Each night people from all over the world settle in to watch their favorite television sleuths solve the latest murder. You can’t turn the channel without seeing some sort of well-dressed investigator using fancy tools and equipment that would make the creators of Star Wars and and Star Trek drool with envy.
Shows such as CSI, Law and Order, and House are works of fiction. They’re written for our entertainment, not as research guides. Sure, some of the tools and procedures used on the shows are correct, but they’re often utilized in less-than-real situations. Most of these television shows make many real-life cops, prosecutors, medical examiners, and doctors cringe. I can’t watch any of them. If I want to see real police work in action I watch The Andy Griffith Show, or The First 48. Forensic Files also does a pretty good job of depicting actual law enforcement techniques.
The Andy Griffith Show did a great job of showing the compassionate side of law enforcement officers. They let their audience know that cops are real people, with real emotions, and real everyday problems.
The First 48 depicts murder investigations in true form. This is how it’s really done, folks. No fancy tools or equipment, just real detectives doing what they do best – hitting the streets, searching for evidence, knocking on doors, and talking to people.
Forensic Files is a very accurate show, portraying real usage of crime-scene tools and equipment. The only drawback is that many police departments do not have access to the equipment that’s used on this show.
Fact v. Fiction
Here are a few examples of what not to believe on television shows about cops and crime scene investigation:
TV – Cops advise suspects of their rights the second they slip a pair of handcuffs on the crook’s wrists.
Fact – Miranda warnings are only read to suspects who are in custody, prior to questioning.
Oops! Wrong Miranda.
TV – Cops fire warning shots.
Fact – False. Officers do not fire warning shots. What goes up must come down.
TV – Doctors leave the hospital to search a patient’s house looking for clues.
Fact – You can barely get a doctor to check on a patient in their hospital room. They’re certainly not going to someone’s house. (My apologies to Doug Lyle).
TV – DNA test results come back in three hours.
Fact – DNA testing normally takes a minimum of three days. More than likely, it will be several weeks before detectives receive the test results.
TV – Detectives draw chalk outlines around dead bodies.
Fact – No. Drawing a chalk outline could destroy, or alter, crucial evidence.
No chalk outlines
TV – Cops leave the scene of a crime with lights and sirens going at full blast.
Fact – No. Officers only use lights and siren on the way to emergencies. Leaving a crime scene with the suspect safely cuffed and stuffed in the back seat is not an emergency.
TV – CSI technicians chase criminals and investigate crimes.
Fact – Although they’re they’re highly-trained experts in their field, many CSI technicians are not sworn police officers. They have no authority to investigate crimes and arrest criminal suspects.
Many CSI technicians are not certified, sworn police officers.
*Please don’t use television as a source for research about police officers. Always contact your local law enforcement officer or other trusted expert in the field for correct information that best suits the needs for your story.
Talk to an actual police officer, not someone whose third cousin was once married to a police officer’s sister’s wife. Unless someone has actually worn the uniform, carried a gun, and actually arrested a criminal, they’re just telling you something they’ve heard, or something they think they may know. After all, when you need information about plumbing, you don’t call an airplane pilot, right?