Sentai teams, one Phantom Thieves and the other police officers, splitting the limelight. Naturally they butt heads (with Patranger's leader Keiichiro being a fairly clear Expy of the former Trope Namer Zenigata), but they also have common ground in that they both oppose the criminal organization Gangler. The Patrangers try to arrest the Lupinrangers because they're thieves, but they also recognize that the Ganglers are a far greater threat and have occasionally dropped pursuit of the Lupinrangers as "gratitude" for helping deal with the Monster of the Week.
  • The Letter People: Mr. J's introductory episode had a police officer named Jasper Jabberwocky who was tasked by a judge to evict Mr. J from his junkyard. Officer Jabberwocky even admitted he didn't want to do the eviction but had to uphold the law and do his job. Fortunately Mr. J was able to convince the judge of the value of his junkyard to the community and change her mind.
  • Jim Sterling on Leverage, except he never looks foolish and the protagonists never manage to humiliate him, even when they get away, because he always manages somehow to get promoted after every encounter with them.
    • Sterling is also an interesting example because he doesn't actually care all that much about capturing Team Leverage unless it somehow serves his own purposes and ambitions. Most of the time, he just leaves them alone.
  • Officer Bullocks from one episode of Lost in Space was hunting down Gentleman Thief Ohan. Bullock's harshness compared to Ohan's politeness caused the Robinsons to prefer and help out the latter.
  • Detective Carter in Person of Interest is a serious version, pursuing the vigilante protagonist. She does occasionally team up with Finch and Reese, the frequency of such team-ups increasing up until the season finale, where for the second time, she (along with her partner, Lionel Fusco, who was initially blackmailed into assisting them unbeknownst to Carter until she tracked him down) helped Reese evade the CIA. Finch will occasionally contact Carter for information that the NYPD may have on a POI.
    • After Carter joined Team Machine the role of Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist went to FBI Agent Donnelly, who inched towards Inspector Javert territory in his final episode.
  • Peter Burke of White Collar was this in the back story of the show — by the time the show starts he's already caught Gentleman Thief Neal. Then they end up on the same side, and he still plays this sometimes, considering Neal has some trouble letting go of his former conman ways.
  • Inspector Henriksen from the early seasons of Supernatural. His pursuit causes problems for the heroes, but he genuinely believes he's chasing down a couple of dangerous serial killers who Daddy deluded into thinking they're fighting monsters. His worst crime is being a little brusque and arrogant. When he finally sees demons with his own eyes, he realizes Sam and Dean are okay, and joins the Winchesters in fighting them.

    Video Games 
  • Carmelita Fox from the Sly Cooper video game series. She's one of the most respected cops in the world, perhaps thanks to Sly's MO of only stealing from other criminals: even though she usually fails to catch Sly, she can always bring in his victim. Sly also tends to flirt with her whenever they clash, which eventually evolves into Dating Catwoman.
    • Carmelita is unique among Sympathetic Inspector Antagonists in that at the end of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, she DOES capture a manner of speaking. The two of them end up romantically involved and Sly quits the thief business so they can be together. Of course, he does this by faking amnesia, so it's hard to say who really ends up on top here. As of Sly 4, after figuring out that Sly was faking amnesia and getting mixed up in the Cooper Gang's latest mission, she finally has the epiphany that she and Sly aren't so different. They both stop real crooks, just from different sides of the law. The ending implies that she's now on relatively good terms with the gang.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Hieronymus Lex - one of the Imperial City's Watch Captains - is the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist to the Gray Fox, leader of the Thieves' Guild in Cyrodiil. In fact, he is one of the only members of the Imperial Watch who even believes the Thieves' Guild exists and has dedicated himself to becoming a perpetual, overzealous thorn in its side. He mellows considerably after you inform him that he's been reassigned to the city of Anvil... although not without a brief rant about how the Gray Fox must have been behind that, too. He's right. Although for fun, once you get the Gray Fox cowl, you can put it on in front of him and have him sputter in disbelief at finally catching him.
    • So many layers of irony were in that 'reassignment'. On one hand, Lex is now unwittingly working for the Gray Fox. On the other hand, it was the Gray Fox who, after so many years of cat-n-mouse evasion between them, hand-picked him to be the new captain of the Anvil city guard. This actually reveals a huge respect for the man.
  • Officer Denise Marmalade in The Misadventures of Tron Bonne. After their third confrontation, Tron herself feels bad for her, so at the end of the game she drops Lex Loath and Glyde at her doorstop so she can take the credit for catching them.
  • Captain Leblanc of the Schwann Brigade in Tales of Vesperia. In a final side quest with him before the final dungeon, after Yuri escapes from him one final time, he even laughs and says "I wouldn't have it any other way".
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Luke Atmey plays the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist to Gentleman Thief Mask*DeMasque in Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. By which we mean he's blackmailing DeMasque into committing the thefts to make money and get attention.
    • And in Ace Attorney Investigations Detective Badd's spent ten years chasing a vigilante thief called the Yatagarasu and has become an expert on his techniques. By which we mean he is the Yatagarasu or at least one of the three people in the Yatagarasu group. Since he's the main detective on the case he can easily erase all evidence of the Yatagarasu's identity.
    • Dick Gumshoe is usually this, but even moreso in Investigations, where he's Edgeworth's assistant/sidekick. Though he's mostly used for comedic purposes, he has shades of Inspector Lestrade, Determinator, and Dumbass Has a Point. Notably, in the last case, he was able to deliver all the remaining evidence needed to incriminate the suspect without even being told what to look for. If he pays more attention to Edgeworth, he could easily take a level in badass in sequels, but this is unlikely since now he's more of a The Watson, but at least it's a step up from Butt-Monkey.
    • Bobby Fulbright in Dual Destinies plays this role very straight, often finding himself conflicted when dealing with the protagonists at the crime scene, frequently being torn between his duty of guarding the crime scene from the defense side and helping them getting to the bottom of the case as to not stand in the way of justice. It's an act, as the "Fulbright" met by the player is an imposter and the final case's true killer.
  • Spectre Jondum Bau from Mass Effect 3 is a downplayed example. He's not against Shepard, but he is trying to hunt down one of Shepard's friends, Kasumi Goto, Classy Cat-Burglar extraordinaire. Both Bau and Kasumi have great respect for each other. He does however look the other way after realising Shepard has been secretly aiding and abetting Kasumi the entire time. It helps that Kasumi apparently died trying to save the hanar homeworld. That plus Shepard's trust in her would be a potent argument in favor of "cleared of all charges." And no, this is not a spoiler, Shepard guesses she's still alive if she's loyal.
    • This seems to be typical of Spectres in general though they're in danger of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope when they do, because Spectres are given broad authority to violate lesser regulations in service of the greater good of the Council, which allows them to work with mercs, thieves, and assassins. A Spectre in the second game works with the Shadow Broker because of the useful intel she gets. Shepard himself is willing to work with Cerberus in the second game.
  • In Love Letter from Thief X, Tatsuro Togoshi is a police detective assigned to catch the main characters, who make up a group of Phantom Thieves called the Black Foxes. He's also the protagonist's childhood friend, which makes things complicated for both of them after she becomes involved with the Foxes, and on a couple of occasions he ends up turning a blind eye and letting them go rather than be forced to arrest them.
  • Inspector Paul Vergier in Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure spends much of the game unsuccessfully trying to catch Phantom R, although he's very good at predicting where Phantom R would be next. When Napoléon Bonaparte goes after Vergier later on (It Makes Sense in Context), however, Vergier guns down Napoleon's Mooks with little effort.
  • Persona:
    • Naoto in Persona 4 is initially presented in a somewhat antagonistic role, competing with the Investigation Team to track down the serial killer in Inaba while simultaneously being suspicious and accusatory towards them. Things eventually push Naoto to join the party and to work together with the Investigation Team.
    • Persona 5:
      • Teenage detective Goro Akechi can be annoyingly smug at times, but his attempts to track down the Anti-Hero Team of Phantom Thieves are portrayed mostly sympathetically. Unsurprisingly, he joins the party later. And then subverted, where he turns out to be a fraud detective and murderer who quickly betrays the Thieves for the corrupt adults they're aiming to take down. And not only the Thieves knew that he'd betray them, but they counted on it. This then gets double subverted rather harshly when he reveals he has a very tragic background that led him to become what the thieves could have been, and did regret betraying them just so he can take down said adults himself. It just wouldn't stop him from wanting to kill the thieves at any cost.
      • SIU inspector Sae Nijima is often overly aggressive, but, like Akechi, is portrayed sympathetically in her desire to stop the Phantom Thieves, and she treats the protagonist fairly in the interrogation that serves as the story's Framing Device. Eventually learning who the real enemies are, she uses her police expertise and information to aid the Thieves late in the game.
      • Makoto Nijima, local Student Council President and Sae's younger sister, is introduced in an antagonistic role. After being ordered by the school's principal to find information on the Phantom Thieves, she discovers their identities and essentially blackmails them into taking down a local yakuza ring to prove if they are truly just or not. Alongside this, her frustrations at being forced into the investigation by the principal and her home life troubles with Sae (who's both her sister and her guardian) are presented in a sympathetic context, before she eventually joins the party herself. And unlike Akechi, she never betrays them.
  • Shall We Date?: Ninja Shadow has the Player Character Saori running into some of these:
    • Hijikata and Okita are introduced like this in Tsubaki Kusunoki's romance route, where they chase after Zeyo Sakamoto and clash with both him and the Vigilantes in their pursue, before allying themselves with the Vigilantes. In Zeyo's proper route they also play this role, though with the difference that Zeyo is allied with the Vigilantes instead of Tsubaki, which leads to the two joining forces with Zeyo and Saori against Tsubaki and his partner Toru at the very end.
    • Ritsu is this to the Vigilantes themselves. He hates Suetsugu as much as the Vigilantes do, but he also has a very cynical impression of the Vigilantes themselves since he also considers them murderers after they silenced his little brother, and aims to make justice within the law. This is why he chases after the group... and it can become a HUGE liability if he is the chosen boyfriend for Saori.
  • In Life Is Strange 2, Sean and Daniel may be innocent of the original crime they are accused of, but by running from the police, they became fugitives by default. As the game progresses, they break the laws several times including, by the end, assaulting and potentially killing police officers. The lead inspector, Special Agent Maria Flores, tries to make a reasonable deal with Sean when he is captured in Episode 4, but he decides to escape because he thinks that Daniel is in trouble and the police wouldn't save him.

  • Captain Vrax of Cassiopeia Quinn is attempting to bring the title character to justice, but Quinn keeps getting away. Both characters are moral people, with Cassiopeia, despite stealing for fun, consistently giving to the poor and needy (e.g. giving a group of colonists a stolen device that would help them survive), and Vrax being an officer of the law who does not prioritize law over good (e.g. letting the colonists keep the device, and lying to her superiors that it was unsalvageable).

    Web Original 
  • Detective Leon Williams in Angel of Death is assigned to discover the identity of the titular serial killer, our protagonist. He has a very low opinion of the Angel, but only because he does not know that he has to kill to survive, and when Valthakar kills a woman on camera, attempting to frame the Angel of Death, Det. Williams instantly sees through it and deduces that another killer is behind this. This is doubly impressive when you consider that the Angel of Death has powers which everyone involved had a hard time accepting were real in his case, let alone in another.

    Western Animation 
  • Chase Devineaux and Julia from Carmen Sandiego are just trying to stop an obvious cat burglar from stealing priceless antiquities, they don't know her true motives. Even with her good intentions, Carmen is still stealing. Without being tied down to Chase and his stubborn tendency to ignore her if a chance to chase Carmen comes up, Julia is able to convey how she feels more easily to the Chief. Although due to season 2 starting out with A.C.M.E. suspecting that Chase was detained and interrogated by Carmen, it takes some doing to get them to see things her way.
  • In Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo, Commander Daizo is another serious form of this, sternly chasing Robin once he "kills" one of Brushogun's ink constructs. He even looks like Zenigata — intentionally so, given the setting and nature of the film. But in a twist, he's revealed to be the villain of the piece, using Brushogun as a slave to create criminals for him to capture.
  • Commander Ulysses Feral will not stop before he's caught those SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron for the destruction they inflict on the city! ... Usually. His real sympathetic part is that more than once a bad guy he's captured will try to use his mutual hatred of the SWAT Kats to get favorable treatment, only to be promptly reminded that Feral does not make deals with criminal scum.
  • Ganimard from Night Hood is based on the character from the original novels which makes him the original Zenigata.
  • The Zeta Project:
    • Agent Li which frequently brings her into conflict with her boss, Agent Bennett. Eventually, she seeks reassignment due to her belief that Zeta is not a threat to anyone.
    • As the series went on, due to Character Development Agent Bennet slowly shifted from a full Javert and closer to this role, as more of his noble side began to show such as actually having Roe's best interests at heart (not just trying to bribe her to get to Zeta), sympathized with the machine when he had him in custody, was revealed to be a loving family man, and reacted to the apparent deaths of Roe and Zeta with utter horror. It also made more of a point of giving him more Villain Has a Point moments like genuinely believing Zeta's "conscience" may in fact actually be a Manchurian Agent ploy programmed into him by terrorists, and showing that his suspicion was actually possible by revealing Zeta indeed did have foreign programming coming from an unknown module planted in him that wasn't in his original schematic that even Zeta didn't know was there or what it did. The Series Finale even had him learn that Zeta truly did have a conscience as his eccentric creator programmed him with one (the module was effectively a conscience and emotion chip that allowed him to be more than he was programmed to be), but where he would have gone with this revelation is sadly anyone's guess.
  • Officer Dibble from Top Cat is a good example. He's generally pretty good at his job, friendly with the people on his beat, and has more than once arrested some genuinely dangerous crooks single-handed and under gunfire. He just can't get the better of Top Cat...most of the time. He also has a soft spot a mile wide for TC and tends to get along with him just fine if he's behaving himself. At his most officious, Dibble only wants to book him on legitimate charges to win the battle of wits.

Alternative Title(s): Inspector Antagonist, Terrier Of Justice, The Zenigata, Inspector Zenigata