The Public Is Obsessed With Police Work

Since the public is obsessed with police work, the entertainment industry profits. As a result, they have taken us to make believe precincts and roll call rooms all over America. The scripts have covered the Southland of Los Angeles to Chicago P.D. and further east to NYPD Blue. Crime was solved on The Streets of San Francisco, with Miami Vice, and by Walker, Texas Ranger.

police work

Jack Webb starred as LAPD Sgt. Joe Friday in Dragnet, 1967-1970 (Image courtesy Ray Serna)

I enjoy some shows and scorn others while sitting on my couch repeating, “That’s not the real world.” But it is authentic when riding with COPS on the beat for the Alaska State Troopers. So whether I bounce from Hill Street Blues to The Profiler, I applaud when criminal conduct is uncovered in the Dragnet because the action is JustifiedThat is police work of another kind!

As a youngster I wanted to Get Smart as Adam 12 inspired me. Eventually I became one of The Rookies hoping in time I would make S.W.A.T. As my career progressed I donned a suit and became Dick Tracy. Yet even interrogating crooks much like The Closer, I often lamented that we could not solve crime with the speed of CSI regardless of which city I was in.

I smiled with Andy Griffith, laughed at Barney Miller and waited for T.J. Hooker to say, “Beam me up, Scotty.” I had difficulty taking Barnaby Jones serious as I waited for Jethro from another show to drop in and call him “Uncle Jed.”

That leads me to the telecasts involving private investigators, which provided a certain level of amusement connected to police work. The original Charlie’s Angels captivated the attention of most teenage boys. Perhaps these lovely ladies inspired one or two young girls to become a real life Police Woman, Cagney and Lacey, or something called The Unusuals.


Magnum P.I. promoted from civilian investigative work to become The Commish in Blue Bloods. Didn’t we also see his alter ego as Jesse Stone, chief of police in the fictional town of Paradise, Massachusetts?

police work

Telly Savalas as Kojak, 1973-1978 (Wikipedia)

A good Crime Story solved by The FBI will make a True Detective tune in, while Diagnoses Murder never caught my Eyes. A few other shows gave me a desire to take a Sledge Hammer to the TV. Murder, She Wrote was one in particular, my apologies to those who enjoyed it.

Some who carried The Shield on camera defined what it meant to be cool, not corrupt. Without a Trace of timidity, Baretta, Kojak, and The Mod Squad displayed confidence in ways that made any Police Story entertaining.

McLoud along with McMillan and Wife were on a carousel of truth each Sunday night, but Columbo always had one more question before Law and Order was restored.

Car 54, Where Are You? They were found in the Bronx, while Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a different show altogether.

Geographically, Vegas is south of Reno 911, yet northeast of the highways patrolled by CHiPs.

Eclectically, Starsky and Hutch are as polar opposite as NCIS and 21 Jump Street, yet they all succeeded as True Blue thrillers. Hawaii Five-0 caught a wave in the late 60’s and hit the surf again more then forty years later.

police work

James Garner as “Jimmy” Rockford, Rockford Files, 1974-1980 (Wikipedia)

In real life, Moonlighting as Simon and Simon has been a strategy used by some in police work to transition from sworn law enforcement to private investigative work. Others attend law school and JAG becomes reality.

Indeed, television has taken us from LAPD: Life on the Beat to Ironside solving Major Crimes. What’s not to like about Mannix entertainment? It’s all In the Line of Duty.

I’m not Matlock or Perry Mason, so I can’t defend what I’m writing, although I’m on The Mentalist for trying. But if I’ve been as smooth as Matt Houston, perhaps you’ll find a place for this story next to The Rockford Files.

Author’s Note: This story is an excerpt from my book, Justice Revealed. There are 68 television shows related to police work named in this feature. How many do you remember? Did I include or omit your favorite?

Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today

(Adam 12 and Dragnet images courtesy Ray Serna)

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