Friday, January 11, 2013

I'd Like To See the FBI Involved

I like to watch the British-produced police dramas on TV—shows you may not have heard of, Like Wire in the Blood, Taggart, A Touch of Frost, The Murdoch Mysteries… The plots are more interesting and intricate (and a lot less politically-correct) than the standard American-made police shows.

The foreign shows are hard to find sometimes; I gain access to most via Netflix. But in the end, they are all still mostly fiction with a little fact thrown in here and there.

When the old Bob Newhart Show was in Prime Time back in the 1970s, I asked my cousin, who is an Oxford-trained psychologist, just how accurately the show portrayed the life of a psychologist, since Newhart played a Chicago-based therapist in the popular sit-com.

“It’s not at all accurate,” he exclaimed in mock horror. “The guy never heals anyone!” So he then asked me if any police shows met with my approval, since I had been a cop for about 10 years at the time.

I had to think about that for a while. How police are portrayed in TV, movies, and books has always been a sore-spot with me. Most are fantasies in every sense of the word. After a short pause, I told him that the sit-com Barney Miller was the show that most closely resembled how cops interact with both colleagues and citizens—and of course, even that was almost pure make-believe.

Such is the makeup of the entertainment industry. Never forget that they deal in fiction; that is, the material they present is not true. I’ve touched on this subject before, but I feel we need to be reminded of this every once in a while—perhaps on a regular basis.

That came home to me while I watched a police-themed drama on TV recently wherein the standard intra-department animosity was depicted, with the FBI exercising authority over a municipal police department with their usual arrogance, and the local police cowering with their usual petulance.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We worked closely with the guys in the Philadelphia FBI office. We even went drinking with them a time or two after an assignment had been completed. They were cops just like us, only with a bigger budget. My men especially liked taking rides with them in their helicopter.

As far as jurisdictional squabbles were concerned, well, we were only too glad to turn over a case that appeared to be more a federal issue than one handled at the municipal level. Hey, it meant less work for us! But in every fictional murder mystery or police procedural, law enforcement departments are represented as self-centered, self-serving, self-interested, and in no way cooperative with their like-minded colleagues.

And by the way, the FBI has no “authority” over any municipal police department, unless the crime is a violation of a federal statute. And of course, they then take over, and the locals are usually more than happy to relinquish that part of their caseload.  The FBI is not in the chain-of-command above any city’s police department. They handle federal violations, while locals handle municipal and state crimes.

But this is definitely not the way the entertainment industry paints the law-enforcement picture. Pretty soon they may even be telling their viewers that it’s illegal to log on to www.goodwritersblock.com.

Now that would be a crime the FBI should investigate!

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