Watching cop shows requires a suspension of disbelief: the detective who sifts through tens of thousands of records in seconds to pinpoint a single car. The bartender who remembers every person she’s ever served a drink. The fact that virtually every case is solved. A new study by Color of Change and the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, “Normalizing Injustice: The Dangerous Misrepresentations That Define Television’s Scripted Crime Genre,” sought to quantify the impact of this mass representation of law enforcement on television. Reviewing 353 episodes from 26 crime shows from the 2017–18 season, the study provides a detailed look at the ways the creative forces behind these shows are essentially functioning as propagandists for cops, the New Republic reports.
More crime shows cracked the top 100 watched programs than any other genre. In fall 2019, 21 of the 34 prime-time dramas broadcast on the four main networks were about law enforcement. Most of these series depict wrongful actions by law enforcement as “routine, harmless, or necessary—or even noble,” Color of Change found. Eighteen of the 26 shows justified misconduct of police characters so audiences root for them. “The narratives that are coming out of Hollywood—for profit—are fueling some of the incentives that we’re seeing in our country, fueling people’s understanding of what they think justice should look like. It also makes it harder for us to push back against injustice,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. “Police on these shows are constantly doing bad things but are either being rewarded or are able to give a speech about why they had to do it.” Even shows that present police abuse or misconduct in a critical light rarely hit the mark. The study found that in 353 episodes, there were only six examples of police officials charged with crimes stemming from their misconduct.