Deviance in Pop Culture representations of Police

Posted: February 28, 2015 by travissingh in Uncategorized

The Fictional Representation that will be the focus of this post is a relatively new series that is just over a year old. The series is “Chicago PD” and follows an elite division (known as Intelligence” of the 21st District of the Chicago Police Department. The Intelligence unit is headed by Det. Sgt. Hank Voight. During the beginning of the series, Sgt. Voight was under investigation for being dirty, suspected of running drugs and laundering money, he was arrested and prisoned. Sgt. Voight is a very powerful cop, with many connections with both the police and the criminals and as such, managed to get released from prison and was then promoted to Det. Sgt. and became in charge of the intelligence unit. Sgt. Voight and his team, comprised of close friends, have a very unconventional way of dealing with criminals. The team has the same mentality as Dirty Harry did. They will go to extreme lengths to ensure that justice is served to the victims. For example, the Intelligence unit has a garage with a cage in it, and this is where they put unwilling informants, suspects and criminals. Sometimes they are left in there for hours before being tortured to get information. Occasionally, Sgt. Voight and his long time partner Det. Olinsky have gone to extreme lengths of murdering someone who has harmed their family, or they can not prove to be guilty, and then dumped the body in the river with weights tied to them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3wDZBewkf4

While the job gets done and the unit gets impressive results, the vast majority of their activities stay in-house (in unit), and sometimes are unauthorized activities. The central idea behind having officers who are so driven for justice regardless of the price is the fact that there are always innocent individuals who are affected by the actions of others. This idea of the cop who will do anything to ensure a good end, even though it involves bad means, has been around in reality since the inception of police. However this is becoming less so due to the increased visibility of policing. When all things are considered and the bottom line is drawn, are these police officers any better than the criminals that they hunt down? In Chicago PD, this seems to be the case where Intelligence is the elite division and is the unit to get into because of the nature of the work – plainclothes, action packed, high level criminals.

This type of work environment would absolutely put an increased level of stress on the officers. This high level of stress may be a contributing factor to the decision to deviate from the accepted means of policing. This is exactly why you seen a higher tendency for corruption in specialized units like narcotics and gangs and guns. Concepts of Grass-eaters, Meat-eaters and birds stem from this as well. Chicago PD has a small underlay of this because throughout the series, it is evident that Sgt. Voight is involved in some form of corruption as he has a safe with a large stash of cash and the plot hasn’t (yet) revealed where the source of it is from. While all of this is going on in the show, the intelligence unit is being crowned as “The Unit to get into” and seem like everything that they do is legitimate.

Representations of the police being deviant on TV and in movies places a negative stigma on the police in reality who are doing their job professionally. unfortunately, there are people who believe what they see on TV to be how real world policing is, when in fact, it is usually quite the opposite.

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    It is interesting to see a post on ‘Chicago PD’, given the recent Guardian articles about abuses perpetrated by the Chicago PD: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/26/police-black-site-chicago-washington-politicians-human-rights .

    You note that “The Intelligence unit has a garage with a cage in it, and this is where they put unwilling informants, suspects and criminals”.

    This is precisely the sort of activity that the The Guardian investigation uncovered in relation to the real Chicago PD: “The Guardian reported on Tuesday that police in Chicago detain suspects at Homan Square without booking them, thereby preventing their relatives and lawyers from knowing their whereabouts, reminiscent in the eyes of some lawyers and civil-rights activists of a CIA black site.”

    The idea of the Chicago PD engaging in unlawful treatment of prisoners is nothing new – Former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge recently completed a 4 1/2 year custodial sentence for lying under oath about the torture of persons in police custody: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-jon-burge-police-torture-released-20150213-story.html

    I think that you have presented a good analysis here, but your concluding paragraph may warrant some re-thinking. You finish with “Unfortunately, there are people who believe what they see on TV to be how real world policing is, when in fact, it is usually quite the opposite.”. I agree that fictional representations of policing over-emphasize corruption (especially noble cause corruption) for dramatic effect – however, the Chicago PD has a long (and ongoing) history of documented abuse and corruption. The lines between fiction and reality seem to be more blurred that you are suggesting in this case.