Police Deviance and Accountability: Gotham

Posted: February 28, 2015 by zorasandhu in Uncategorized

Popular television shows can tell us a lot about police deviance. The television series I would like to discuss is CTV’s new popular show called Gotham. Gotham is interesting when exploring the world of police deviance because of their corrupt police department. The show has reoccurring themes of corruption from criminal syndicates and under world activity, to corporate malfeasance and institutional corruption (Wosner, 2015). Gotham is the city that batman protects. Gotham is about a good detective with strong morals working in a city riddled with corruption. Jim Gordon the honorable detective who is new on the job tries to make it his goal to heal the city. However, what he doesn’t realize is the system is broken from the inside with corrupt cops and politicians. The show has many interesting characters such as the unusual cop Harvey Bullock, who happens to be the partner of Jim Gordon. Harvey is involved with the notorious mob boss Don Falcone, and directly affiliated with his right hand girl Fish Mooney.

Gotham is an interesting show to evaluate when it comes to police deviance. The definition of deviance is straying away from organizational norms and this series depicts both extremes of police deviance (Collins, 2003). Harvey Bullock and the rest of the Gotham police department are negatively deviant in the sense that they turn a blind eye to corruption or partake in illegal activity. These police can be described by the term meat-eaters. This term is used to describe police that use their power of authority for personal benefit (Larsen, 2009). These are the types of officers who would compromise a homicide investigation for money (Larsen, 2009). Detective Jim Gordon on the other hand is on the other end of the spectrum, where he strays away from the departmental norms of corruption and rises above it. Many times throughout the series his job is threatened because he uses unconventional policing methods in the sense he uses his position to do good. Gordon can be described almost as a “crusader”. Crusaders are personally invested in the war on crime. Later in the show Harvey bullock picks up some of Jim’s habits in that he moves away from corruption to pursue more honorable policing methods. Gotham is a city that is literally sick, where criminals are untouchable and government does nothing to change it. Gotham is city like many urban cities found around Canada and the U.S. today with many of the same problems of deviant activity.

Gotham’s police are corrupt from every aspect ranging from police misconduct, to police corruption and they even go as far as predatory policing. Predatory policing is he worst out of the three types of police misconduct, it is when police proactively engage in extorting money from the public or from criminals by providing protection and other services to them (Larsen, 2009). The police deviance displayed by Gotham city’s police department can be displayed as meat-eaters which incorporates the idea that they are proactive carnivores constantly seeking opportunities to benefit from police power (Larsen, 2009).

Deviance is an action that violates generally accepted norms in society. Police deviancy is a goldmine for Hollywood because it sets the stage for scripts that reflect situations that can be related to real life. The most commonly portrayed deviant cop is the dirty harry otherwise known as, the noble crusader. Dirty harry officers do anything to get their man, they will use unorthodox and sometimes deviant methods to do so ( Larsen, 2009). Dirty harry police justify their actions by the result of the outcome (Larsen, 2009). They depict a deviant character, the “bad cop” with likeable traits and make him seem misunderstood (Gustafson, 2015). The cop has complete disregard for rules and norms of the department.

In Gotham the police are affiliated with two major mob bosses, Don Falcone and Salvatore Maroni and the officers have to honor the rules of the gang opposed to what is right. These themes are fantasized but not unbelievable and that’s what makes them so interesting. Gotham is the perfect TV show when imagining deviance in all aspects of society; it is a broken city with broken citizens who are lost. The police have given up on them and the city. Jim Gordon is a great character to look at when it comes to deviance. He is an excellent example of how deviance is not always a bad thing and that changing norms can sometimes be beneficial. Some norms that have been changing in everyday policing are things such as racism and sexism. Today racism and sexism are not culturally accepted in most societies in the western hemisphere. Another character who is fascinating to look at is Harvey Bullock, who is a rude, arrogant, set in his way police officer. He is a bad cop, but is so do to circumstance and the conditions of the city. Over the years he has been molded to accept corruption as the way things are and not question it. Gotham has a dysfunctional social environment that provides excellent opportunity to examine the social theory of deviancy (Wosner, 2015).

There are two types of cop films; there is the corrupt cop movie and a vigilante cop film. Vigilant police films disregard procedural safeguards and rules of conventional police work to catch their perpetrator, usually with violence. Corrupt cop movies are when the hero of the movie goes after corrupt police to take down the broken system (Gustafson, 2015). Gotham incorporates both of these aspects when looking at Jim Gordon and the Gotham PD. But what makes these films so appealing to the public that we continue producing them?

I believe we talk about police and produce active media about police deviance because it is interesting. Police are put on this pedestal to be better than the rest of society with their morality and integrity, and it is fascinating to imagine them being deceitful and dishonest. It is exciting seeing police do anything they can to get the bad guy, even if it means bending the rules. Police deviance on film is also interesting because it is not far fetched to imagine it being true (Wosner, 2015). Recently on the news and in the media there has been a lot of tension with public opinion about the police regarding misconduct and corruption. The case of Robert Dzienkaski is a great example of police not following protocol when dealing with the public.

Police wrongdoing in the media can be portrayed in the media in two different ways, either good or bad. Films show police deviance as being a necessary lesser of two evils to catch the bad guy. In this scenario police deviance is exciting and accepted by the viewers as just. However Hollywood can put a negative spin on police corruption. In Gotham for example the corruption makes the department look broken. The reoccurring theme in negative movies is the hero of the movie tries to fix a broken system by going after the bad cops. Another reoccurring theme is redemption through personal sacrifice (Gustafson, 2015). In many corrupt cop films, an initially questionable character shows qualities of reform and redemption, a corrupt cop turned hero (Gustafson 2015).

There is fine line between fiction and reality when looking at police deviance in films. Cinema shows realistic portrayals of what can happen in everyday policing and some of the struggles that may arise, such as temptation for example. Deviance exists within every profession but is most important in policing. Police are held to a higher standard. They are the protectors of society and must hold to their rules of morality and integrity. If the police do not follow the rules that they are required to enforce, the system will become broken in the eyes of an outsider.

Police deviance occurs when officers violate their legal authority or standard of ethical conduct. Movies depict a wide range of these ethical and legal mistakes by incorporating themes such as discrimination, corruption, excessive force, and intimidation. Gotham is an excellent film when assessing police deviance in popular culture. Jim Gordon is a crusader; he is obsessed with fighting crime and is personally invested in the war on crime (Larsen, 2009). The rest of the Gotham PD are the worst of the worst. They are proactively involved in corruption and have complete disregard for departmental rules. Police deviance is alluring to viewers because it is something that is not so far fetched. It is exciting to see officers break the rules because the police are meant to honorable. Police deviance and accountability will forever flourish in popular culture because deviance portrays a world that runs against the grain of conventional society (Wosner, 2015) . It takes us to a place where our imagination is tested and makes us think about how the police operate in the real world.


Collins (2003). Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved February 21, 2015 from http://www.thefreedictiornary.com


Gustafason, J. (2015) A Descriptive Analysis of Police Corruption in Film. Retrieved February21, 2015 from


Larsen, M. Kwantlen Polytechnic University. / Sources: Punch, M. (2009). What is Corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (pp. 18–52). Portland: Willan Pub. / Roebuck, J.B. and T. Barker. (1974). A Typology of Police Corruption. Social Problems 21(3): 423-437.

Wosner, R. (2015) The Caped Crusader:What Batman Films Tell Us About Crime and Deviance. Retrieved February 20, 2015 from

http://www3.canyons.edu/faculty/wonserr/Deviance/Wonser and Boyns – The Caped Crusader Final.pdf

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    Well, you have convinced me – I should definitely check this program out. It seems to be an important recent addition to the ‘police deviance’ genre.

    One point of clarification – ‘meat-eating’, as a form of police deviance, involves proactive efforts to identify opportunities for graft and corruption. This is distinct from ‘turning a blind eye’ to corruption, though these things may overlap.

    You note that “There are two types of cop films; there is the corrupt cop movie and a vigilante cop film.”. Reiner (2010) develops a much more varied typology of ‘cop films’, incorporating procedurals, detective stories, and other sub-genres, in addition to the ‘corrupt cop’ and ‘vigilante cop’ genres you mention. I would recommend checking out his book ‘The Politics of the Police’.

    Question for you: You note that deviance can be portrayed as either good or bad, and that we see examples of both in Gotham. Is your – and our – ability to clearly distinguish between these two categories in Gotham a product of the ‘omniscient’ viewer perspective? The viewer does not see the world through the eyes of any one character, and our ability to see the plots and motivations of various groups helps us to place them into neat categories. Gordon’s ‘crusading’, for example, is unambiguously moral because we, as viewers, know that he is indeed pursuing the ‘bad guys’ (and we can see, independent of Gordon, how bad they are). Would a shift in perspective – away from the omniscient viewer and into the limited perspective of a given character – make the lines between good and bad become more ambiguous?