5 Things TV Cops Always Manage to Get Wrong

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 26, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We all have our favorite TV cop shows, but these fictional men and women in blue always seem to get the law wrong. If the increasing reports of police misconduct and brutality are any indication, maybe art is imitating life.

So for the benefit of real-life cops and real-life TV viewers, we present the five things that TV cops always manage to get wrong:

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1. Beating a Confession Out of a Suspect.

What would police dramas do without the "interrogation scene" where the square-jawed, loose cannon detective mutters lines straight out of "Dirty Harry" and smacks the suspect around? Not only is beating a handcuffed suspect a terrible idea based on common sense, it's also incredibly illegal (police brutality, anyone?). The irony of this sort of police misconduct is that it doesn't even produce reliable confessions. So while it may be fun to watch Detective Stabler get all aggro with a perp on "Law and Order: SVU," it's not even in the same universe as the law.

2. Snooping Around Without a Warrant.

If you watched "NYPD Blue" or "The Shield," you may think that the police commonly just bust into people's apartments or backyards without a warrant. In reality, without any exigent circumstances or exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's general rule, police must have a warrant in order to search your home or your person. They can't typically go door-to-door searching for a suspect, and they also can't search your cell phone simply because you've been arrested.

3. Talking to the DA About Extenuating Circumstances.

When putting the squeeze on a suspect or potential informant, TV cops love to mention talking to the district attorney about "extenuating circumstances" (translation: mitigating circumstances). While "snitching" does have the potential to get criminal suspects a sweet plea bargain, prosecutors seldom choose to go easy or hard on a defendant based on what the arresting officer thinks.

4. Acting Like They Have Only 1 Case to Work On.

Unless you're living in Mayberry, your city's police department probably has its hands full. That means that officers often have to be reminded in court of what happened in a case by refreshing their recollections with a police report.

5. Never Filing a Police Report.

It would be painfully dull to watch, but real cops spend a good deal of their time filling out and filing paperwork for cases -- far more time than they spend in shootouts and car chases.

So next time you're watching a cop show, take a grain of salt with your Detective Sipowicz.

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