Southland: Bats and Hats

We hold cops to a higher standard because we give them a gun and a badge. The only trouble with that is they’re recruited from the human race.

Other than The Big Bang Theory and reruns of the Andy Griffith Show, there are few TV shows that receive my full, unwavering attention and devotion. SouthLand, however, is at the top of my favorites list, and it hit that spot for several reasons—it’s a true, honest-to-goodness depiction of what it’s like to be a cop, and the actors, cast, crew, writers, producers, and directors see to it that proper research is conducted and woven into their well-written scripts, actions, and dialog. And, most importantly, the actors deeply care for their fans and it shows.

The season opener, Bats and Hats (slang for cops in full riot gear, equipped with helmets and batons), delves into the personal disputes often faced by police officers. Yes, in addition to the possibility of gunfire, stabbings, and puking drunks, cops also have personal issues that can, and do, cause clashes with their professional partners—a second definition of “bats and hats.”

SouthLand is quite adept at weaving subplots and hidden meaning into each and every scene. And last night’s episode was a prime example.

– Lydia is a new mother who’s also a cop to the core. Her job has always been her entire world. It’s her friend and mental/emotional lover. Police work is always there for her, no matter what. It’s her rock. Her cornerstone. And it’s where she turns when there’s no other avenue of escape, including when the baby cries incessantly, allowing her very little sleep and more than a fair share of exhaustion. So, to go to work and return to a situation where she’s the boss who calls the shots, well, it’s a breath of fresh air for her.

However, Lydia’s an extremely private person, and when clear signs of motherhood show up (leaking breast milk), she temporarily exhibits embarrassment and vulnerability. Since her partner, Ruben, is the one who brought the situation to her attention, well, that made the trouble even more embarrassing. Still, her tough side springs back and she’s able to do whatever it takes to get a male rape victim to admit what happened to him. And, believe me, that’s an extremely delicate situation, considering the skyrocketing state of denial in cases of this nature. Lydia, though, handled it just as a real cop would have done in a similar situation. Again, though, it’s the true-to-life back-story that makes this scenario shine. Cops are people too, and they must deal with their personal issues while helping the public meander and duck and dodge through theirs.

Cooper has his hands full with a new rookie who really doesn’t give a rat’s derriere about being a cop. He’s a military vet who couldn’t find a job paying better than the LAPD offered. So he’s there for the paycheck, nothing more. As a former FTO (field training officer), I’ve seen similar situations time and time again. Those who go into police work for the wrong reasons—money, benefits, to wear a cool uniform and play with cool toys, to attract members of the opposite sex, nothing better to do, etc., rarely make it past the rookie stage. Your heart absolutely has to be in the job for it to work out. Former LAPD officer/author Kathy Bennett summed it up nicely, just yesterday, when discussing cop-killer Christopher Dorner. Bennett said, “Being a police officer is not for the faint of heart—some people, no matter how good their intentions, are not cut out to be cops.”

Cooper’s personal hats-and-bats situation also included dealing with an unsatisfied, arguing life partner who’s tired of being left alone while Cooper works a police officer’s demanding schedule. He wants more, but, as a committed police officer, Cooper doesn’t have much more to give. Like Lydia, Cooper is in it deep. The job is his life and his life is the job. It’s what he knows and he knows is well, which is why the new trainee’s attitude toward police work is already wearing on Cooper’s fragile nerve endings.

Sammy and Ben are an unlikely pair of police officer partners from the start. Sammy, of course, has mellowed a bit since his rogue-ish days. However, he has his ex to deal with, and she’s making his personal life a hell on earth. She’s trying to gain sole custody of their child, who by the way is a redhead. Neither Sammy nor Tammi have red hair, so maybe Ben had a point. The child may not be Sammi’s after all. Where Tammi’s concerned, who knows?

Sammy’s not at all happy with Ben, who’d just received a medal for bravery/heroism. Sammy’s not upset about the award, though. Instead, it’s that Ben is letting it stand in the way of common sense and the job. Like when Ben callously takes a personal phone call while standing in the middle of a gruesome homicide scene, where a traumatized elderly woman, a witness and also a victim of the crime, is within earshot of the conversation.

Shawn Hatosy as Sammy

Sammy chastises Ben about his actions, and, of course, Ben becomes defensive—their hats and bats moment. Oh, yeah, when Sammy goes back to see to it that the woman is okay and winds up scrubbing away the blood from the crime scene…you better believe that sort of thing happens all the time. Cops generally have huge, compassionate hearts, and truly care about people, especially the elderly, children, and those who cannot fend for themselves. Shawn Hatosy played a wonderful part in this episode.

Dewey is back this year, and he’s still the ever obnoxious “drunk-uncle-at-a-wedding-type” cop who gets on everyone’s nerves at times. He’s an old school cop who’s forgotten more about the job than the new recruits (boots) will probably ever hope to know. He’s tough as nails, and when the lead and fists start flying, he’s the first one to wade into the fight. He’s also a cop who’ll have your back no matter what. Dewey is obnoxious, sure, but he’d take a bullet for a fellow cop. But, to the new guy—Cooper’s boot—he’s hats and bats all day long.

So there you have it…everyone’s “hats and bats” moments. Now for the police work.

– Ben receives a medal for bravery, which brings several pats on the back. There’s also a bit of jealousy. Believe me, that happens. Some simply cannot bear to see another officer receive medals/awards, thinking that they deserve them more, for things they’d done that had gone unrecognized. It happens.

– At a pre-shift briefing, the sergeant tells of a fatal shooting(s) of an unarmed suspect(s). The teen reached for something in his waistband and the officers fired, fatally wounding the kid. Unfortunately, this happens, and here’s why. Officers have only mere seconds/milliseconds to make the decision whether to shoot or not. Doesn’t always make it justifiable. I’m merely offering the reason(s).

Basically, the split second shoot/don’t shoot decision-making boils down to what the officer perceives at the time—does he have a weapon, why is he running from me, what has he done to make him run, is he wanted, is he getting ready to shoot me, will he take a hostage if he pulls a gun from his waistband, I searched a guy just yesterday who had a 9mm tucked into his waistband, a fleeing felon shot and killed my partner just last year, people are shooting cops nearly every day, cops are shot and killed nearly every week. Imagine having to process all this and more, in a second or less. So this, as usual, was realistic.

– Sammy and Ben find themselves at fight where the two naked suspects are covered in blood. First of all, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than to arrest or struggle with a naked person of either sex. But it happens more often than you’d think. Clothing provides something for officers to grab. Bare flesh does not. And bloody or sweaty flesh is extremely difficult to grasp. So…what IS available to grab when the suspect is nude? Don’t even think it. Not in a million years. If ever there was a time for pepper spray, Tasers, or a long tree branch, this is it…

Michael Cudlitz as John Cooper

– Cooper’s boot/trainee elected to switch to wearing short sleeve uniform shirts before he’d received permission to do so, an obvious show of disrespect to his training officer and to the department. Tradition around the country is—the move to short sleeves isn’t done until the training officer allows it.

By the way, most departments set specific dates when to begin wearing long or short-sleeve uniform shirts, and it doesn’t matter if spring comes early bringing 90 degree temps, or an early winter blows in with temperatures dipping to the freezing mark. If the change date hasn’t rolled around, officers must continue to wear long sleeves and neckties (neckties always accompany long sleeves). Same thing in reverse.

– The scene in the store where the shopkeeper and his partner were testing out the stopping power of a Kevlar vest was actually realistic. You absolutely would not believe the truly stupid things people do, and, of course, police are often called to the scenes. I’ve left many calls shaking my head at the degree of stupidity I’d just witnessed. For example, the man having sex with a live pig comes to mind, with the female’s fellow oinkers looking on… No shame in that game.

– Sammy and Ben roll up on a gang shooting in progress, only to learn that Internal Affairs had staged the scene to test the integrity of undercover officers involved in the scenario. Sammy loses his cool, and takes his disdain for the situation straight to the IA detective in charge of the operation. Can’t say that I blame him. No cop likes the set-ups conducted by IA that are designed to catch officers doing something wrong or illegal. However, sometimes those things are necessary. I know, because I worked IA investigations. Not a pleasant assignment, but it was truly an eye-opener at times.

– Lydia’s handling of the male rape victim—she lied to him to get him to admit the truth—was truly believable. That’s how it happens in real life, folks. Cops sometimes have to lie to get to the truth.

Finally, we see Ben celebrating in a parking lot with strippers and a few of his rowdy buddies. Of course, alcohol was involved. Suddenly, one of the strippers stands on a car hood and begins firing a weapon into the air. Ben’s new buddy hits the woman with a blast from a Taser and then urges Ben to leave before responding officers discover that he, the medal-winning officer/LAPD’s newest poster boy, is caught up in a scandal. Ben walks away into the night, his reputation once again kept unblemished.

Roll the credits…

Much like the realism found between the covers of Joseph Wambaugh’s books, what you see on SouthLand is pretty much a decent depiction of the life of police officers. I’m not saying that every officer lives a life identical to these fictional characters. Not at all. What I am saying is, well, most of us have sort of been there and done that. So, if you really want to know what it’s like to wear a gun and badge, I urge you to watch SouthLand.

And, as always, my hat’s off to the cast and crew of SouthLand for taking the time to “learn it the right way.”

  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    You’re right, Bob. About the shooting part. But having to draw weapons is much more commonplace these days becausee officers are encountering far more people/suspects with guns and other weapons. And people nowadays are shooting at officers with more frequency than in they did in the “old days.”

    Off the top of my head, I can think of one officer in Arizona who’s shot six suspects during his career. Another, in Ohio, also shot six.

    I’ve shot one suspect during a shootout (been shot at a few times, including the drug dealer who shot out windows in my home during a drive by), one of my best friends was also in a shootout and shot and killed a robber who’d fired first and shot my friend’s partner. Another of my co-workers was forced to shoot a gun-wielding man who’d taken a young girl hostage. A friend of mine was shot in the face with a shotgun, but he was able to return fire, killing the suspect. His supervisor was also shot by a second suspect. He, too, was able to return fire. And this is just a small section of the country. It’s getting worse, too, my friend.

  2. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    We’ve heard it before, how most cops rarely draw, let alone fire their weapons. But Ben has now killed two people in the line of duty. One in S1 and one in S4. (Did he hit anyone in the bank robbery shootout in S3?) At any rate, he’s in a pretty elite club these days, isn’t he? Not that I’d want to be in that club.

    Best line: “Oh. I missed the first time.”

  3. maegan
    maegan says:

    I’ve been watching Southland since it was on network television. When NBC canceled it I wasn’t surprised–to be done properly and realistically on prime-time TV would’ve been impossible. So glad that TNT picked up this fabulous show… every January, I start looking for promos signaling this show’s return and am glad to see it continue on–mainly so I can take notes during each episode. 🙂

  4. Pat Brown
    Pat Brown says:

    As usual, Lee, spot on. I love that show so much, even if I’m seeing it about 3 seasons behind. But I found your comment about people who become cops just for the paycheck rarely making it past the boot stage interesting. William Parker, who ended up being not only the longest running LAPD police chief never planned on being a cop. He wanted to be a lawyer, but a pregnant wife made him take a job ‘in the meantime’ and he signed on to the LAPD. He really only meant it to be temporary, instead he died in office.

    “We’ll always have cases like this because we have one big problem in selecting police officers … we have to recruit from the human race.”

    That was his quote after charges of police brutality and racism. Whatever you might think of the guy, he managed to create a real police force and he was also the first chief of police to desegregate the LAPD.

  5. Adam
    Adam says:

    Ive only recently started watching SouthLAnd, but your reviews are like a neccessary accompaniment to each episode now, thankyou for sharing your insight, it really makes all the nuances and details of the show so much more amazing.

  6. Snowprince
    Snowprince says:

    Great review as always, Lee. Glad both the show and your “from the inside” perspective are back. You speak for all of us who’ve done it more eloquently than we could.

  7. Wayne Hatosy
    Wayne Hatosy says:

    Great job Lee. I’ve missed your reviews of SouthLAnd. Last night we threw a retirement party for a 25 year police officer. It was a surprise which we hid behind having a SouthLAnd premiere party. We knew someone who helped get some signed cast photos. It was reassuring speaking with the officers and how greatly they appreciate what you basically say each week….the best damn cop show on TV!

  8. Gwise
    Gwise says:

    The hooker actually took the gun from the cop who fired the taser. The officer did not feel her pulling it out of his holster, and was wearing his weapon in a crowded party area, while drunk. Aren’t there regulations against this sort of thing?

    I thought the ep was a great opener for the season: it brought some intriguing things to the front right off the bat. Ben’s spiral into King Jerk-Ass is moving much faster than I thought it would; and Tammi has taken her horrible behaviour to a whole new level with this this new angle. But then I’ve hated Tammi from day one, so, whatever.

    One thing that bothers me about this show is that the only competent characters in it are the cops. I mean I get it, they’re focusing only on that group of characters, but, come on, why don’t we ever see even a SINGLE good, smart, non-cop individual who cooperates reasonably and provides any help they need?

    What’s your perspective, Lee? As a cop, didn’t you ever meet ANY civilians that offered competent assistance to you and your fellow police officers?

  9. Melanie Atkins
    Melanie Atkins says:

    Great review, Lee. Loved the episode. I didn’t know about the long/short sleeve thing, because when my my ex worked for JPD (Jackson, MS), he only wore short sleeves, even in the winter — and even when he was straight out of the academy. He wasn’t issued any long sleeve shirts. They just wore jackets when it got cold. Not sure about now, because that was back in the ’80s & 90s, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a JPD officer wearing a long sleeved shirt. It’s just too hot here most of the time.

    Good info to know, though, for other parts of the country!

  10. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    Fantastic recap. I’m glad the show is back and doesn’t hold back. I’ve constantly said that NBC made a mistake letting it go but now that they are on TNT, I feel like they have some free reign for the stories they do.

  11. Steve
    Steve says:

    One thing that was not clear to me…Ben was obviously cleared in the pimp shooting that led to his award, but did Sammy buy his story or does he still think that Ben planted the gun? That would explain a lot of the tension between them.

    Lee – it’s great to see your reviews again! They really add to my appreciation and enjoyment of the show.

  12. Ron
    Ron says:

    I would just like to say I enjoy reading your blog after viewing the episodes, especially your detailed explanations and clarifications of some of the police work going on in SouthLAnd, together with your personal experience. It makes it feels like I’m watching some sort of pseudo-documentary (in a good sense)

    PS, I have to say the last scene where John Cooper was nursing a drink, with the gun on the table and the ominous music doesn’t bode well for the character.