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Police Are Useless / Live-Action TV

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  • As a general rule of thumb, in any courtroom drama in which the focus characters are generally employed to defend people, the police will almost always get the wrong man so that the cast has someone to justly get off. In shows with criminal investigation as a focus, the level of law enforcement the focus characters are at is competent, but the levels above and below often aren't, again so that the cast can be the heroes and make sure the right guy is arrested (i.e., if the heroes are local cops, the feds are useless, but if the heroes are feds, the local cops are useless).

  • Parodied (like everything else) in Angie Tribeca as the cops will quite often overlook or ignore major crimes while investigating smaller ones.
    • One episode opens with a SWAT raid on a house, with the police ignoring a drug lab, a counterfeit operation, and a man who's been held against his will for six months. They, instead, arrest the homeowner for illegally owning a ferret.
    • There's also "Tribeca's Day Off", in which Angie willfully ignores an ongoing robbery at the grocery store because she's off duty.
  • In the short-lived series APB, the Chicago PD isn't very effective before Gideon Reeves shows up, but that's mainly because they're understaffed, overworked and underequipped. Once Reeves starts providing them state of the art gear for free, they're able to start turning things around.
  • Played straight in pretty much every episode of The A-Team to justify why any particular client couldn't go to the cops to deal with the week's villain. This eventually ended in the final season when the format changed to the team handling government missions instead of working as "soldiers of fortune".
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  • While the security force on Babylon 5 are generally competent, a season 2 episode involving a Free Mars terrorist who's hunting down Talia Winters demonstrates a frightening bout of stupidity on their part. Basically, Talia, who is under protection for witnessing the murder of her friend by the terrorist, is summoned by her dead friend's business associate to meet in the associate's private quarters. Talia is given a security escort to the rendezvous point, but they then let her go into the private residence ALONE AND UNARMED, completely oblivious to the idea that it might be a trap. Shock of shocks, it was (sort of).
  • Batman (1966):
    • Subverted with the Gotham City Police Department: Commissioner Gordon, Chief O'Hara and their whole staff discuss and lampshade since the pilot that they are useless against Super Criminals, so they maybe are useful with normal crime, but since they are also Lawful Stupid and The Cavalry Arrives Late...
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    • Although in one episode where Batman and Robin are unavailable, Commissioner Gordon laments the fact that he and Chief O'Hara will have to solve a crime all by themselves. This also shows that while they take solid steps, the episode's Super Criminal is clearly several steps ahead of them.
  • Averted in the first Beachcombers reunion movies:
    • The New Beachcombers has RCMP officer John Constable returning from vacation and seeing a motorcyclist speeding. His daughter wants him to bust the speed, but John insists that he is still on vacation. As turns out seconds later, the family sees that John's immediate subordinate, a new female officer, has already pulled over the speeder and is ticketing him. John's wife is most impressed and notes that she has everything well in hand in her jurisdiction.
    • In A Beachcombers Christmas that same officer learns that a female goalie has been kidnapped and is trapped in the building by a rival team. She joins the search for that goalie and finds her quickly.
  • B.J. and the Bear: Most often portrayed with B.J.'s arch enemies, Sheriff Elroy Lobo (in season 1) and Captain Rutherford Grant in season 3. He is rarely, if ever, able to get any other lawmen to help him in other episodes, leaving him to solve crimes alone.
  • The Blacklist: Aside from Agent Elizabeth Keen (who still makes her fair share of mistakes, although it's understandable as she is a rookie), no one in the FBI seems to have a basic level of competence, as they always seem to be two steps behind and are easily played like fiddles. Raymond "Red" Reddington, the FBI's criminal consultant, never tires of pointing this out to his FBI handlers. The FBI's incompetence came to a head in the two part episode "Anslo Garrick", where the FBI didn't realize (until Red pointed it out) that the intelligence they were fed was just a ruse to get Red into a situation where Garrick could capture him. It worked, resulting in Red going off the grid after escaping Garrick at the end of the two-parter, perhaps because he no longer trusts the FBI.
  • Double subverted in Breaking Bad, when Walt just moves back into the family home after Skyler kicks him out, she calls the police to remove him. The responding officers went to help her, but explain that their hands are legally tied since they aren’t divorced or separated, Walt’s name is still on the mortgage and she doesn’t have a restraining order against him, meaning legally it is his home. They even offer to arrest him if he’s abusive or if she knows of any crime he’s committed, but he isn’t and, while she knows about his meth empire, she’s also involved and can’t tell them without incriminating herself.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cops of Sunnydale are "deeply stupid", and according to Buffy if you get them involved you'll get them killed. Much of law enforcement is in on the town being designed to feed monsters. In Season 9, Buffy is wanted by the police for killing vampires.
  • The Burning Bed (1984): Francine goes to the police several times to have Mickey, but they do nothing. As the film is Based on a True Story, this is very much Truth in Television. She's told they can't do anything unless he's caught in the act, and one of the officers actually testifies against her after she kills her husband to make the abuse stop. A Cry For Help: The Tracey Thurman Story (1989), also has this too, only the husband survives unharmed and the wife is permanently injured.
  • Burn Notice:
    • The show usually justifies the irrelevance of the Miami P.D. in several ways. First, the kind of trouble that Team Westen's clients tend to be in is the kind that immediate police involvement would just make worse (e.g. gang activity); in such situations, TW's plan usually involves getting the crooks to act openly so that the cops can arrest them. Second, many clients are crooks themselves, albeit harmless or sympathetic ones, and calling the police would likely just get the clients arrested. Third, some clients are (usually) inadvertently mixed up in heavy spying shit, and getting the police involved would just lead to a lot of blue-uniformed corpses and not much else. Finally (as Michael likes to point out), cops are beholden to a bureaucracy: they have to follow procedures and file paperwork which can slow them down in an emergency. This last bit does allow Michael to run some pretty effective Bavarian Fire Drills, though.
    • Incidentally, the fact that so many of Team Westen's plans rely on the principle of "get the bad guys to commit a crime out in the open, then have the police arrest them" arguably counts as a subversion. The cops are useful, and are usually clean and competent—it's just that some jobs are simply too big for them to handle without help. One of their most used and successful tactics is to call a crime in advance just to get the cops on the scene quicker and the criminals are more often then not forced to surrender the moment they're surrounded by police.
    • The Miami P.D. was also shown to be competent enough to be a pain in Michael's side early in the third season when he shows up on the grid. Since Michel (and friends) outclass to an incredible extent this shows the epitome of competence.
    • Even earlier, Michael's voice-over deconstructs a typical police chase by pointing out that, in Real Life, your only bet is to try to lose the police for a few seconds and ditch the car before they call in backup and helicopters. Even then it's only effective if you happen to remember to wear gloves and don't leave any DNA evidence.
  • The same joke is made in a Chappelle's Show skit about a Chicago gang war in the '80s. Someone fires a gun during a brawl that breaks out at a barbecue in a black neighborhood, prompting a witness to call 911. The police arrive to arrest the shooter...four hours later.
  • China Lake (1983 short) and The China Lake Murders (1990) has its "Officer Donnelly" as a small town cop committing murders on travelers in his desert town during his vacations there.
  • A few of the cases on Cold Case have gone unsolved specifically because the original police on the case bungled the case in some way or just didn't put a lot of effort into it at all.
    • In at least one case, it was the police themselves who had committed the murder.
  • Community:
    • The episode "Epidemiology" goes beyond to the level of the Army is Useless. They make a point out of showing up six hours after the first news of infection. Also, they apparently didn't think of a cure that a doctor in a banana suit casually hypothesized. They seem prepared to eliminate a school full of people because they have a virus that's cured by dropping the temperature 58 degree.
    • Also played straight by the regular police when Chang takes over the school and kidnaps the Dean. Though in fairness it is a claim that is rather ridicules, as is the term Deanalganger. Why would anyone bother to take over Greendale?
  • Daredevil (2015): In season 1, Wilson Fisk has large numbers of NYPD cops on his payroll, ensuring that he's able to maintain control over the underworld in Hell's Kitchen with little resistance from law enforcement. Upon his release from prison in season 3, he similarly corrupts the FBI agents who are ostensibly guarding him into becoming his glorified enforcers.
  • Dexter:
    • The entire staff of the Miami Metro Police Department acted as immature Junior High students, as they back stabbed each other over promotions and obsessive personal relationships. Among these crazy antics are blackmail, (LaGuerta blackmails Matthews for a promotion forcing Matthews into retirement), obsessions (LaGuerta tracking Dexter for framing Doaks), and workplace love triangles. The position of Lieutenant of Homicide passed between 3 different detectives in a span of 8 years. Frequently complications from these relationships would overlap into Dexter's self-protection niche.
    • The show revolves around themes of Dexter trying to navigate between the character-dysfunctional dynamics of his work place and ponder his awakening humanity, while maintaining familiar relationships with his sister, friends, and family consisting of his insecure wife, vulnerable step children and son. Did we forget to mention.. he is a serial killer who hunts other violent malevolent killers? While the homicide detectives decide to have these childish tantrums, Miami was in a eight year terror grip of serial killer after serial killer... including Dexter, no less!
    • The incompetence of the Miami Metro Police Department, and their relaxed stance including Quinn's constant relaxed drunken weekends, Batista's side business cantina, and even bowling night actually works to Dexter's advantage as he was able to use the FBI databases to conduct cross examinations to confirm his victim's culpability. Odd seeing how Dexter's not a detective, but a civilian professional (a blood analyst) from a tech lab... Wow relaxed standards... But it all works out in the end as incompetence of the detectives allows Dexter to satisfy his urges which is the premise of the show. So what DID the detectives actually do? Nothing...
  • PC Penhale from Doc Martin is hopelessly bad at his job: whenever there's an emergency he's useless at best and actively makes things worst most of the time. Lampshaded by Ruth:
    Ruth: Is he really a policeman... or just pretending to be one?
  • Doctor Who:
    • The customs agents in "Nightmare of Eden" are more concerned with the possibility of getting a high-profile case on their records than the fact that there are monsters rampaging through the economy section of a spaceliner, killing at least eighteen people. They also conclude that the Doctor was a drug smuggler when they find traces of vraxoin on his coat, despite the fact that the only reason they were searching for drugs on the ship at all was because he told them that there were drugs to be found. It never occurs to them that a person who calls the police to report the presence of drugs might have traces of drugs on his person was because he found the drugs that he had called the police to tell them about.
    • Inspector MacKensie from "Ghost Light" is a stereotypical flat-footed cop who spends all his time gorging food and impotently trying to impose his authority on everyone around him.
    • "The Idiot's Lantern": The police want to do something, but lack both the manpower (due to the upcoming coronation) and any clues (due to people's faces disappearing being out of their league) to do anything until the Doctor lends a hand. Once again, it's hard to blame them for being ill-equipped.
    • "Smith and Jones": The Judoon are useless, unless you're stupid enough to assault them. Then, in their words, "Justice is swift!" Justified, as the Doctor does point out they're less a police force and more like intergalactic thugs-for-hire.
    • "Gridlock": The Doctor gets put on hold when he tries to call the police. Later, a chat with car-spotter May Cassini leads to the revelation that there aren't any police.
    • "Daleks in Manhattan": The Doctor and Martha find that a bunch of homeless people from the Hooverville community in Central Park have gone missing. These disappearances are significant enough to make the newspapers, but when Martha asks why no one's gone to the police, Solomon says the police don't care when another deadbeat disappears.
    • Lampshaded, then averted in "Blink": A background character is watching TV and asks why no-one goes to the police; this prompts Sally to ask the police herself, and they're pretty competent. Not entirely equipped to solve the case of "the woman who was transported back in time by the Weeping Angels" admittedly, but who can blame them?
    • But it's okay, because the Doctor will just step inside this police box and arrest himself.
    • "The Eleventh Hour": The Atraxi's solution to capturing Prisoner Zero is to incinerate the planet if they can't find it within the time it will take to power up to boil the planet.
    • "The Woman Who Fell to Earth": Discussed. Yaz, a rookie cop, wants to call her superiors about the aliens loose in the city, but the Doctor points out that what she would tell them would be unbelievable.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: Comically portrayed, through the bumbling of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and (to a lesser extent) deputies Enos Strate and Cletus Hogg. Although Enos is presented as a competent (though certainly not excellent) officer, he's had his moments where his superior skills have not been evident, particularly in the 1983 episode "Too Many Roscoes," where — after an experienced bank robber who is a dead ringer for Rosco bungles simple facts about his friends, but remembers in exact detail an expected armored car shipment at the bank — Enos fails (several times) to even become suspicious about the phony; instead, he gets upset when "Rosco" shows his "forgetfulness".
    • Well and truly subverted in the climax, when Rosco not only rattles off the charges his impersonator will be facing, but flattens him with one punch.
  • Likewise, the NYPD on Elementary are shown to be quite good at their jobs and Sherlock and Watson are only called in for unusual cases. Unlike other versions, this Sherlock has great respect for the fellow detectives and doesn't take as much pleasure showing them up with his deductions but relies on them for help.
  • Endgame: This is Arkady Balagan's general attitude toward the police department. Given that he grew up in Soviet Russia, it is somewhat understandable that he came to have this attitude.
  • In Everybody Hates Chris, the cops often refuse to help blacks, even when they're black themselves. The whole thing is a parody of the 1980s and the frequent accusations of cops ignoring crimes in black neighborhoods.
  • Final Jeopardy (1985 movie) has a visiting small town couple to a large city suffering this from its uncaring police when they're terrorized by one of the city's gangs.
  • Partly justified in The Flash (2014), where the Central City Police Department is simply unequipped to handle all the different metahumans that seem to threaten the city every week. Partly averted in the episode, where Captain Cold (Leonard Snart) returns, now partnered with Heat Wave (Mick Rory). Both of them are normal humans, albeit with fancy guns. Cisco ends up equipping their riot shields to handle Leo's Freeze Ray (it helps that Cisco invented the weapon in the first place), but they, apparently, can't handle Mick's flamethrower. The cops then retreat and form a perimeter, allowing the Flash to stop the criminals for them, although Eddie Thawne does intervene at one point to save the Flash. Deploy sharpshooters to take out dangerous criminals from a safe distance? Use tear gas or rubber bullets to disable them? Who needs that? Just let the Flash do it.
  • Averted and subverted by the SRU team and most other police forces in Flashpoint as they do their jobs competently and get the job done. But sometimes played straight with others, such as in "Jumping at Shadows", where the team found out an officer was bribed into letting people gunning for a little girl discover her location.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Goosebumps: "The police don't help, Chuck. All the police in the world don't help."
  • The police force in Gotham is utterly corrupt and all the cops are either paid of by the criminals or are criminals themselves. Any honest cop who refuses to be bribed is killed by his fellow officers. Gordon is able to survive as long as he did because of his high public profile: he is a war hero and his father was a DA. Even that protection is not enough when he re-investigate the Wayne murder case and he only lives because he is seen as an useful pawn in the cat-and-mouse intrigue between Don Falcone, Fish Mooney and the Penguin. We later discover that the police commissioner is actually in charge of the whole racket and makes sure that every cop on the force is corrupted in some way that can be used as leverage. When a case like the Wayne murders is too big too ignore, the cops make themselves look competent by finding a convenient Fall Guy who is then killed resisting arrest. This isn't even counting the number of times the entire precinct with the exception of the main characters has been outright invaded and everybody inside slaughtered on the show.
  • The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries: not ONE episode on the Hardy Boys' side in season one or two had a single case of the cops ever believing what the brothers' say. At least, not at first. Usually, said cops were just as likely to toss the Hardys in jail for disturbing their peace. Averted in the third season when the Hardy brothers become US Justice Dept. police detectives themselves.
    • The episode "Creatures Who Came on Sunday" played with this by having the sheriff be in on the whole secret. He was stonewalling the Hardys with his useless act to deliberately keep them away from the top secret operation on top the mountain.
  • Subverted in Highlander: Methos repeatedly derails epic showdowns by calling the police on them. Apparently two men going at each other with broadswords is not an Unusually Uninteresting Sight in a modern day city.
    • Brandishing dangerous weapons in public, disturbing the peace, hooliganism. Any cop witness to such who didn't try to break it up wouldn't be doing his/her job. Besides, you could put someone's eye out with those things.
    • Somewhat justified in spin-off media like novels and websites that make it clear there's a subsection of the Watchers who are installed inside law enforcement with the job of helping cover up any signs of an Immortal duel.
  • iCarly:
    • "iStakeout" is built upon this. A pair of police officers use Carly and Spencer's apartment for a stakeout on a shopkeeper who presumably sells pirated DVDs. Instead of actually going down to the store and asking the shopkeeper if he sold pirated DVDs (which was suggested several times by the show's protagonists, who end up doing it themselves), the officers eat food out of their refrigerator, and interrupt their web show. One of the officers is a bully from Spencer's childhood, who brings his bratty young son over (who screams very loudly when they run out of soda). The shopkeeper didn't sell pirated DVDs, but instead he sold homemade DVDs where he and his friends played the roles of pirates.
    • In "iMove Out", a pair of pet photographers trash the iCarly studio due to not wanting to lose their customers after the group starts their own pet photography business. The police refuse to do anything about it since the photographers took photos of his daughter's bunny for no charge and was still bitter about Spencer's "Pee on Carl" sign from the second episode. He instead gives Carly a ticket because the car in their studio had no license plate even though it's a prop.
  • JAG: In many episodes the local police or military base security are rarely useful.
    • The marine provost marshal in "Brig Break" is outwitted by Harm.
    • Sheriff Polk tries to be helpful in "Sightings", but he's a one-man department responsible for patrolling the entire abandoned base and the surrounding town. It doesn't help that J.D. has a reputation for outlandish claims anyways, and that the only explanation he has for Cathy's disappearance sounds like something out of a sci-fi film. He does eventually find Cathy (trying to call for backup for Harm and Meg), but is killed by the drug runners almost immediately after.
    • The deputy sheriff in "Survivors" is outfoxed by Harm.
    • In "Death Watch", we learn that NCIS Special Agent Turque never found the murderer of Diane Schone in "Skeleton Crew".
    • Subverted by Team Gibbs in "Ice Queen" and "Meltdown".
  • A comedic example from The Kids in the Hall: the recurring police officer characters pull over a drunk driver who was doing 90 in a school zone while wearing a blindfold. Then they let him go because their shift just ended.
  • Knight Rider: The local police are usually too dangerous to contact or have been corrupted by the villain, and so they're useless at best, obstructive at worst.
  • Played for Laughs in Last of the Summer Wine, where the police just want a peaceful life, so rather than investigating anything suspicious, they tend to watch from a safe distance and then make excuses for not getting involved (usually putting odd events down to either supernatural forces or aliens).
  • An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had the detectives searching for the man who had raped and murdered an assistant DA and was now stalking Olivia. When they interview his co-worker, she reveals that the man had been stalking her as well. When the cops ask why she didn't go to the police, she states that she HAD reported it, only to be dismissed. Needless to say, in addition to being terrified for her life, she was now reluctant to cooperate and doubtful that the police could protect her.
    • One could say that this trope gets played straight very often on all versions of Law & Order if the cops in question aren't those from the main cast.
    • And even when other departments make a general stab at helping, you can usually count on them botching it. The incredibly high rate of witnesses getting murdered five minutes after entering "protective custody" is a prime example.
  • Sometimes Leverage will play this straight as when a pair of FBI agents staking out a Russian businessman's wedding find it odd all these Russian gangsters are showing up but just shrug it off. For the most part, however, it's averted and subverted as most of the police and FBI are shown to be quite capable and indeed, the team count on them being able to swoop in fast to take advantage of their scams and make sure the marks get the punishment they deserve.
  • Officer Dan on Married... with Children would rather nap under a bridge than respond to a bank robbery. He also joins a NO MAAM protest instead of arresting them.
  • In Misfits the police occasionally show up, but never seem to investigate anything, so as long as you don't commit crimes when they're watching you're safe. Most obviously, they appear not to have noticed that over the course of a year about twenty people have disappeared without trace while they're supposed to be at or have recently visited the same community center, including four parole officers, all of them assigned to the same group of people.
  • Monk is in a similar spot to Psych, in that the San Francisco Police Department is generally as competent as you'd expect (except Disher), but they're just a bit out of their league against the complicated puzzle crimes they face and need Monk to help. They also show reasonable development as they initially treat Monk like a crackpot for how out there his theories go, but over time they keep his consistently good track record in mind and give him more and more respect. By the end of the series, they've taken on an attitude of, "Your theory sounds completely impossible and if anyone else on the planet suggested it I'd laugh in their face, but because you're the one who said it we'll follow up leads to see if anything supports you."
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • The sketch "I Wish To Report A Burglary". Someone goes to the police station to report a burglary, and is shuffled from officer to officer, all along the while being asked to make his report in different vocal registers. Hilarity Ensues.
    • Subverted in the "Science Fiction Sketch", where an officer interrupts to inform the viewer that a man could have saved his wife's life if he had just gone to the police to inform them that a blancmange had come to him and ordered 38,000,000 kilts to be delivered to Andromeda, and proceeds to give the helpful advice that if you ever see anything weird involving other galaxies, you should immediately go down to the police station, and they'll send a squad car over to investigate. Of course, the officer investigating the wife's murder is eaten by a giant sentient blancmange in the very next scene. Played straight later in the same sketch when a woman (well, technically Eric Idle in drag) tries to consult the police, but the officer she talks to is more concerned about the fact that she claimed to have played doubles despite there being a total of five people than he is about the blancmange that was playing in the same tennis court.
  • Murder in Coweta County: In the TV adaptation of the true story of John Wallace, the lawmen and judges of Meriwether County, Georgia, are all under the control of ruthless, sadistic land baron Wallace, and this allows him (Wallace) to savagely beat his sharecroppers and hired hands regularly, make moonshine runs, rob people and run roughshod throughout the county doing whatever he pleased, beating and raping whoever so much as slightly blinked wrong at him ... and the police would do absolutely nothing (sometimes, they'd even assist(!)). Wallace's actions against sharecropper Wilson Turner are especially callous and heinous, and regularly ignored and/or condoned by the sheriff's department; when Wallace fires Turner for making too much money on his moonshine runs and refuses to compensate him for his mortgage or crops, Turner — knowing he would never stand a chance in small-claims court — takes matters into his own hands, but this will all lead to his death. Wallace arranges for Turner's release from jail on the theft charge ... only the two had colluded to set up Turner's brutal fate. (The killing of Turner takes place in neighboring Coweta County, and this will lead to Wallace's ultimate downfall, as he will soon be dealing with a lawman who is not only honorable but more than useful.)
  • Nightmare in Badham County (1976 movie) has a sheriff imprisoning women on trumped up charges when they refused his advances.
  • Night of Courage (1987 movie) has this too when an elderly urban couple's home is attacked by thugs seeking a young man who ran inside from these attackers, who kill him outside the couple's door. The police don't investigate, writing the man's death up as "gang related", with a detective even saying "My mother neglected all her children equally".
  • Subverted in Perfect Strangers when Balki is a victim of a crime. Balki wants to go to the police, but Larry insists that the police are incompetent and they have to deal with the criminals themselves. Sure enough, when they try, they find themselves in deadly danger and the only thing that saves them is the police come out of undercover to catch the criminals.
  • Nobody in the Internal Affairs department of the NYPD in Person of Interest can catch a Dirty Cop unless someone from Team Machine hands them over with a ribbon tied on them. On two occasions they end up going after honest cops who were framed by the dirty cops.
  • Police and Military alike in the Power Rangers universe seem useless against the threat of the leading villains monsters/foot soldiers. Power Rangers Turbo even plays this for laughs by having a police officer reveal that the force has specific rules set in place: if it's anything but regular crime, let the Power Rangers deal with it.
    • Lightspeed Rescue takes a more realistic approach to the Power Rangers formula in that they don't hide their identities and are recruited by the government for their skills in different areas.
  • In Pretty Little Liars all the cops are, as Caleb says, either stupid or corrupt and it's true. The amount of evidence and clues they miss is staggering, at least two cops were agents of A (the psychotic killer/stalker terrorizing the main characters), they seem more interested in being difficult than actually helping anybody, they've apparently never heard of forensics as that's never come up, they constantly take things at face value and never seem to bother to investigate anything further, even after finding out about A the idea that another more dangerous person could have taken over from Mona never seems to cross any of their minds, they've arrested the girls for being in the woods with a shovel which isn't actually illegal (yes the shovel was the murder weapon but they didn't actually know that until they tested the shovel), they managed to misidentify Bethany Young as Alison, the night Ali disappeared Melissa, Jenna, Garret, Byron Montgomery, Ezra, Ian, CeCe, Bethany Young, and Toby were all in or around the Dilaurentis's backyard but somehow the police failed to figure that out (this is especially jarring considering Melissa touched the shovel but her prints were not found on it while Garret's were when he never touched the shovel at all!) Then again, the girls are known liars and busybodies, not exactly the type that any police force that's Shown Their Work will take seriously. They won't go to the police because of A, which complicates things even more. Who's running that force anyhow?
  • Psych:
    • The Santa Barbara Police Department actually isn't entirely incompetent given how many times they've saved Shawn and Gus's lives, but a 2010 episode had the main characters say that they're too afraid to break procedure, and amusingly, like every fictional and comedic duo, when Shawn and Gus actually went into the police academy, they did much better when they pretty much flat out ignored procedure and did something that'd get a real person killed.
    • The trope itself is invoked in a flashback when Shawn's dad forbade him from reading comic books precisely because most comics tend to follow this trope. He tells Shawn that if he wants to be a hero, go to the Academy and wear a badge.
    • Invoked and subverted when a criminal Shawn and Gus catch accuses the police of being stupid and useless, and Shawn replies that they aren't — they're just not as smart as he is.
  • Scream Queens (2015) has turned this into an art form.
    • The police investigate a coed decapitated in the front lawn of a college house but miss the bloody corpse of another woman inside.
    • Despite how that victim has openly texted her being murdered, the police buy that she's just out of town.
    • The police just assume that Boone is dead without checking properly, wheel him to the morgue where he vanishes, reported as dead despite no body or autopsy performed. Oh and they label it a "suicide" despite the fact that guy had his throat seemingly slashed and bloody footprints all around the body.
    • When a character calls 911 to report dead bodies at a "haunted house", the respondent just says he plans to check the place out after work, having heard people calling about the great realistic corpses there.
    • Dean Munsch's plan to murder her ex-husband and frame his mistress for it nearly backfires when the cops are too incompetent to see the evidence she carefully planted and she ends up arrested.
    • It turns out there's a good reason the cops haven't been able to catch the Red Devil: They've been operating under the theory the killer is a ghost. It's at this point that even Dean Munsch gives up on these morons, calling out the lead detective on his stupidity and joining in the demand to call for the FBI to handle things.
    • At one point, Chanel hires a pair of detectives from Scotland Yard, of all places, to investigate the murders. And tellingly, despite having no jurisdictional authority (something they themselves point out), they show more competence and effectiveness in their two scenes than the local police demonstrate in the whole show.
    • Deconstructed as of Black Friday - Detective Chisolm and his entire division are fired for their incompetence.
    • However, it's right back to played straight as Denise becomes police chief, confronting the Red Devil and boasting on being so top a cop...and the Red Devil kills another cop with a crossbow before escaping and Denise groans over why she didn't just shoot him.
    • Denise soon hires male cops less because of their ability and more on how good they look.
    • Finally, in the season 1 finale, The Chanels are arrested as the Red Devil despite the fact the "evidence" against them is so flimsy a first-year law student could plow a hole through it.
    • Lampshaded in season 2 when Dean Munsch gets ready to chase a killer, tells an aide to call the police, then immediately says "no, forget it, the police are idiots!"
  • Seinfeld:
    • On an episode the police completely brush off Jerry when he calls them about being stalked by a madman who has made death threats. Kramer tried to warn him.
    • In the episode "The Summer of George", Elaine tries to tell a cop that a psycho coworker has threatened to kill her. The cop's reaction? He laughs at her, and talks about how it's just a "cat fight". Really, now what would you expect from a cop who also happens to be the Almighty Janitor from Scrubs?
    • They then cap it off by doing nothing but standing there laughing and making wisecracks while Elaine is assaulted by Raquel Welch right in front of them.
  • In Sherlock, the titular character (and his partner) are only called in for weird cases the regular cops can't solve. Which is why, in the opening of "The Sign of Three", Lestrade's team is about to make a major bust with no help from Sherlock whatsoever. And that's about it for the series.
    • Of course, Sherlock does tend to consider this to be true as he's constantly slamming the police as idiots for missing "the obvious", meaning details only the hyper-aware and genius Sherlock would notice.
  • Became a major plot point on The Shield, when two old women's frantic calls to 911 are ignored allowing the attacker (spoilered for extreme Nightmare Fuel) to jam their hands into the garbage disposal. This causes a massive amount of public backlash, leading to a series of attempts at police murders and a full-blown riot.
  • The Sopranos. Apparently there is no law enforcement in the state of New Jersey. Tony and his crew are endlessly worrying about the FBI, but there's never a hint of state and local cops investigating them for their various crimes. It's hinted and shown that the Mafia has influence and leverage over the civil servants who can control the local police (e.g. Zellman) and some cops are on the Mafia's payroll; Bobby mentions a local cop as one of his sources of information. Season 1 explores this with Vin Makazian, the detective who feeds information to Tony, and yet Tony treats him with contempt and not as a valuable asset.
    • The shooting of the waiter in that one season 4 episode is the most surprising. Some guy goes out to confront two known gangsters, gets shot and there is no fallout for Chris and Paulie whatsoever. You would think such a case would quickly catch up to them, as one can't just pop somebody in a popular restaurant parking lot in Atlantic City like it's the 1920s. Not to mention a whole table of mobsters, including the boss of New Jersey, several of his capos, and the underboss of the Lupertazzis, spent the rest of the evening gambling in the same building, AFTER having eaten a meal served by the waiter who was found dead. Not to mention other spur of the moment crimes it wouldn't have been hard for the police to trace back to the gang, like the Pine Barrens; JT Dolan, Chris's sponsor; Tony killing Ralph; Janice and Ritchie; the guy Vito hits with his car on his way back to New Jersey. The only ones not really drawing heat are Ralphie and Ritchie, since nobody except maybe their spouses would report them missing, but most of the others, especially the ones who were civilians and not in the life should have drawn so much heat.
    • This makes sense to anyone who knows New Jersey politics; the state gives local government a lot of power and has a very town-centric mindset; areas that might be one municipality elsewhere often form several in New Jersey. Where Tony and his gang operates (Essex and Hudson counties) is essentially a city of 1.4 million people divided in 34 separate municipalities.note  Consequently, police forces are weakened by division: the towns with the most crime tend to be the poorest and most underfunded (and therefore most likely to be corrupt), while the ones with the cash to fund a good police force tend to be low-crime anyway, with cops mostly focusing on traffic violations and adolescent shenanigans rather than Mob business. So more generally, organized crime had, thanks to RICO, really become a main focus for the Feds by the 1990s, more or less preempting the local law-enforcement efforts.
  • Jim Hopper starts the first series of Stranger Things utterly apathetic between the loss of his daughter Sara and his marriage ending as a result of that. He views the position of small-town police chief as an opportunity to bum around, show up to work late and indulge in his vices in a place where the worst incidents that are reported to the police are bird attacks and teenagers messing with people's lawn ornaments. Then Will Byers goes missing, a bizarre monster stalks the land, a sinister Government Conspiracy starts messing with the townsfolk and Hopper gradually rediscovers his long-dormant investigative abilities. It's all but outright stated that at one time he genuinely was a good cop, but he was psychologically shattered by Sarah's death and on some level views the case of Will Byers as an opportunity for atonement. By season 2, Hopper is more on top of things, and it's his deputies who are now falling into this trope, best shown when they end an investigation into a supernatural blight that's destroying farmers' crops because it was getting too dark for them ("It's called flashlights, dipshits!").
  • Supah Ninjas: This trope is the definition of Martin, who is a police officer and the father of main character Mike Fukanaga. Other police men seen in the series are also useless to the citizens since the villains always outmatch the police in strategy, strength, speed or even numbers. Because the police can't do anything, this is where the Ninjas step in and do their work.
  • Played straight in most Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series in the Heisei era (except for Kuuga, Agito, Drive and Dekaranger), the local authorities are often absent in last stands against insert evil forces. When they do face them, it is often in the form of Five Rounds Rapid.
    • Kamen Rider Drive zig-zags this, as the Special Crimes Unit is the one leading the charge against the Roidmudes, but the police force at large acts like a collective Jerk Jock at best and outright obstructs the SCU at worst. And then it's revealed that a super high-level Roidmude has been brainwashing the police for years in order to make them useless so they couldn't interfere when the evil plan went into motion.
    • Kamen Rider Wizard is a particularly infuriating example of this trope, since one of the main cast is a police officer, yet this trope is in full force. While it's true that said cast member isn't a rider, not being a rider didn't stop one Kaoru Ichijo from the aforementioned Kuuga, who killed 2 Gurongi using his gun.
  • Parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Look with their futile attempts to catch the "Identity Killer", whose calling card is that he leaves behind clues to his identity at the scene of each crime. Such as, for example, a calling card. By the end they have his name, a picture of him, a tape of him committing a murder, his birth certificate, address, mobile number, a confession, and him sitting in the police station covered in blood. They remain baffled.
    Sergeant: Where the hell do we go from here?
    Cop: We could try arresting him, boss.
    Sergeant: Maybe... or is that just what he wants us to do?
    Killer: ...No, it isn't.
    Sergeant: Or is that just what he wants us to think?
    Killer: Look, I'm... just gonna go. (walks away)
    Sergeant: He's always that one step ahead ahead of us...
    • A different sketch has some other cops trying to track down an eccentric thief, but only end up "arresting" the puppet he used in his thefts. Their attempts to interrogate it naturally don't go anywhere.
  • Subverted in Thunderbirds. Jeff Tracy is adamant that IR is a rescue organization and not a vigilante group, and leaves the law enforcement to local authorities. They more often than not rise to the task, and can be seen leading away the culprits in handcuffs.
  • Timeless: The team gets trapped in the 1930s, where the cops aren't very helpful, and prove to be a hindrance more than once.
  • Another comedic example, Trick detectives Yabe and Ishihara epitomize this trope. They're more often than not goofing off on the job, going to amusement parks and such, while physics professor Ueda and stage magician Naoko solve the case. The best example of their incompetence comes in season 2 when they run into a group of people in the woods. There's a dead body on the ground, in plain view, in daylight, not a few feet away from them, with Naoko pointing at it. They ignore it and her and instead ask about the stolen macguffin.
  • Making the basic premise of Veronica Mars possible is the Neptune County Sheriff's Department. Deputies like Sacks, who border on Too Dumb to Live, make up the majority of the department, while guys like Leo, who are smart and have a good head on their shoulders, don't last nearly as long. But the main reason they're so incompetent is Sheriff Don Lamb, a Smug Snake who only got the gig when Keith Mars was (unjustly) fired. He's more concerned with political maneuvering than solving crimes, he's incredibly corrupt, and in his first appearance on the show he basically laughs Veronica out of his office after she tries to report a rape. The film, set almost a decade later, shows that things have gotten worse. Somehow, Don's even less competent brother Dan somehow got himself elected sheriff, and his main concern is over his public image rather than following procedure and finding the right guy. As he tells Veronica, he doesn't care if Logan is guilty; all that matters to him is that "America thinks he's guilty". Slightly subverted in that Veronica records him saying that and leaks it to the press. Oops.
  • This gets subverted in The Wrong Mans. While the police are sometimes over their head, they are surprisingly competent when need be. Two officers save the titular characters from a car bomb, later saving Sam again when an unnamed Russian mook is about to shoot him. The American police later manage to catch a drug baron recovering lost merchandise, and the British police are able to catch a terrorist looking for a chemical weapons component (with the help of the two main characters, but still).
  • WWE security staff seems to be made up of guys the road agents rounded up at a nearby gym. They are totally incapable of defending themselves against any wrestler on the card or even putting someone in any kind of restraining hold or lock, which you would think would be an essential part of the training for a job that requires controlling 300+ pound men on the warpath.
    • Unless of course a Heel authority figure orders them to beat up a Face, at which point they instantly gain superhuman strength.
    • Then of course there's the matter of wrestlers regularly committing blatant assault, kidnapping and even attempted murder on national television, and yet not a single one has been prosecuted or even arrested. Not to mention how many crimes Vince McMahon alone has confessed to before a stadium of witnesses.


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