Chicago PD: Seasons 1 & 2
This weekly television show follows the Intelligence Unit of the Chicago Police Department, which deals with major crimes like drug trafficking and high-profile murders. Sgt. Hank Voight — a tough boss who doesn’t mind bending the rules a little in the pursuit of justice — heads the unit’s elite team. Sergeant Voight’s motto is “We don’t ask for permission, we ask for forgiveness”.
Sergeant Voight is a classic “Noble Causer” as defined by Punch (2009). He is committed to the ends of policing, he believes in his role as a crime stopper. He is so committed to the end means of policing, that he is willing to employ deviant methods to achieve those ends. My irritation is not about the Noble Cause tendencies of Sergeant Voight, it is of the fact that at the end of every episode he is praised for his “good work”. He is not doing good work in my opinion. He is reinforcing the notion that police are “above the law”, and need not obey policies and laws as long as they apprehend someone at the end of the day. Furthermore, Voight is the supervisor of all of the other police men and women on this show, and he encourages them to take whatever measures are necessary in order to apprehend and charge any offender. The core values of a policing agency are completely ignored by this unit: fairness, trustworthiness and professionalism are not evident in any area of this television depiction of a police organization.
Voight is constantly under investigation from Internal Affairs (IA), but always manages to avoid sanctions because of the “results” he produces. Naturally, Voight always defends his officers when they are investigated by IA as well, calling them “good police” too many times to count throughout the season. Voight is glorifying the term “good police” as an officer who solves cases and apprehends dangerous individuals. What he does not address is the psychological harming intimidation tactics, as well the constant use of unnecessary physical force that these “good police” use. There is no line nor distinction between corrupt and uncorrupt in this show, because all of the officers exhibit corrupt behaviour that is ultimately praised.
A common underlying theme conveyed through media representations of police wrongdoing center on the understanding that deviance and “bending the rules” is acceptable as long as criminals are caught and locked up. As a Criminology student, I despise this rationalization. I firmly believe in the due process model. An individual is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law, and it is not the police department’s job to take on a “judge and jury” role. I become weary of the fact that millions of individuals exposure to policing rests on weekly television shows such as Chicago PD. If this is the education that society is receiving about policing, how is the public expected to hold any police organizations accountable any of their actions besides apprehending “criminals”?
Although I recognize that fiction is not always trying to represent reality, I believe Chicago PD is attempting to recreate incidents and relationships within a police precinct. Naturally, the paperwork portion of an officer’s job would not make for thrilling television. So the realistically infrequent cases of kidnappings, million dollar drug busts, and serial killing are incorporated into every weekly episode.
Because this television show is depicted as a “typical” police organization, public perceptions about the deviant practices police as well as their abuse of authority become normalized. This should be worrisome, as these characteristics have potential for run-off into the real world policing which is not only possible, but also admired.
IMBD. Chicago PD. Retrieved at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2805096/?ref_=nv_sr_2
Punch, M. (2009). What is corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (pp. 18-52). Portland: Willian Publishing.