Friday, June 27, 2008

"COPS" vs. Cops

Last week, it happened. They said it never would. They said it'd never---not in a million years---happen. But I waited. Oh, I watched and I waited. And my diligent slothfulness paid off: I saw the episode of "COPS" where the guy got away.

As any robe-wearing layabout without cable can attest, "COPS" is on The Channels You Get With Rabbit Ears roughly four hundred times a day. If it isn't time for news, soap operas, or Putty whoring himself out for the egregious pimp known as "Family Feud," you can rest assured that "COPS" is on. "COPS" is, essentially, the first reality show ever, both in it's obvious realism and in it's equally obvious distortion of reality. See, on "COPS," the police always get their man. Sure, sometimes they have to chase a shirtless hillbilly through a swamp or taze some titanic, bloodlusting goonatic, but in the end, that low-rent, marble-mouthed criminal will be in the back of squad car and we, the viewer, can rest easy, knowing that peace, justice, and the American Way have been saved by Sergeant Overweight and Deputy Assbrain.

Only any thinking person knows it doesn't always---or even usually---happen that way. Despite half of London and San Francisco scouring the streets, Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer, respectively, were never even identified, let alone arrested; John Rigas had to build his own private golf course before the Feds decided that maybe he might be defrauding a few million rubes; and the FBI had to enlist the knowhow of an effete cannibal to catch Buffalo Bill, only to foolishly release him so he could star in "Freejack" with Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez.

The point? Those criminals were smart. Or smartish. To wit: cops only catch stupid criminals and, fittingly, "COPS" only catch stupid criminals. Your typical "COPS" mastermind has the mental wherewithal of a preoccupied monkey with a grotesque head injury. So when Johnny Law Enforcer begins a high-speed chase during the third act of a "COPS" episode, you assume that the perp will eventually run his '88 Olds Cutlass into a guardrail, make an obese/blotto attempt at a getaway, then get tackled by a cop who will call him "the individual" or "the suspect," all before the sweat Reggae stylings of Inner Circle announce the closing credits. This is why it was so surprising to see the perp run his '88 Olds Cutlass into a guardrail, make an obese/blotto attempt and a getaway, get tackled by a cop...and then proceed to drag aforesaid lawman over the guardrail, off the freeway overpass, and into a forty foot freefall. More surprising was that, after the duo landed, our police officer was on his side, clutching his spine, and calling for backup, while the ubermench criminal, limping slightly, ran into the nearby woods, perhaps to forage for nuts and berries, with no help in sight.

I dialed my friend and told him all about it. He was very proud of me. Not "Congratulations on your new baby girl!" proud, but "Way to sit on your ass and see the COPS where dude escapes" proud. It's a subtle distinction but an important one.

Now, for a little compare and contrast. We here at my house have had some recent unpleasantness with the San Francisco Police Force. Without going into tedious detail just know that if your house gets robbed and you learn from an anonymous note who perpetrated said crime, where they live, and what their names are, do not expect the police to do anything. Instead, be prepared to learn the true meaning of "Kafkaesque" while leaving countless messages for these donuted commandos of public nonservice, getting no reply, filling out seven different kinds of TPS reports, getting no recompense, and eventually just going to the house of the thieves yourself. The whole outlandish calamity will be a frustrating amalgam of "The Wire," Barney Fife, and Chief Clancy Wiggum's immortal line "Can't you people take the law into your own hands? I mean, we can't be policing the entire city!"

What I ended up learning from this is that, sadly, "COPS" are better than cops. Sure, the show is a ludicrous farce, but dealing with "COPS" is an enjoyable undertaking, one that can be done with Tecate in hand, slippers on feet, and a smug sense of your own awesomeness still fully intact. Is it all a little schadenfreude-y? Sure. But I'm down with other people's problems (yeah you know me). They make for good T.V. And the cops on "COPS" always at least try to solve crimes, apprehend suspects, and protect the greater good. Dealing with the non-COPs cops, in contrast, is a harrowing, taxing debacle. I had expectation that the City Police will, you know, police the city, but what I discovered was it was more like the DMV with guns: a joyless, soul-crushing slog through a bureaucracy in which no one wants to help you. Sad indeed, but true as well.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think there's another episode on. I hope it involves a "domestic disturbance."


brett said...

I think you mean Peterman dude.

brett said...

In case that wasn't clear: I'm talking Jacopo Peterman AKA John O'Hurley, current daytime host of Family Feud. Not to be confused with Al Roker, host of the (upcoming?) primetime version.

Anonymous said...

First, a house can not be robbed. I can be "burglarized" but only humans can be robbed (in the legal sense).
Second, just because you receive an anonymous tip of the suspects where abouts does not mean we can just go bust in the door and raid the place. That takes a warrant signed by a judge!! And anonymous tips are the least likely statements taken into considerations by a Judge. They want known facts only, or corraborated information. Sorry your stuff got stolen. Call the Burglary Detail and give them that info. Ask to speak to a sergeant.
And of course they always catch the suspect on cops. It's for the ratings.......

your friendly SF copper

birdmonster said...

Brett: Goddammit. You're so right. Although, you must admit, Putty on the Feud would be epic. The not-giving-a-shit would be palpable.

And Al Roker's shame bone is broken.

Anon: Thanks for the vocab lesson. I took it to heart.

As for the actual circumstances of the shenanigans, I'm aware an anonymous note isn't enough to get a warrant. I will note that the anonymous note-writer was IDed, gave a statement, and still nothing happened. The real pain in our collective craw, however, was our case Sergeant, who aggressively ignored all our phone calls (some simply asking for an update, some giving valuable info like: hey we took a witness to the station and he signed a statement, since you wouldn't talk to us) for 4 days until several bitchy calls to his supervisor, though his response was more put-upon than helpful "why'd you guys do that?" as opposed to, you know, actually talking to us in the first place. The emergency response was amazing; the follow-up was anything but.

brett said...

If I were and alleged policeman doing outreach about the finer points of the law on my friendly local band's blog, I probably would not lead in with a linguistic quibble challenging common English usage in favor of "the legal sense".

Jim Tenuto said...

Having followed the epic BURGLARY saga in great detail I would like to offer some clarifying words for the San Francisco police office who took the time to offer an intelligent reply.

1.) The anonymous tip became quite un-anonymous as the victims of the crime were forced to drive him to the station, where...
2.) This young man, who voluntarily came forward, was treated worse than the criminals.
3.) Calls were made to the desk sergeant, the lieutenant, the watch commander...all were steadfastly ignored.
4.) The victims recovered their own property, though not all of it.
5.) Only after a San Francisco Supervisor called to complain about the poor service offered to his constituents was any action taken, and that a whining phone call.

My father served as a Chicago policeman and State's Attorney investigator for nearly 30 years. I have always held the police in great respect.

SFPD did not maintain even a modicum of professionalism in dealing with the aftermath of the burglary.

birdmonster said...

Brett: Neither would I. For that matter, neither would Peterman. But we live in strange times. I, for one, can't believe there was a police leaving comments here in the first place.

Jim: Yeah. What he said. Them's the details and the more you hear the worse it sounds. But at least we know we wasn't burglarized; we was robbed. I feel much, much better.

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