Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Policing Represented by Media

Posted: February 28, 2015 by SalH in Uncategorized
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Police Deviance in Popular culture


Fictional representations of policing through Television (TV) programs and movies often portray police officers in an unrealistic manner. Unfortunately, many people (including myself) receive their information and knowledge about police through mass media (Reiner, 2010). This can be a cause for concern, as what is shown on TV or films, in regards to policing and police deviance are generally glamorized, or overly exemplified. The media’s image of policing does not depart from actual policing, but cannot be considered a mirror reflection either (Reiner, 2012).

Many police programs demonstrate rule- bending as an essential part of effective policing (Surette, 2007, as cited in Dirikx, Van den Bulck & Parmentier, 2012). The TV series “19-2” centers on two beat cops of the Montreal Police Department, Nick Barron played by Adrian Holmes and Ben Chartier played by Jared Keeso. This TV series provides many instances when police deviance and police misconduct occur and is normalized or not spoken of. Nick, a veteran cop gets partnered with a new transfer from a rural Quebec town (Ben) and from the very beginning Ben is introduced to the police culture at his new department. The police culture as Loftus, (2010) states are norms and values that shape officers everyday decisions and practices. We see many occasions where the actions of police officers are a result of the police culture. For example, every rookie must have an initiation and this series does not deviate from that cultural norm. Ben gets invited to the tavern which is the police pub and is offered his first drink (for free of course), and he takes it. While watching this I thought why he wouldn’t take the drink, had he refused he would have looked a fool.

The police culture is such that had Ben not taken the drink he would have been called on it, and would be considered more of an outsider than he already is. Within the first thirty minutes we see the sergeant tell Nick –who is irritated for being paired with a rookie – the “Commander shits on me, I shit on you…and you’ll have to go shit on the new guy” (Grou, 2014). The Sergeant then goes on to tell him that it’s just the way things work. This further elucidates the police culture in their precinct. Towards the end of the episode the Commanding Officer calls Ben into his office and instructs him to “cooperate” and give him cause to get his partner (Nick) fired. The Commander ends with “I think we have an understanding” (Grou, 2014). Ben was left with no choice as his patrol duty would be compromised and he would be given administrative work. However, when it came time to “rat out” on Nick –and there were many things Ben could have said, as Nick strays from the book –Ben refused to say anything responding with “he is my partner, there is a code” (Grou, 2014). The code Ben is implying would be what is referred to as the “Blue code of Silence”. This code is a key element in the police culture, as officers refrain from speaking about other officers and will lie to benefit their fellow officers. Accepting the code of silence and solidarity allows you to belong.19-2 (1) Ben did not deviate from the police culture norms as he kept his partner from getting fired, and as a result was given a desk job. During the second episode Ben catches one of the officers drinking on the job, and you can see the pained look on his face as he is struggling to uphold the blue wall, while also longing to say something. Ben has done this quite a few times already, where either he turns a blind eye or lies to save his partner, and this could lead to deviance is his career. He may be disturbed by what he is doing, however continuing to do so he will eventually become habituated (Punch, 2010).

As Punch, (2010) indicates there are many types of police officers and Nick portrays the “Dirty Harry”. He uses tough methods that are somewhat deviant which he deems appropriate to result in an arrest. He would use more violence when dealing with the public to get information, and it usually results in him finding the actual suspect. He would then explain to Ben that this is how it is done. Nick would rather deviate and get the job done doing whatever it took rather than let a criminal walk free. Ben on the other hand is what Punch, (2010) refers to as a “Professional”. He would not allow for procedure to be unlawfully enacted, and he works by the book. He considers his job very important, and relies on good, honest policing. Many other types of officers are also illustrated in the TV series. We see “crusaders” these officers are usually on the hunt for criminals and are obsessed with crime fighting; there are other officers who would be classified as Dirty Harrys’ as well. Lastly we also see a “Cowboy”. This officer is usually highly aggressive and would have issues with authority. The officer in the show picks on Ben and insults him through “jokes”. Punch, (2010) also discusses three levels of deviance, and many of the officers would also be classified as Grass eaters. Grass Eaters typically don’t look for trouble, or ways to deviate, but if something comes there way they are open to accept. For example, the officers all accept free meals and drink at their police pub. The officers accept the drinks, otherwise they would be considered deviant had they chosen not to participate.

Throughout the episode we see many forms of deviance and how it is either thought to be normal, or you turn a blind eye. In this series we also get to see what Van Maanen, (2005) refers to as “the asshole”. maxresdefaultVan Maanen, (2005) classifies citizens three ways: suspicious persons, know nothings and the asshole. The officers encounter daily interactions with the asshole. These people have no respect for them nor do they care for what they stand for. As a result, Nick may use excessive force towards these people and possibly jeopardize his career. They also encounter the know nothings, who nod their heads, and make their way, and the suspicious persons (mostly the troubled teenagers). Nick is able to justify his actions towards these people, because they are assholes. The lack of respect can allow an officer to perform “street justice” and rough up the individual they are dealing with (Van Maanen, 2005).

The representation of deviance in this police series is seen as normal, and will continue to be the norm, unless someone challenges it. However, it seems quite unlikely anyone will. Most of the officers are comfortable with the way things are and will not be susceptible to change. This media representation of the police department wasn’t as bad as many of the other police shows I have seen. They usually tend to glamorize and commend acts of violence to get the job done. 19-2 was raw and real, but of course being a TV series there will be many depictions of the police that are incorrect. The image this TV series provides is that police are generally accepted in the society and the public do respect them. Being a televised show they add a lot more high speed chases and crime fighting scenes than normal, and that contributes to a wrong view of what policing actually is. It makes the job seem like an action packed video game, when in reality most of policing isn’t fighting crime, but dealing with average problems that occur to citizens. It is important to note that while watching TV shows and movies about policing the media tend to over exaggerate and dramatize the whole thing. If we continue to receive our knowledge of policing through these fictional representations of action packed, crime fighting heroes, then everyone will want to be a cop. That being said policing is a dangerous job and they do portray the danger (just in a more glamorous way of course!)

19-2_Ep 6.23_Day 44_053.YanTurcotte.jpeg


Dirikx, A., Van den Bulck, J., & Parmentier, S. (2012). The Police as Societal Moral Agents:   “Procedural Justice” and the Analysis of Police Fiction. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media56(1), 38-54.                       doi:10.1080/08838151.2011.651187

Grou, D (Director). (2014). 19-2 [Television series]. New York City: Bravo.

Loftus, B. (2010). Police occupational culture: classic themes, altered times. Policing and Society, 20(1), 1–20. doi:10.1080/10439460903281547

Punch, M. (2009). What is Corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (pp. 18-52). Portland: Willan Pub. [Coursepack]

Reiner, R. (2010). Mystifying the Police: The Media Presentation of Policing. In R. Reiner, The Politics of the police (Fourth, pp. 177-202). London: Oxford University Press

Van Maanen, J. (2005). The Asshole. In T. Newburn (Ed.), Policing: Key Readings (pp.280-296) Portland: Willan Pub [Coursepack]

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    I’m really pleased to see some discussion of culture and the moral dilemmas associated with professional socialization here. Good work! The journey from rookie, through a process of initiation and inclusion, to insider, is an important aspect of research on police deviance, and it is also a central theme in fictional representations of policing.

    The use of Punch’s typologies to compare and contrast the characters Ben and Nick is effective. You note that Ben, who engages in noble cause corruption, often follows up by explaining his actions to Nick. This actually parallels some of the findings of police culture research – particularly the work of Ericson and Shearing, who study the importance of storytelling in the transmission of culture. See me if you want a copy of their article.

    What, in your opinion, attracts an audience to fictionalized representations of police deviance? We must acknowledge that police are one of the most popular types of characters in TV dramas. There seems to be an endless appetite for new variations on old themes (for example, the Dirty Harry problem). How can we explain this fascination?

  2. SalH says:

    In regards to your question, I believe viewers are attracted to TV series about police officers because they enjoy them. There have been countless shows producing the same themes, same story lines, and same crimes but with new faces and actors. We’ve watched so many and have been consumed with the dramatization of these shows that we are compelled to continue watching. Since the demand is so high producers supply us with more, and as viewers we welcome them with open arms.

    Once viewers finish watching an entire season (sometimes in a span of one day) we crave more as we are pleased with what we watched and therefore demand more shows, or a renew for the next season. I don’t think it matters that the content we are watching is the same as the previous shows, as its a new show and we found that we enjoyed watching it then, we will enjoy it now.

    Also, when watching fictional representations of policing many people dont know policing as anything other than, and use it as a means of knowledge about policing (Reinier, 2010). I think viewers assume what is presented on their TV screens in regards to policing is accurate. Take myself for example, growing up not knowing any better I watched TV shows such as Criminal minds and CSI, I had thought this is what it was like. I saw it as an exciting and fascinating line of work, (not that it inst) however I was misguided by their glamorized depictions.

    I had liked watching as I got to see the “hero cop” maintain justice even though he had to break the rules. That was the exciting part, I, and I’m sure many viewers are on the edge of their seats when watching an officer break the law to uphold the law! I think this is what draws our attention, we are overly enthusiastic when it comes to deviance, that TV shows about police deviance generates a lot of interest resulting in multiple police TV series.

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