Cops (TV program)

Cops is an American half-hour documentary reality crime/legal television program that premiered on the Fox network on March 11, 1989. The series follows city police officers and county sheriff's deputies, sometimes backed up by state troopers or other state agencies, during patrols and other police activities including but not limited to prostitution and narcotics stings. Some episodes have also featured federal agencies. The show assigns television camera crews to accompany them as they perform their duties. Its formula follows the cinéma vérité convention, which does not consist of any narration or scripted dialog, depending entirely on the commentary of the officers and on the actions of the people with whom they come into contact. Each episode typically consists of three self-contained segments which often end with an arrest.

Created byJohn Langley
Malcolm Barbour
Narrated byHarry Newman
Opening theme"Bad Boys" by Inner Circle
Composer(s)Michael Lewis (pilot)
Nathan Wang (season one)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons32
No. of episodes1,086[1][2] (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)John Langley
Malcolm Barbour (1989–94)
Producer(s)Andy Thomas (1989)
Paul Stojanovich (1989–90)
Bertram van Munster
Murray Jordan
Jimmy Langley
Morgan Langley
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Barbour/Langley Productions
Fox Television Stations Productions
Langley Productions
John Langley Productions (2019-present)
Spike Original Productions
Paramount Network Original Productions
Distributor20th Television
Viacom Media Networks
Original networkFox (1989–2013)
Spike (2013–17)[3]
Paramount Network (2018–present)
Picture format480i (SDTV) (1989–2007),
720p (HDTV) (2007–13),
1080i (HDTV) (2013–present)
Audio formatMono (1989–90)
Stereo (1990–present, Spanish dubbing available on SAP for post-2000 episodes)
Original releaseMarch 11, 1989 
External links

It is one of the longest-running television programs in the United States and, in May 2011, became the longest-running show on Fox, when it was announced that America's Most Wanted was being canceled after 23 years (that show's host, John Walsh also appeared many times on Cops).[4][5] In 2013, the program moved to Spike TV, now known as Paramount Network.[6] The 32nd season premiered on June 3, 2019.[7]


Cops was created by John Langley and Malcolm Barbour, who tried unsuccessfully for several years, to get a network to carry the program. When a television writers' strike paralyzed the networks in the late 1980s, and forced them to find other kinds of programming, the young Fox Television network picked up the low-cost Cops program (which had no union writers).[6][8]

The program premiered on Fox on March 11, 1989.[6][9] When the show went primetime in 1991, and consisted of two episodes in the 8 p.m. hour, it was called Primetime Cops in promos for several years. The program was one of only two remaining first-run prime-time programs airing on Saturday nights on the four major U.S. broadcast television networks (along with CBS's 48 Hours Mystery). Malcolm Barbour retired from producing Cops in 1994.

For the first 25 seasons, Cops was broadcast by Fox with reruns of earlier seasons syndicated by local television stations and cable networks, including truTV and the now defunct G4.[10] After Fox canceled the show in May 2013, Spike picked it up[6] for additional five seasons, in addition to reruns of previous seasons.[3] The 30th season premiered on June 17, 2017.[11]

On August 21, 2017, Cops celebrated its 1,000th episode with a live special called Cops: Beyond the Bust, hosted by Terry Crews (who plays a police sergeant in the sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine), which included historical clips from the run of the program as well as reunions of officers and the suspects that they arrested.[2] The date of the 1,000th episode also marked a shift of episode premieres from Saturdays to Mondays.[12]

The show has followed officers in 140 different cities in the United States, Hong Kong, London, and the Soviet Union.[13]


Cops was created by John Langley and his producing partner Malcolm Barbour. In 1983, Langley was working on Cocaine Blues, a television series about drugs. As part of his research he went on a drug raid with drug enforcement officers and was inspired to create a show focusing on real-life law enforcement. Before that, there had been only a few instances of cinéma vérité productions documenting the work of police officers, such as Roger Graef's Police in 1982.[14]

In the late 1980s, after producing the live syndicated specials American Vice: The Doping of a Nation, Murder: Live From Death Row, and Devil's Worship: Exposing Satan's Underground all with Geraldo Rivera, Langley and Barbour pitched the Cops show concept to Stephen Chao, a Fox programming executive who would one day become president of the Fox Television Stations Group and later USA Network. Chao liked the concept and pitched it to Barry Diller, then CEO of the Fox Network. Malcolm Barbour retired from producing Cops in 1994.

A Writers Guild of America strike was occurring at the time and the network needed new material. An unscripted show that did not require writers was ideal for Fox. The first season aired in 1989, and consisted of 15 episodes, and featured the Broward County, Florida Sheriff's Office. Since then, it has often been one of the highest-rated reality-TV programs, in part due to its low production cost (estimated at $200 thousand USD per episode in the early 1990s) and thus its capacity to show new material each week.[14]

The original concept of the show was to follow officers home and tape their home lives along with their work. After a while the idea of following officers home was deemed too artificial by Langley and was abandoned. Thereafter, the format of three self-contained segments that does not consist of any narration, music, and scripts, which would become the show's formula.

Since the third episode of Season 2, every episode ends with a police radio excerpt referencing the intersection of SE 132nd St. and SE Bush St. in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.[15] A female officer says, "132 and Bush, I've got him at gunpoint", and a female dispatcher replies, "132 and Bush. Cover's Code 3." Another woman says, "Units 25, 14 can transmit on Tac 2," and the dispatcher replies, "Okay, we'll still send it Code 3." Then an instrumental version of "Bad Boys" plays over the credits.[16] On the first season of Cops, instead of "132 and Bush, I've got him at gunpoint", it was a police radio excerpt from the Broward County, Florida Sheriff's Office. In the first two episodes of the second season, a different police radio excerpt from the Portland Bureau of Police was used.

Cops aired on Fox's traditional Saturday-night lineup since its debut in 1989. As of 2012, the program retained its traditional timeslot, but aired more intermittently as Fox Sports scheduled more sports programming in Saturday-night primetime, with NASCAR in the late winter and spring, Major League Baseball throughout the spring and summer, college football in the fall, and various UFC events throughout the year. Cops was then scheduled on weeks without any sporting events, followed by an encore presentation of a Fox drama series.

In 2013, it was announced that Fox had canceled the program. However, it was later announced that Spike TV had picked up the program for another season.[17][18] In August 2017, Spike moved the show's time slot to Monday.

Camera crew involvement

In one episode, the sound mixer for the camera crew, a former EMT, assisted a police officer in performing CPR.

In an episode in Season 11 that took place in 1998 in Atlanta, Georgia, camera operator Si Davis, who was coincidentally a Las Vegas Reserve Police Officer, dropped the camera and assisted an Atlanta police officer in wrestling a suspect into custody. It turned out that the APD officer had been severely injured during a foot pursuit; meanwhile, sound mixer Steve Kiger picked up the camera and continued recording the action, which eventually made the air.

In another episode, a rape suspect fled and outran officers, only to have the cameraman follow him the entire time, until police caught up to the suspect and subdued him. (Season 10, Episode 19)

In an episode of Season 14 (2001–2002), during the arrest of a man after a car chase in Hillsborough County, Florida, the sound mixer held the sister of the man away from the deputy after she tried to intervene in the arrest of her brother.

During the first episode of season 22, which aired on September 12, 2009 (season 22 premiere), an officer with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was scuffling with a suspect high on PCP, who eventually tackled the officer. The camera operator and Las Vegas Fire Department firefighter/paramedics wrestled the suspect off of the officer.

In an episode of season 26 which aired on February 1, 2014, during the arrest of a man in Sacramento, California, for battery on his girlfriend, one of the camera crew pulled one of the suspect's pit bulls away from one of the arresting officers. The dog was biting the officer on the leg after being commanded to do so by the suspect.

During recording of an episode in Season 27, the camera crew assisted in detaining the passenger of a vehicle whose operator had fled on foot from officers in Lafayette, Louisiana. As police chased the driver, the camera crew secured the vehicle by giving directions to the passenger; at one point, the camera operator can be seen gesturing to the passenger to place the latter's hands on the dashboard. The driver successfully evaded police and a warrant was issued for his arrest.[19]

2014 Wendy's shooting incident

On August 26, 2014, at roughly 9:20 p.m., a Cops crew was recording in Omaha, Nebraska, with the Omaha Police Department, during their final week working in Omaha since arriving in June. A police officer pulled up to a Wendy's restaurant during an armed robbery and called for backup. One of the other responding officers had a Cops crew (consisting of an unnamed cameraman and audio technician Bryce Dion) present in their cruiser. The crew began recording the robbery inside Wendy's.[20][21]

Following the shootout, the robber was hit several times by police fire and Cops audio technician Bryce Dion was hit once by police fire; both were transported to the hospital where Dion was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.[22][23][24]

The 38-year-old Dion had worked on Cops for seven years. Langley Productions stated that in 25 years of video recording, this was the first incident in which any crew member had been seriously injured or killed.[21] A Cops crew working in Springfield, Missouri, also wrapped following the Omaha incident.[25] In Dion's honor, the show aired an hour-long "best of" episode featuring his work on its September 20, 2014 episode.[26]

The events [27] of the robbery happened quickly, taking only seconds, exemplifying how police have to react and make split-second decisions. Detective Darren Cunningham responded to the call while Officer Brook Riley and Officer Jason Wilhelm were accompanied by the Cops crew. Detective Cunningham, together with Officer Riley, went through the front door and unholstered their firearms, while Officer Wilhelm went to the backside of the restaurant to cover an emergency exit door that only opens from the inside. The officer remained at the door to cover a potential escape. Inside the restaurant two police officers approached the robber, 32-year-old Cortez Washington, who was in the back of the restaurant and had not seen the officers arrive. For unknown reasons, Washington walked to the front counter, where officers identified and instructed him to lie on the floor––but Washington immediately pointed and fired a pistol while moving towards the officers, who returned fire. Detective Cunningham retreated into the hallway towards the restroom and continued firing at Washington, who had now turned the corner and stood where the officers had initiated contact. Officer Riley moved around the column and into the waiting isle at the counter. As Washington passed the uniformed police officer, he aimed his weapon towards the officer and continued firing as he moved towards the front exit. Audio technician Bryce Dion was caught in the ensuing crossfire as the officer fired back at Washington, who stumbled into the parking lot and then collapsed from his injuries and was arrested.

After the scene was secured, it was discovered that Washington's pistol was actually an airsoft handgun which strongly resembled a real Taurus firearm.[28]

The three police officers were placed on paid leave following the shooting and pending the result of the investigation. A grand jury acquitted all three officers.[29]

Washington was placed on parole and had served time in Missouri after pleading guilty and being convicted in 2011 and sentenced to seven years in a Missouri prison as an accessory to second-degree robbery for robbing a Raymore jewelry store. Washington had a lengthy criminal record in Wyandotte County, Kansas. Washington was paroled in September 2013 after only serving two years of his prison sentences and received credit for more than a year in pre-trial custody. Missouri law does not take into account any prison time that a convict served in any other states, including its neighboring state Kansas. This technicality allowed Washington to be eligible for parole while only serving 15% of his sentence, as his existing criminal record did not weigh into the oversight decision for parole release.[30]

Bryce Dion was struck by a stray bullet that had been fired through a window by an unidentified officer. The bullet had entered under Dion's left arm, where his bullet-proof vest did not cover, entered his left lung and struck his heart. Dion lost consciousness almost instantly. CPR was performed on Dion by officers at the scene, and he was transported to the hospital where he was declared dead. Dion's death certificate states he lived for twenty minutes after being shot.

On the night of August 26, 2014, at around 9 p.m., roughly 20 minutes prior to the Wendy's robbery, Washington's 24-year-old girlfriend, Jeneva Arias, robbed a Little Caesars Pizza restaurant at North Saddle Creek Road and California Street, using the same airsoft pistol that Washington would later use. Washington served as the getaway driver for that robbery.[31] During the Wendy's robbery, the roles were reversed and Arias was Washington's getaway driver, but when she heard the shots being fired she left the vehicle and ran away. Police found a tip jar that Arias stole from Little Caesar's inside the vehicle, as well as personal items belonging to Washington. Arias's fingerprints were on the tip jar, which at the time of the robbery held roughly $3 in change. Arias faced up to 50 years in prison for various charges. While in jail, she committed felony assault by throwing a soap mixture into the face of a health care worker and fractured a jailer's hand. Arias was given a plea bargain, pleaded no contest to reduced charges, and was sentenced to a maximum of six years in jail through concurrent sentencing.[32]

On February 26, 2016, Bryce Dion's brother, Trevor Dion, filed a lawsuit against the City of Omaha, alleging that inadequate communication and coordination between dispatchers and the officers arriving at the scene contributed to Dion's death. The suit also blames the authorities' decision to invite the Cops video crew to go with officers.[33][34]

On April 24, 2018, an unidentified Douglas County District Judge refused the City of Omaha's request to bar the release of the video of the robbery-shooting at Wendy's and ordered the City of Omaha to release all materials related to the death of Bryce Dion, of which only still frames had been previously released.[35]

On April 25, 2018, the video recorded by the Cops camera crew was released. The video was shown in open court and The Omaha World-Herald requested a copy, which it later released.[36]

The wrongful death lawsuit filed against the City of Omaha by Trevor Dion is still ongoing.

Opening sequence

The show's theme song is "Bad Boys", performed by reggae group Inner Circle, which is played over a montage of clips.

All episodes of Cops begin with a disclaimer which was introduced in the third season:

Cops is filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The disclaimer in the first two seasons was slightly different by stating: "COPS is filmed on location as it happens. All suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law." Burt Lancaster provided the following narration on the pilot episode. "Cops is about real people, and real crime. It was filmed entirely on location, with the men and women who work in law enforcement."

During at least the first season, episodes featured original scoring in a vein similar to the instrumental backing of the opening song. Some cues were short, others longer, usually over montages. Among the composers who scored episodes were Michael Lewis and Nathan Wang.


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast airedNetwork
115March 11, 1989 (1989-03-11)June 17, 1989 (1989-06-17)Fox
231September 23, 1989 (1989-09-23)May 5, 1990 (1990-05-05)
342September 15, 1990 (1990-09-15)August 31, 1991 (1991-08-31)
445August 10, 1991 (1991-08-10)December 12, 1992 (1992-12-12)
546August 15, 1992 (1992-08-15)September 4, 1993 (1993-09-04)
646August 7, 1993 (1993-08-07)September 24, 1994 (1994-09-24)
741May 14, 1994 (1994-05-14)July 29, 1995 (1995-07-29)
843July 29, 1995 (1995-07-29)July 13, 1996 (1996-07-13)
936August 31, 1996 (1996-08-31)July 26, 1997 (1997-07-26)
1036September 6, 1997 (1997-09-06)August 1, 1998 (1998-08-01)
1136September 12, 1998 (1998-09-12)September 11, 1999 (1999-09-11)
1236September 18, 1999 (1999-09-18)July 29, 2000 (2000-07-29)
1340May 20, 2000 (2000-05-20)July 7, 2001 (2001-07-07)
1436September 1, 2001 (2001-09-01)September 21, 2002 (2002-09-21)
1536May 4, 2002 (2002-05-04)November 1, 2003 (2003-11-01)
1641April 26, 2003 (2003-04-26)October 2, 2004 (2004-10-02)
1736May 15, 2004 (2004-05-15)August 6, 2005 (2005-08-06)
1836September 10, 2005 (2005-09-10)July 22, 2006 (2006-07-22)
1936September 9, 2006 (2006-09-09)July 28, 2007 (2007-07-28)
2038September 8, 2007 (2007-09-08)August 2, 2008 (2008-08-02)
2136September 7, 2008 (2008-09-07)July 25, 2009 (2009-07-25)
2236September 12, 2009 (2009-09-12)July 31, 2010 (2010-07-31)
2322September 11, 2010 (2010-09-11)June 18, 2011 (2011-06-18)
2422September 10, 2011 (2011-09-10)April 7, 2012 (2012-04-07)
2516December 15, 2012 (2012-12-15)May 4, 2013 (2013-05-04)
2622September 14, 2013 (2013-09-14)March 8, 2014 (2014-03-08)Spike
2733July 12, 2014 (2014-07-12)May 9, 2015 (2015-05-09)
2833June 20, 2015 (2015-06-20)April 30, 2016 (2016-04-30)
2933June 4, 2016 (2016-06-04)April 22, 2017 (2017-04-22)
303322June 17, 2017 (2017-06-17)November 13, 2017 (2017-11-13)
11January 22, 2018 (2018-01-22)May 21, 2018 (2018-05-21)Paramount Network
3133June 4, 2018 (2018-06-04)May 20, 2019 (2019-05-20)
32TBAJune 3, 2019 (2019-06-03)TBA


In 1993, reruns of Cops went into broadcast syndication, and have remained there ever since. As of the fall 2013 it began to air mainly on Spike (now Paramount Network) on the cable side as part of the agreement for that network to air new episodes, after several years on truTV. Older episodes were picked up by the now defunct Cloo in September, 2014, after spending years on the now defunct G4, which was discontinued in December 2014. Local station syndication of the show was prevalent on most Fox stations and affiliates at the time, but as of 2015, older episodes were shifted into Cops Reloaded. WGN America also shows reruns of the regular version. At the start of 2016, the episodes in the now defunct Cloo/G4 package were moved into the Spike/Paramount Network syndicated package when the former G4-era carriage agreement expired, giving that network the rights to the majority of the program. Select episodes are available for streaming on the Hoopla app and website in the United States with select public library cards.


Cops is broadcast in the UK on CBS Drama, CBS Reality and Fox. In Portugal the show is aired on Fox Crime, in Brazil on TruTV, in Colombia on TruTV, in Australia on Network Ten, 10 Bold (a sub-channel of Network Ten) and CI Network, in Japan on Fox Crime, in India on STAR World and FOX Crime, in Norway on Viasat 4, in Sweden Reloaded airs on TV12 while original runs on TV6 and TV10, and in Denmark on Canal9.

In Canada, both the original and Reloaded versions of the program aired on Action (Now Adult Swim Canada). BiteTV began airing the program in December 2014 (until its relaunch as Makeful in August 2015), while sibling channel RadX (which re-branded to BBC Earth in January 2017) began airing it on Monday, August 3, 2015.[37]

Cops 2.0

An enhanced version of the program branded as Cops 2.0 with live web chats and program facts aired on G4 from May 2007 to 2009.[38]

Cops Reloaded

In January 2013, 20th Television announced that a new syndicated version titled Cops Reloaded would begin airing on CMT as well as local stations.[39] The new format features slightly edited segments of classic Cops episodes, allowing for four segments per each half-hour episode. This version contains all new graphics and soundbites during the opening theme song, and older segments are modified and framed to a sharpened widescreen image for the high-definition format if they were originated in standard definition.[40]

Home media

The program has had several "best-of" home videos, including Cops: In Hot Pursuit, Cops: Shots Fired, Cops: Bad Girls, and Cops: Caught in the Act which include uncensored "too hot for TV" segments containing profanity and nudity that was edited out of the network version.[41]

A Cops: 20th Anniversary Edition two-disc DVD with viewer favorites from each season, several behind the scenes features, and the original one-hour pilot was released in the United States and Canada on February 19, 2008.[42]

Title Format Ep # Discs/Tapes Region 1 (USA) Special Features Distributors
Cops: In Hot Pursuit VHS - 1 - N/A Langley Productions
Cops: Shots Fired VHS - 1 - N/A Langley Productions
Cops: Bad Girls VHS - 1 - N/A Langley Productions
Cops: Caught in the Act DVD - 1 - N/A 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cops: Shots Fired DVD Special 1 March 23, 2004 Never-before-seen footage. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cops: Bad Girls DVD Special 1 March 23, 2004 Never-before-seen footage. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cops: Caught in the Act DVD Special 1 March 23, 2004 Never-before-seen footage 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cops: The Bad Karma Collection Vol 1 and 2 DVD Special 2 August 8, 2006 None 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cops: 20th Anniversary Edition DVD 1 2 February 19, 2008 Cops 20th Season Special

Original Pilot Episode

Parodies and tributes

Famous Fan Favorite

Scenes from all 20 Seasons

The Story of Cops

Cops on Cops

Lights! Camera! Action!

Toughest Takedowns

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cops: Wildest Chases DVD Season 26, Episodes 8-9, 11-12,15,22

Season 27, Episode 03

1 May 19, 2015 None Paramount Home Entertainment


In 1994, Pacific Gameworks had created a proposal for a video game project intended for the Atari Jaguar based upon the TV show, however production of the game never started and it was left unreleased.[43] In the same year, an arcade game was developed by Nova Productions and published by Atari under the name Cops.

In 1995 Time Warner Interactive released an arcade video game based on the show. The game uses live-action video for graphics and consists of a driving stage and a shooting stage very similar to Mad Dog McCree.[44]

In 1999, Cops associate producer and sound mixer Hank Barr published The Jump-Out Boys, a book about the show's production.[45]



Cops has received four Primetime Emmy nominations, as of May 2017. The website of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences specifically lists four nominations of Cops for "Outstanding Informational Series" (in 1989, 1990, 1993, and 1994)—but ultimately, no Emmy awards were awarded to the show.[9][46][47]

Awards won have included:

  • 1993: the American Television Award for "Best Reality-Based Program"[47]
  • 2008: American Cinema Editors, USA Eddie (award) for "Best Edited Reality Series"[47]

Other nominations (not resulting in an award) have included:


Though popular and long-running, Cops has drawn mixed reviews, and raised ethical questions.


In the show's third year, 1992, Alan Bunce of the Christian Science Monitor praised the show as network television's "only true 'cinema verite' series"—declaring it "innocent of re-enactments," and "free of fancy production effects," while remaining "doggedly faithful to its format."[48]

Bunce raved about its "honesty of tone" and the show's "commitment" to, in his words, "recording exactly what happens" (nothing more, nothing less)—"an implicit rebuke" to what he called "the excesses and sleight-of-hand" indulged in by most other "reality" shows. "Cops", he said, "is a stickler for authenticity."[48]


However, in 1999, the Los Angeles Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning, long-time, television critic Howard Rosenberg[49] chastised ride-along reality TV shows (like Cops, which he particularly named), as "uniting" police and media in ride-alongs where each party is "an extension of the other."[50]

When invading "private property with their cameras rolling," says Rosenberg, these partnerships' behavior is "appallingly indifferent" to the "fundamental privacy rights" of the people whose homes they invade, and the resulting TV shows depict "social and moral crises" deceptively, "without context"—doing so in "the most narrow, emotional terms" they can.[50] In a 2009 interview, Cops executive producer John Langley admitted that his show is built around a three-segment structure, presenting an "action" piece, an "emotional" piece, and a "thought" piece[51] (an example of the venerable rule of three).

Rosenberg further describes such a commercial police-media partnership as exceptionally prone to media corruption — yielding misleading, one-sided perspectives. "The collusion potential is enormous," says Rosenberg, because a so-called "reality" series can choose to air nothing that they fear will put their partners (the police) in a bad light (an embarrassment which, says Rosenberg, would cut off the TV show's access to the ride-alongs, resulting in "no access, no show.")[50]

Targeted subjects

  • 2004 Old Dominion study

In June 2004, researchers at Old Dominion University videotaped 16 episodes of Cops and then evaluated them for crime content, and for the racial and gender identity of characters depicted. They found prior studies statistically reinforced in their descriptions of racial misrepresentation on Cops. The study found that, on Cops, African-American men were overwhelmingly shown as perpetrators—usually of violent crimes—and Hispanic men (rarely depicted at all) were also usually depicted as violent criminals. The police officers depicted were overwhelmingly white, and the disproportionately few white offenders were more-often portrayed as involved in non-violent offenses.[52]

Statistical correlations between actual crime rates and types (by race and gender, as reported by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports) -- and the Old Dominion study's analysis of characters in the Cops episodes—indicated that the Cops episodes (on average) sharply skewed the numbers, racially, making African-American and Hispanic men appear far more responsible for violent crime than they actually are in the U.S. population at large. At the same time, white males were shown on Cops as a far less culpable group than they actually are, statistically.[52]

The study also noted that women were almost totally ignored in Cops—seldom appearing as either officers or offenders. Finally, it noted that the show overwhelmingly depicted violent crimes, despite such crimes being a distinct minority of crime in the U.S.[52]

  • 2004 Prosise-Johnson study

In 2004, researchers Theodore O. Prosise (Univ. of Wash.), and Ann Johnson, Ph.D. (Univ. of Calif./Long Beach), studied a random, but non-scientific, sample of 81 anecdotes from Cops episodes—analyzing their content, subjects and characters. They concluded that the program was racially skewed, negatively misrepresenting African-Americans, depicted as a criminal class out of proportion to their actual percentage of U.S. crime, in particular.[53]

Moreover, the study indicated that the Cops episodes appeared to selectively edit out failed police efforts, and police-initiated actions "on a hunch" that resulted in the discovery of no grounds for an intervention or arrest—showing only those officer "hunches and suspicions" that were productive—creating the illusion that officer instincts were more reliable and valid than in actual life. The study's authors expressed concern that this provided TV viewers with implicit—and misleading—justification for police actions that amounted to "racism, discrimination or profiling."[53]

  • Targeting the poor

The show has been criticized for its predominant focus on the criminal activities among the poor. Critics of this aspect of the show say it unfairly presents the poor as responsible for most crime in society while ignoring the "white-collar crimes" that are typical of the more wealthy. Controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore raises this tenet in an interview with a former associate producer of Cops, Richard Herlan, in Moore's 2002 movie, Bowling for Columbine.

Herlan's response to Moore was that television is primarily a visual medium, requiring regular footage on a weekly basis to sustain a show, and police officers "busting in" on an office where identity theft papers are being created or other high-level crime rings are operating does not happen very often. It is therefore not likely to be recorded and thus not shown. The low-level crime featured on the show happens every day, providing large quantities of material suitable for taping.

Influence on viewers

A 2001 study of 117 Justice Studies[54] students at Arizona State University—a cross-section sample proportionally representative of the genders and races of all justice studies students at ASU—found various correlations between students' race and gender, and their attitudes towards representative episodes of COPS. The study found that students were drawn to the violence in the program. It also found that students interpreted COPS scenes as valid and informative representations of the genders and races different from their own—eliminating the need to learn about them through direct personal contact.[55]

Police department rejections

Chicago Police Department Deputy Director of News Affairs Patrick Camden in 2005 stated in response to a request for Cops taping that "police work is not entertainment. What they do trivializes policing. We've never seriously even considered taping."[56] The Fairfax County Police Department, located in Northern Virginia, has similarly refused to allow Cops taping since the show originally aired, as has the Washington DC Police, St. Louis City Police, and the Honolulu Police Department. In addition, the show has rarely featured federal law enforcement agencies as such officers often work undercover and therefore are not inclined to have their work broadcast.

Influence on media

Similar shows

Animal Planet aired its own version called Animal Cops, featuring animal control services and animal welfare organizations.

Several other shows have paid homage to Cops' format, such as LAPD: Life on the Beat, Police POV, and Live PD.


Fox's long running sketch comedy show Mad TV did a parody called "Clops", which is shot in claymation, and consisted of animated cops and criminals.

Fox's In Living Color did a parody called "Thugs", that was shot from the point of view of the criminals.

Seattle's sketch comedy show Almost Live! did a parody called "Librarians", and "Cops in ...".

In 1994, children's show Bill Nye the Science Guy did a parody called "Cops in Your Bloodstream".

Troops is a mockumentary by Kevin Rubio that had its debut at San Diego Comic-Con International on July 18, 1997 and was subsequently distributed via the internet. The movie is a parody of Cops, set in the Star Wars universe. In the movie, Imperial stormtroopers from the infamous Black Sheep Squadron patrolling the Dune Sea on the planet Tatooine run into some very familiar characters while being recorded for the hit Imperial TV show Troops.

Shrek 2 had a clip of a parody show called Knights which showed Puss in Boots being arrested for possession of catnip.

On January 28, 2019, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert did a parody called Mueller which featured CNN's footage of Roger Stone's arrest the previous week, with footage of other Donald Trump associates' arrests mixed into actual Cops opening titles.[57]

Jay Leno made several parodies of the program on The Tonight Show in the mid-90s, which included rewrites of the theme song, suggesting such spin-offs as:

DUMB COPS "Whatcha gonna do, with a low I.Q.?",

SHORT COPS "Whatcha gonna do, when you're 4-foot-2!?", and

MALL COPS "Whatcha gonna do, when there's nothin' to do?".

The X-Files pseudo-crossover episode

The show The X-Files released a pseudo crossover episode of Cops called "X-Cops" (season 7, episode 12) in which FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully collaborate with mostly fictional deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (an actual LASD SWAT team was also featured in the episode) in order to catch a mysterious, shapeshifting entity. In the tradition of the real-life Cops program, the entire episode is shot on video.

Home intrusion

A 1999 United States Supreme Court decision, Wilson v. Layne, No. 98-83, (and the Court's simultaneous stance on an Appeals Court ruling in a similar case Hanlon v. Berger, No. 97-1927, and its affiliate case, CNN v. Berger, No. 97-1914) appeared to legal scholars to restrict the actions of Cops video crews, and some suggested it might even spell the end for the program.[58][59][60][61]

In the Wilson case, a Washington Post newspaper reporter and photographer accompanied a federal marshal (Layne) and local officials when the authorities entered a home (of the Wilson family) acting on a search warrant. The Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers may not bring a media ride-along guest with them when entering a private home to execute a search warrant, stating that it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of the people in the home to be "free from unreasonable searches and seizures," and to be "secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects." The Court affirmed (or reaffirmed, in some views) the policy that officers may not bring into the home, with them, people whose role was not in the direct service of the purpose of the warrant. Though that Court, by its own admission (stated in the majority Opinion document), was usually divided on Fourth Amendment issues, the Court, in this case, ruled unanimously that the authorities' accommodation of the media intrusion violated the Fourth Amendment.[58][59][61][62]

And the Court further ruled that officers violating that ruling, and allowing unnecessary parties to invade with them, were liable to those in the home they had entered, and could be sued for damages. The lone dissent on that element of the case was on the question of current liability (Justice Stevens believed that the officers in that specific case were liable—but the rest of the Court agreed to give them qualified immunity, because the Justices believed that the Supreme Court had not yet made its position sufficiently clear on that issue; however, any subsequent violators would be held liable by the Court.)[58][61][62]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the organization most associated with defending the Bill of Rights, and whose local affiliate represented the Wilson plaintiffs, took an even more sweeping view in favor of the plaintiffs, preferring the Fourth Amendment privacy protections against any potential First Amendment "freedom of the press" issue in that case.[58][63]

In the Hanlon case, the Supreme Court further extended the protections of their Wilson ruling to include not only the house of the plaintiffs, but also the curtilage—the enclosed and concealed-from-public-view, private space around the house (commonly including yard, carport and/or garage).[61]

However, COPS executive producer John Langley said the show would continue to be produced, in the following season, in the format of "a pure ride-along show"claiming that the show had always gotten releases from anybody shown on camera, even those people depicted under arrest. (However, Langley's statement did not indicate whether the releases were gained before or after recording, and did not indicate whether some subjects had been videoed without giving their consent, and then simply not been shown"involved"in the resulting program.) Further, Langley noted, most of what the show depicts occurs in "the street or in cars".[58][64]

Impact on the Dalia Dippolito case

In 2011 Cops dedicated an entire episode to the case of Delilah "Dalia" Dippolito of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was accused of solicitation to commit first-degree murder after being secretly videotaped hiring a hitman (who was actually an undercover cop) to kill her husband in 2009. At trial, her defense attorney claimed that Dippolito was tricked into signing the Cops release form.[65] The defense attorney also claimed that her husband orchestrated the plot to get aired on Cops.[66] In truth, Cops producers were outraged when investigators persuaded Dippolito to sign the release form before they questioned her, believing that since it was done under color of law, it would be useless. They later convinced Dippolito to sign a second waiver, saying they would give her a chance to tell her side of the story.[67]

Ultimately, both defenses failed, and Dippolito was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.[68] However, the state's Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in 2014, finding that the judge at the first trial erred by not doing enough to ensure that jurors weren't improperly exposed to pretrial publicity. The appeals court found that the judge should have questioned the jurors individually, rather than as a group, regarding how much they knew about the case. It also found that the judge should have dismissed the entire jury when one prospective juror revealed she'd read about Dippolito's attempt at poisoning her husband.[69] She was later released on an appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, pending a retrial on May 23, 2016.[70] On August 17, 2016, the appeals court rejected her appeal without comment.[71]

Her retrial began with jury selection on December 1, 2016.[72] The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared on December 14, 2016.[73] A second retrial was scheduled to start in June 2017.[74] On June 16, 2017, she was convicted.[75] She faced up to 20 years in prison when sentenced on July 21, 2017. Judge Glenn Kelley ordered her held without bail. Her defense attorneys said they will appeal the verdict. On July 21, 2017, Dippolito was sentenced to 16 years in prison.[76]

The Dippolito case has also been featured on ABC's 20/20, NBC's Dateline, CNBC's American Greed, and the syndicated show Crime Watch Daily.[77][78][79][80][81][82]

Defendant use of Cops video

Cops video has been subpoenaed and used by defense attorneys, and has resulted in suppression of evidence owing to police misconduct revealed in the Cops video.[83][84]

In 2015, "late at night in a high-crime area," a Fort Myers, Florida, police officer—accompanied by a Cops video crew—stopped and frisked a man who was wearing dark clothing and walking in the middle of the street. In an encounter that lasted only 23 seconds, the officer discovered that the suspect (who turned out to be a convicted felon) had a gun, and the suspect was arrested.[83][84] In subsequent criminal proceedings, in federal district court, the defendant moved to suppress the frisk-acquired gun evidence on the ground that the officer violated the defendant's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures—arguing that the officer didn't have "reasonable suspicion" to frisk him. More specifically, the defendant argued that the officer didn't believe, reasonably, that his safety was threatened—nor the safety of others—before conducting the pat-down. The officer countered that the defendant had exhibited suspicious behavior that justified the frisk. Relying heavily on the "indisputable video evidence" that contradicted the officer's testimony on multiple points, the judge agreed with the defense, and barred the evidence of the handgun. Further, the judge suggested that the officer may have altered his original report after viewing the COPS video.[83][84]

At least one academic reviewer of the case described it as raising questions about how often such police actions are illegal, but unprovable—describing it as strong justification for requiring police officers to wear body cameras.[83][84]


According to a 2016 report in Deadline, Ruben Fleischer will direct a feature adaptation of Cops as an edgy narrative feature with a buddy comedy bent on the order of a Lethal Weapon with Fleischer co-producing the movie with David Bernad through The District along with Cops rights holder Langley Films' John Langley, Cameron Fay will write the script and Boies/Schiller Film Group will finance the movie.[85]

See also


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