De­spite di­verse casts, white men re­main heroes in po­lice se­ries, El­iz­a­beth Hoover writes.

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In ABC’s new show The Rookie, John Nolan, a 40-year-old white Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment trainee, must prove him­self to skep­ti­cal higher-ups — his train­ing of­fi­cer, a black woman; his sergeant, a black man; and his cap­tain, a Latina woman. While the brass try to hu­mil­i­ate him into sub­mis­sion, his nat­u­ral­born crime-fight­ing abil­i­ties will force his doubters to eat their words: While a ter­ri­fied AfricanAmer­i­can rookie cow­ers be­hind a po­lice car, Nolan hero­ically runs to­ward gun­fire to save his fel­low of­fi­cers, even though it is against pro­to­col.

The Rookie joins other po­lice pro­ce­du­rals that po­si­tion straight white men as heroic out­siders bat­tling short-sighted women and mi­nori­ties in lead­er­ship roles. In Chicago P.D., Bosch and Train­ing Day, to name a few, white men with a will­ing­ness to use off-the­books tac­tics to pro­tect the city’s most vul­ner­a­ble are dis­counted by a sys­tem ham­strung by “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.”

Even the com­edy Brook­lyn Nine-Nine, highly praised for its di­verse cast­ing, started its run with a sto­ry­line about the charm­ing white de­tec­tive Jake Per­alta lock­ing horns with his uptight su­pe­rior, Capt. Ray­mond Holt, a gay black man. Holt must be­grudg­ingly ad­mit Per­alta is a gifted de­tec­tive, even though — and per­haps be­cause — he doesn’t al­ways stick to the rules.

In th­ese shows, “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” and pri­or­i­tiz­ing di­ver­sity are de­picted as erod­ing Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions and en­dan­ger­ing our ci­ties. As Train­ing Day’s white pro­tag­o­nist quips, “Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness doesn’t stop bul­lets.” (CBS can­celled Train­ing Day in 2017 af­ter star Bill Pax­ton died.)

Shows premised on white cops best­ing di­verse higher-ups rep­re­sent half the crime shows slated for the 2018 sea­son, and they have been some of the most pop­u­lar. Last sea­son, Chicago P.D. av­er­aged seven mil­lion view­ers per episode and claimed the high­est rank­ing among net­work tele­vi­sion for its time slot. An Ama­zon orig­i­nal, Bosch is ranked among the top 10 most-streamed shows on the site. The Rookie is the most-watched ABC show in its time slot and the net­work has just or­dered a full sea­son of shows. On CTV in Canada, The Rookie ranks in the top 10.

The fo­cus on a sin­gle heroic of­fi­cer in a po­lice drama isn’t new — it re­calls the early days of cop shows. But yes­ter­day’s fic­tional cops, in Drag­net, Adam-12 and Columbo, were morally im­pec­ca­ble, un­like to­day’s rule break­ers. And to­day’s crop of white, heroic men have new prob­lems: Now they must bat­tle both crime and women and peo­ple of colour in su­per­vi­sory roles. Th­ese high­erups are so blinded by “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” that they are more con­cerned with de­stroy­ing white men’s ca­reers than with the safety of the city. They also tend to be out of touch, naive or mo­ti­vated by per­sonal greed. On Bosch, the black po­lice chief dines in fancy restau­rants, has a driver who holds his car door and thinks more about pol­i­tics than fight­ing crime.

In this sea­son’s pre­mière of Chicago P.D., a batch of bad heroin is claim­ing lives all over the city. Cmdr. Hank Voight, head of the in­tel­li­gence unit, shows up to the scene of a mass over­dose only to be stopped by Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent Kather­ine Bren­nan. She wants to side­line Voight be­cause he is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for shoot­ing an un­armed sus­pect. He dis­misses her con­cerns that he did any­thing wrong and ac­cuses her of try­ing “to bury an old-school white cop” for the sake of op­tics.

He fur­ther ar­gues that keep­ing him off the case will cost lives. Voight de­fies her or­ders and in­ves­ti­gates off the books, co­erc­ing in­for­ma­tion from a drug dealer by ter­ror­iz­ing his fam­ily.

This ill-be­got­ten in­for­ma­tion gets the bad dope off the streets, saves the city and forces Bren­nan to apol­o­gize to Voight. In­stead of dis­ci­plin­ing him for de­fy­ing her, she praises him for “sav­ing lives” and de­cides to drop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the shoot­ing.

On th­ese shows, “old-school white cops” have spe­cial skills, in­nate knowl­edge and brav­ery that their su­pe­ri­ors lack. In­ves­ti­ga­tions into their ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions, vi­o­lent in­ter­ro­ga­tions and bribery are threats not only to th­ese men’s ca­reers, but to the safety of the en­tire city.

Treat­ing white men as out­siders in po­lice de­part­ments run by peo­ple of colour is at odds with re­al­ity. In truth, in the U.S. and else­where, law en­force­ment faces a di­ver­sity cri­sis — es­pe­cially at the lead­er­ship level. Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port from the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, po­lice forces con­sis­tently fail to re­cruit and re­tain peo­ple of colour, which could be con­tribut­ing to a lack of trust be­tween po­lice and the com­mu­ni­ties they work in.

In an­other odd break with re­al­ity, cop shows to­day reg­u­larly show po­lice act­ing vi­o­lently — they de­pict civil rights vi­o­la­tions in far greater num­bers than re­ported in ac­tual po­lice en­coun­ters — and jus­ti­fy­ing it. (This is a de­par­ture from ear­lier po­lice dra­mas, which tended to use po­lice vi­o­lence to show the emo­tional toll of the job. Con­sider a story arc on Homi­cide in which an of­fi­cer shoots a killer who eluded pros­e­cu­tion be­cause of a mis­take with ev­i­dence, but he is so wracked with guilt, he begs his part­ner to turn him in.)

A 2015 study pub­lished in the jour­nal Crim­i­nal Jus­tice and Be­hav­ior cat­a­logued po­lice vi­o­lence on crime dra­mas and found that 80 per cent of in­stances of bod­ily force are de­picted as jus­ti­fied.

On Chicago P.D., Voight in­ter­ro­gates sus­pects by press­ing their faces to lit elec­tri­cal ranges, shov­ing guns in their mouths and throw­ing them in “the cage,” a chain-link en­clo­sure where they are kept off the books, de­nied lawyers and tor­tured. (The year that Chicago P.D. de­buted, the ac­tual Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment paid out $50 mil­lion in set­tle­ments re­lated to po­lice mis­con­duct, in­clud­ing the use of “black sites.”) Th­ese tac­tics typ­i­cally work for the char­ac­ters, get­ting crim­i­nals off the streets and sav­ing peo­ple in the nick of time.

The Rookie looks pretty tame when com­pared to Chicago P.D. and Bosch. The af­fa­ble Nolan is un­likely to kill or tor­ture any­one, but the show is con­tribut­ing to a per­sis­tent nar­ra­tive that re­verse racism is real and dan­ger­ous. Nolan bravely looks his sneer­ing sergeant in the eyes and says he knows he will have to work twice as hard as ev­ery­one else — an un­for­tu­nate twist on the adage women and peo­ple of colour have been say­ing about their pro­fes­sional lives for decades.

No one ex­pects tele­vi­sion to per­fectly re­flect re­al­ity, but th­ese shows have turned re­al­ity in­side out, cre­at­ing a world in which di­verse hir­ing is some­how a big­ger prob­lem than po­lice bru­tal­ity, which is sud­denly an as­set. Mean­while, the bod­ies keep pil­ing up on screen, as rou­tine ar­rests de­volve into shootouts, and re­venge jus­ti­fies ex­e­cu­tions in va­cant lots.

As of this writ­ing, more than 800 peo­ple have been killed by U.S. po­lice in real life this year, a quar­ter of them black. Th­ese shows urge us to ig­nore those statis­tics and just let the white guys fig­ure this out.


Even Brook­lyn Nine-Nine, a com­edy se­ries known for its di­verse cast in­clud­ing Andy Sam­berg, left, Joe Lo Truglio and Stephanie Beatriz, trots out the hoary trope of the white male hero.


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