By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
I love the TV show “Cops.” I normally hate lawyer shows and courtroom shows, but for some reason when I’m flipping the channel and I see “Cops” on, I have to sit down and watch.
It took me a while to figure out my strange fascination with this show, but I think I’ve finally put my finger on it. I love how it humanizes not only law enforcement, but the entire situation surrounding a patrol and an arrest in a way no other program can deliver.
We get to see the officers talk with the camera one-on-one, and we learn very quickly that some officers are human, down to Earth and are men of high integrity. We also get to learn that others take themselves far too seriously, stretch their knowledge in areas to seem more experienced than they actually are and use gratuitous police jargon to impress the cameras.
The program obviously shows that police put their lives on the line to protect the public, and it shows some of the gritty conflicts they encounter — which frankly most of us go out of our way to avoid. When it’s 2 in the morning and I hear something outside go “bump” in the night… no one is happier than I that someone is out there to protect me and my family if the situation arose.
The show has many situations where the issues are obvious and the suspect clearly guilty. There are other situations, though, where you can the see officer making very human mistakes. Group situations are common where the officers have to choose who they think is right. It’s amazing to see that when an officer makes up his mind who is right or wrong… how virtually no fact or person can change their mind. Police will interview multiple people with questionable stories, yet one goes away in handcuffs and the rest get handshakes. The arrest is usually followed by a self-serving justification.
But here’s my favorite part of the show… and you rarely see this in real practice as a criminal defense lawyer (probably due to the bright lights and cameras of the show). My favorite is after the arrested person is in handcuffs and in the back of the squad car, the officer gives the Defendant the obligatory patronizing lecture of how they can be a better person.
There are two reasons I really enjoy the obligatory lecture. First is that it’s fascinating to me as to why an officer finds it necessary to lecture someone that is often clearly out of it. Often the guy in the back seat of the car is either stoned out of their gourd, just had the snot beaten out of him, or was just hit with a stun gun by the police. Why the officer feels the need to show the world he is superior to someone in this state is beyond me.
The second and main reason, though, that I like the obligatory lecture is that it displays a common element you run into as a criminal defense lawyer from police officers and even some prosecutors. The ability to sit in judgment on another person with great ease without regard to one’s own faults. Keep in mind that by this point in the show, we have seen the lecturing officer often improperly profile someone, use excessive force, or frequently manipulate someone that is scared or intimidated.
My final point about the show is it also demonstrates how they give lip-service to the presumption of innocence which they otherwise run rough-shod over. I could spend hours on that alone, but I won’t bore you.
I hope my points make you watch the show in a different way next time regardless of whether you agree with my views and observations. As always, these are healthy debates.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.