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The rise and fall of Officer Friendly: the mean streets of criminal blues

John Bell

September 2, 2014

In the wake of the execution of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, it has become clear that the myth of Officer Friendly is dead.
The “Our Cops Are Tops” stereotype has been painstakingly constructed in popular culture. In a 1958 magazine cover illustration entitled The Runaway, Norman Rockwell depicted a young boy running away from home seated beside a friendly policeman in a diner. Now, contemporary artist Anthony Freda has re-imagined the scene in the era of police militarization.
Police fiction
A mind-boggling number of hours of television time have been devoted to police shows. A few are great. Some are well written and acted. Most endlessly recycle clichés and stereotypes. All but a few reinforce the idea that the cop–even the “troubled” cop–is there to serve and protect good people. For your entertainment and elucidation I’ve sifted through TV history to present this cornucopia of cop corn:
Police Story.
Adam 12. 21 Jump Street. Reno 911. Car 54 Where Are You? Brooklyn 99. Hawaii 5-0.
Barney Miller. Dragnet. Fish. CHiPs.
America’s Most Wanted. COPS. Disorderly Conduct: Video on Patrol. The First 48. Hot Pursuit.
NYPD. New York Undercover. Brooklyn South. Due South. Southland. The Chicago Code. Memphis Beat. Miami Vice. Walker, Texas Ranger. Las Vegas. Vega$. The Streets of San Francisco. LA Heat. Hawaii.
The FBI. JAG. SWAT. NCIS. CSI (Vegas, Miami and New York).
Crime and Punishment. Crime Story. Criminal Minds. Cold Case. Cold Squad. Major Crimes. Murder One. Most Wanted.
Alien Nation. Almost Human. Robocop.
Foyle’s War. Sgt. Preston of the Mounties. Murdock Mysteries. Hec Ramsey. Midsomer Murders. Jigsaw. Kidnapped. The Killing.
Starsky and Hutch. Dalziel and Pascoe. Tenspeed and Brown Shoe. MacGruder and Loud. McMillan and Wife. Hardcastle and McCormick. Rizzoli and Isles. Cagney and Lacey. Jake and the Fatman.
The Commish. The Shield. The Third Watch. The Rookies. Rookie Blue. The Blue Knight. Blue Bloods. Blue Murder. True Blue. Pacific Blue. NYPD Blue. Hill Street Blues.
Body of Proof. Police Surgeon. Quincy M.E. Bones. Numb3rs. Lie to Me. Psych. The Mentalist. The Closer. The Listener. The Profiler. Cracker. Cracked. Dexter. Silk Stalkings. Unforgettable.
Sledge Hammer! Police Academy. Police Squad. Police Woman. T J Hooker. Baretta. Taggart. Wallander. Madigan. McCloud. Hunter. Cannon. Columbo. Kojack.
Ironsides. Longstreet. Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye.
Highway Patrol. Street Justice. Homicide: Life on the Street. The Strip. The Naked City. The Wire. Between the Lines. The Border. Border Security.
Wiseguy. Inspector Morse. True Detective. The Detectives. The District. The Untouchables. O’Hara, US Treasury. The Mod Squad.
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Law and order: Trial by Jury. Law and Order: LA.
Law and Order. Justified.
Police reality
Justified no more. We now live in a time when almost everyone has the capacity to record their interactions with the police, and share them with the rest of us. We can chart the demise of Officer Friendly to the videotaped beating of Rodney King back in 1991. Then the image of five LA cops abusing the unresisting King was novel, and provoked the same sorts of protests that Michael Brown’s killing has produced.
Now such homemade revelations are common. In late August a Boston man posted to twitter a photo of a Massachusetts State Police cruiser with a bumper sticker that read “Racial Profiling Saves Lives.” At first the state police accused the man of photoshopping the racist bumper sticker onto the car. Later officials admitted that the cop had removed the sticker from his car when he was informed about the twitter post. They insist that vandals placed the sticker there.
The racial profiling of St. Paul Minnesota resident Chris Lollie only resulted in the father of two, waiting in a public concourse until time to pick up his kids from school, being accosted by cops. When Lollie, who is black, politely asserted his civil rights and refused to produce identification, he was tased and arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice. Luckily for him, he filmed most of the incident with his cell phone camera, which was confiscated by police and held as “evidence” for six months until after the charges were dropped in court. Only then did Lollie upload the video to YouTube.
Through amateur video and social media, the Officer Friendly is exposed as racist, brutal and at best indifferent to the rights of average people.
Anyone who has ever attended even the most peaceful and lawful protest rally can attest to the over-the-top police presence. Big events like the 2010 G8 protest in Toronto reveal the police in full military regalia, result in the suspension of civil rights, and equate all protest with terrorism.
Long after the beating and illegal detention of peaceful protesters, after the “kettling” and agent provocateurs have been exposed, there is tut-tutting about excessive police violence, but no real accountability. Police forces from Toronto to Ferguson just invest in more military hardware and get ready to squash the next groundswell of public indignation and anger.
One clear video of racist, militarized policing wipes away hundreds of hours of Officer Friendly fiction. Communities targeted for racial profiling have always known the truth, but now they can share that truth with the rest of us, winning solidarity and support.
We still have the right to record the deeds of police. As our society becomes increasingly unequal the cops charged with perpetuating the inequality can only become more brutal and unjust. Real video, not carefully sanitized “reality” shows like COPS, is the final nail in Officer Friendly’s coffin.

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