That’s COPS with a capital “C,” capital “O,” capital “P,” and capital “S.” The TV show. There’s a bunch of episodes on YouTube. It’s probably not legal for it to be on YouTube, and the irony of that should make me take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror, but it is what it is.

Right off the bat I want to address the fact that many of features of the show are extremely problematic. I could write a book about it (titled The TROUBLE with COPS: Law Enforcement and Entertainment in the 21st Century — three weeks on the NYT Nonfiction Bestsellers list, required reading in a few sociology of crime classes, nominated for a Pulitzer but doesn’t win — you get the picture), but there are some genuinely good features as well. So, with discernment and a mild obsession with seeing people during the most intense moments of their lives, I will proceed discussing some of the things I’ve learned from the show.

The first thing is that cops (all lowercase) are never kidding. Perps often ask “are you kidding me?” The answer is always “no.” They are not kidding you. You are arrested, you are drunk, and your chin is bleeding. That being said, I get it; COPS has existed alongside Candid Camera, Punk’d, and the flash mob craze of the early ‘00s. The police probably aren’t joking, but if they are, it would save a lot of embarrassment to find out early.

Also, everyone is drunk all the time and no one has valid ID. As someone who is almost always sober and rarely without ID, this came as something of a surprise. For those of you who don’t know, alcohol is a legal substance, but after consuming it people often do illegal things (but of course all of you did know that because everyone is drunk all the time). And while they do those illegal things, they do not bring any government-issued documentation which verifies their identity. A lot of problems could be avoided by rectifying either of these issues.

Relatedly, some people really just are dumb. Many (probably most) of the criminals who show up on COPS are victims of systems beyond their control, be they political, economic, or familial. Those are the people I’ll discuss in The TROUBLE with COPS. The remaining people are quite dumb, compounding bad decisions with bizarre lies instead of taking advantage of their Miranda rights. For example, to the drunk woman who came to her ex-boyfriend’s apartment despite a restraining order against her and pooped on his floor while screaming loudly enough to alert the neighbors: nobody believes you when you say that you were “just let in” and the front window was broken “by the cat.” Also, to the guy who got pulled over for a busted headlight on his truck but had a marijuana plant in plain view in the bed of the truck so it turned into a drug arrest even though he claimed it’s his dad’s truck and he don’t smoke marijuana though it later came out that he smoked two years ago at a B.B. King concert: it’s pronounced “Chattanooga,” not “Chagganooga.”

Finally, a story from circa 2006. I was washing dishes while my mom dried them. There was a sound of tires squealing and men yelling. Gunshots in the distance. I looked to my mom, concerned. She looked back, unconcerned. She rolled her eyes and said “Your father has discovered COPS on YouTube.” I joined him for a clip or two, continued at max volume. The charm hasn’t faded a bit.

Tony Ditta

Tony graduated in 2012 with majors in mathematics and economics. He now lives in Chicago and is pursuing graduate study in economics. He also has a very good cultural trivia podcast called “Here’s My Number, So Call Me Ishmael” available on Libsyn, iTunes, and Google Play.

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