The Caricatures Of COPS

As the show enters its 25th season, Kelley Vlahos sighs:

For teenagers, voyeurs, and red-blooded law-and-order types who’ve made this show one of the longest running in American history, the pioneer cinéma vérité format ratifies the correct order of things—beginning smartly with heroes and villains, and ending with the crank of handcuffs and the door of a squad car slamming on another case, closed.

In between, the raw humiliation of both “perp” and victim on display punctuates a well-worn routine, good for a sanctimonious chuckle at someone else’s expense, inevitably explained away as the price of being morally weak, and stupid. Caricatures abound, and must seem reassuring to some: cornrows and gang tats, toothy wild-eyed white trash, skinny hookers with tracks running up and down their arms. Life’s generic losers. …

For serious viewers, hearing actual police officers like Russ Martin say things like, “just a normal day, you get to tase a man,” and watching one resigned black youth after another being pig-piled and hauled off by a disproportionate number of jacked-up white cops for a couple of teeny plastic-wrapped bundles of marijuana, is not entertainment, it’s a cringe-fest.