I haven’t watched a TV cop show since The Wire went off the air, except for a random viewing of Numb3rs when The Sole Heir is visiting. This excerpt from James Lee Burke’s In the Moon of Red Ponies explains why better than I could.
Most television cop shows make use of the following story line: A likeable individual is raped or assaulted, or a hardworking family loses one of its members to a serial killer, or a blue-collar stiff with a juvenile felony on his record gets jammed on a bad beef and is about to be sent to the pen. What happens? A half-dozen uniforms and five detectives with shields hanging from their necks show up at the crime scene and invest the entirety of their lives in seeing justice done. Every law officer in the script, male and female, seems to have an IQ of 180 and the altruism of St. Francis of Assisi. They verbally joust with the rich and powerful, walk into corporate board meetings where they hook up CEOs, and are immune to the invective flung at them by an unappreciative citizenry.
The federal agents who wander into the script are even more impressive. They have tanned skin, little-boy haircuts, and the anatomies of California surfers. Their psychoanalytical knowledge of the criminal mind is stunning. Without hesitation, they conclude for the viewer that serial rapists possess violent tendencies toward women and people who plant bombs on planes are antisocial.
But my thoughts on the subject are cheap in design and substance. It’s easy to be facile about law enforcement. The truth is the good guys are understaffed, overworked, underfunded, and outgunned. Most of the time the bad guys win, or if they do take a fall, it’s because a wrecking ball swings into their lives for reasons that have nothing to do with jurisprudence. If you have ever been the victim of a violent crime, or if you have been threatened by deviates or sadists—and by the latter I mean wakened by anonymous calls in the middle of the night, surveilled by people you’ve never seen before, forced to take public transportation because you’re afraid to start your car in the morning—then you know what I’m about to say is an absolute fact: You’re on your own.
Law enforcement agencies don’t prevent crimes. With good luck, they solve a few of them. In the meantime, if violent and dangerous people intend to do you injury, your own thoughts become your worst enemies. The morning might start with sunshine and birdsong, but by noon it’s usually filled with gargoyles.