I haven’t carried a gun or worn a badge in years, but last night while watching the season opener of Southland I felt that I was back working a shift. And I was exhausted when the credits began to roll. Why? Because I backed up every single officer on each of their calls. I fought side by side with them, and I helped cuff the bad guys when the dust settled. Shoot, I even sensed the adrenaline rush you experience when diving head first into a full-blown, angry mob. By far, this show is absolutely the most realistic cop drama on television.
As most of you know, I review cop shows to point out the good and bad police procedure, forensics, and investigation techniques. I do this to help writers get their facts straight when it comes to cops and robbers. Well, this one was easy, because the show’s writers and actors have really done their homework. I didn’t find a single thing thing wrong. Yep, you heard right. Nothing. Nada. Zip and zero. That’s not to say there weren’t errors, but the action was so fast-paced (just like a real day on the job) that it was difficult to pick out everything, and I used a DVR to stop the action when needed.
I jotted down nearly three pages of notes while the show was on, and here are a few of the points that stood out:
First of all, a portion of the show was filmed in South Central L.A., on location. The scenario was so realistic to the local residents that they actually thought the police were in their neighborhood and began to throw things and argue with them.
Okay, buckle in. We’re going to ride with these guys for a while.
- Detective Lydia Adams is shown leaving her house in the morning, heading to her car on the way to work. She’s on the cell phone talking to her partner who’s in the hospital recovering from something that happened in an earlier episode. The scene is minimal as far as the rest of the show goes; however, it shows the relationship cops experience with their partners and their job. For many cops, the job is first in their lives. It’s all they have and it’s all they know. They live, eat, sleep, and think police work. Many officers do not socialize outside their private law enforcement world, so this is all they do, and often it’s all they care about, really. They never completely trust anyone who doesn’t wear a badge. After all, their lives are in the hands of their coworkers. Therefore, the bond between officers is stronger than the normal friend-to-friend bond. So, back to Det. Adams. She plays her part quite well. And, she showed all of the above in her opening one-minute scene.
Detective Lydia Adams
- The patrol officer’s shift meeting, or muster as it’s sometimes called, was spot on. Officers normally meet for a few minutes before heading out to the streets. They do so to be briefed on the current state of chaos that’s waiting for them “out there.” They also receive their shift assignments and riding partners, if that’s not a permanent thing. This all varies from department to department. There’s no standard rule, just whatever works for a particular agency.
- A Get Well Soon card was passed among the patrol officers during their shift meeting. One of their crew was in rehab for an alcohol problem. Well, when it came time for Officer Chickie Brown to sign, she was passed over. It seems she was the person who outed the officer, her partner, for his alcohol problem. This is a big no no in many police circles. You take care of your own and you never snitch on a partner. You watch each others backs. That’s the rule. We heard about this again later in the show. The card passing was indicative of what can happen when an officer goes against “the rule.” Other officers may start to shy away. They may even refuse to back up the officer who went against the grain.
Officer Chickie Brown
- Patrol officers on this show actually look and act like real police officers. They even wear vests. You can see the outlines under their uniform shirts.
- The relationship between the Field Training Officer (Officer John Cooper) and his trainee (Ben Sherman) is pretty good.
Officer John Cooper
Officer Ben Sherman
Cooper plays the part well, almost acting like a mother hen watching over a chick. I was a field training officer for several years. It’s our job to make sure the new officers, the ones fresh out of the academy, turn what they’ve learned in classrooms into street-usable material. It’s also an FTO’s job to make sure those rookies are safe. And, it’s the duty of an FTO to make sure the rookies don’t do anything stupid, and believe me, new officers are full to the brim with piss and vinegar and are ready to save the planet in a single shift. I know, because I was once that way. Now I’m just loaded to the gills with things like Geritol.
- The scene where the Mexican gang members shot the informant in the street after a car chase was interesting because it showed their semi-automatic pistols in action. The slides worked as they fed new rounds to the chamber. And they ejected brass as the rounds were fired. Good stuff.
- Cooper and Sherman ran across a guy urinating in an alley. They stopped, as any patrol officer would do, and checked him out. You’d be surprised at the number of solid arrest are made by performing such a simple act. Cops run across all sort of things – drugs, wanted persons, murderers, etc. - when conducting these little stops. But it was the procedure used by the two officers that impressed me. The search (pat down/frisk) was conducted in text book style. Cooper even stood in a proper stance with his gun side away from the suspect, something that’s not often seen in cop shows. The pat down was also good. He began by asking the suspect if he had anything in his pockets, such as needles, drugs, weapons, etc. Great stuff! Well, we saw this suspect again later in the show as a kidnapper. This was fantastic because that sort of thing happens all the time in police work. Tons of crimes are solved because some officer somewhere stopped and talked to a guy on the street who later commits a crime. Then all the pieces begin to fall into place. Very realistic scene.
- A B&E occurs at a business. The owner comes in to open up and finds the suspect hanging from a rope, because the dumb crook used a rope that was either too short to reach the floor, or it got tangled on his way down to steal whatever it was he came to steal. It sort of looked silly in the show, but it’s not. This stuff really happens. In fact, I once answered a very similar call at 5am one morning. A convenience store owner opened the front door to start the day and found a very large man hanging from the ceiling by one leg. He’d cut a hole in the roof with an ax and when he entered the opening his foot got caught in the duct work that ran between the suspended (no pun intended) ceiling and roof. His upper body crashed through the ceiling grid and that’s where he remained until we released his trapped foot. He was quite happy to see us, by the way.
- The kidnapping suspect was identified by using cameras on ATM machines. This is good stuff. In fact, at the Writers’ Police Academy I’m hosting a night owl session about a brutal murder where the suspect was seen in an ATM camera photo. I have that ATM photo along with all the actual crime scene photos. I’ll be using those and other evidence to guide everyone through the case. This was one of the most convoluted and gruesome murders I’ve ever encountered.
- Detectives visited a jail prisoner, one of their regular snitches, hoping to get some information from him about a current case. The inmate, obviously used to helping the police, was very cordial, laughing and joking with the officers, all the while asking them to help him get out of jail if he found out what they wanted to know. This happens all the time. Cops have a regular network of informants. This one, however, was stabbed by another prisoner later in the show. His attacker caught him at shower time and inserted the blade of a shank in the guy’s abdomen four or five times. Again, this was very realistic, from the jailhouse boxers, to the line of tatted prisoners waiting to take showers, to the way the prisoner wore his orange jumpsuit – the top half hanging down at this waist.
- Cooper and Sherman have a female prisoner in the cage of their car when they hear, “Officer needs assistance. Shots fired.” They take off, pedal to the floor, with the prisoner in the back. Adrenaline leaps to the top of the tank and lights and sirens are going full blast. Yet the officers speak in normal tones of voice, saying things like, “Clear right. Okay on your side.” This was so, so accurate. The driver’s (Sherman’s) head was nearly spinning like a top while he attempted to see everywhere at once to make they didn’t hit anyone, while his partner kept watch on his side of the car. Still, they maintained a calm and very cool demeanor. That’s how it really is, folks. Cops are so used to doing this stuff that it’s almost as normal as breathing.
- The big mob scene, where Officer Chickie Brown and her not-so-hot partner were fighting for their lives was also quite realistic. She was fending off a huge crowd of angry people, but she never let her prisoner go. That’s what cops do. Her backup arrived and they jumped into the pile of people as comfortably as Michael Phelps dives into a swimming pool. Cops do what they do because that’s how they’re trained, and because it’s in their hearts. AND, there was a fellow officer in that pile of people, which meant they all came out safely, or none would, even though she was the officer who reported her partner’s drinking problem. See, this one came around full circle. Nicely done.
And that brings us back to alley-urinating kidnapper, Alan Gaylord. The scene where Officer Sherman and Detective Adams’ new and very obnoxious partner chased Gaylord through the rail yard was excellent. Again, this stuff happens. I could tell another of my stories here where something similar happened to me, but I’ll spare you the details this this time. Let’s just say that this show was the most accurate cop show I’ve ever seen on TV.
You know, when the show was over and I finally let out a breath, I realized I didn’t have a clue what this episode was really about. I’d been so caught up in the action that I wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to the story, the characters and their emotions…nothing. I think there were some pretty good things going on there, but I missed them. I was too busy reaching for my handcuffs…