Cowboy Cop

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
That meter maid looks like trouble.

Sure, our society may be built upon rules and procedures, but they make for bad television. Sometimes you have to bend the rules, rough up the suspects, and ignore your supervisors and the Constitution to get stuff done.

A Cowboy Cop may be an Anti-Hero if he is the star of the show, typically a Jerk with a Heart of Gold whose unlikely claims will generally be proven correct. However, in shows that feature cops as secondary characters, the Cowboy Cop is often at odds with the main characters, as he will trample all over the crime scene and/or the suspect's rights. If Da Chief is a Cowboy Cop he would often reprimand the naive upstart who is being too soft with the criminals and will gladly let the loose cannons go in shooting first and asking questions later.

In a SWAT Team type situation where the cops are expected to shoot to kill, he does not care about human shields or property damage and will more often than not almost level the place to take down the suspects, with extreme lethal force.

Cowboy Cops are almost always asked to Turn in Your Badge by Da Chief, at which point they usually become a Vigilante Man in regards to whatever bad guy they are after for either the rest of the movie or until they get their badge back. As a result of his flagrant rule-breaking, Internal Affairs hates the Cowboy Cop with a passion. Sometimes the policemen who oppose the Cowboy Cop are revealed to be Corrupt Cops.

Being a Cowboy Cop may be just be backstory—the character might make the transition to another field such as being a federal officer or a Man in Black, where their methods might fit in a little better.

May often be the recipient of Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving.

The Trope Namer for "Cowboy Cop" is Beverly Hills Cop (1984), then the term was popularized by Die Hard (1988).

Compare Bunny Ears Lawyer, Rabid Cop. Contrast By-The-Book Cop. Compare and contrast Dirty Cop. While a Cowboy Cop is generally more well-intentioned than the Dirty Cop, his rule-breaking could be presented as a type of corruption in more deconstructive works. For the military version, see Military Maverick. Old-Fashioned Copper is the specifically British subtrope.

Examples of Cowboy Cop include:


  • One Sprint commercial proclaims that its video phones make everything awesome, and as proof, shows a clip from a (nonexistent) film called "Epic Renegade Cop" where Callahan is ordered Turn In Your Weapon by Da Chief. Among the things Callahan sets down are a (ludicrously huge) Hand Cannon, a pair of nunchucks, a machine gun, and, when Da Chief glares at him, a rocket launcher.

Anime and Manga

  • Juna in Earth Maiden Arjuna starts out as a Cowboy Magical Girl, mowing down through Raajers until Da Chief Chris tells her to stop.
  • In Gunslinger Girl, this is what got Hillshire thrown out of Europol.
  • Leon from Bubblegum Crisis.
    • Spinoffs give him a reason: he was in a SWAT team before and had to face rogue boomers with just a riot shield and (maybe) a shotgun. One can get a little iffy in such situations.
  • Dominion Tank Police is what happens when you get an entire battalion of guys like this.
  • One Officer Jenny in Pokémon. She'll attack you with a bowling ball before sending out her Chatot, buddy.
  • Hibari in Speed Grapher is a justified version: She gets away with being a Cowboy Cop because her chief is terrified of her. Besides, she doesn't attack people; she self-defenses them.
  • Batou in Ghost in the Shell is a good example for an actually heroic cowboy cop, but the whole Section 9 could fit this trope as well. Even Aramaki and the Major, who are much more sophisticated and less hot-blooded don't have the law very high on their list of priorities. Given the corrupt state of the Japanese government and the fact that Section 9 seems to spend more time fighting against rival national security and military forces loyal to other factions of the government than actually dealing with terrorists, it's understandable.
    • In short, the whole Section 9 is a shining example.
  • Daisuke Aurora in Heat Guy J

Comic Books

  • Bookhunter: Detective Bay would get chewed out by Da Chief in any rational universe. But he doesn't. Ever. Apparently everyone in the Library Police has cowboy tendencies.
  • Green Lantern - Guy Gardner is the Cowboy Cop of the Green Lantern Corps. The degree to which he's a help or a hindrance to an investigation largely depends on the era: He was not a useful team member (to say the least) back in the '80s, but he's since had some Character Development and is now a top member of the Corps, not that that stops him from apprehending bad guys by hurling himself through their windows.
    • He might've backslid recently, as the newest spin-off book, Emerald Warriors, stars Guy as he cowboy cops around the galaxy, punching anyone who tries to tell him about any regulations he's breaking. There might be a reason for the sudden increase in violence though, as the same series shows he's mentally recovering from being possessed by a red ring.
  • Harvey Bullock from the Batman comics is a Cowboy Cop at times. He often seems to be butting heads with Commissioner Jim Gordon over some aspect of police procedure. He can verge on being a Dirty Cop. He hates Batman in particular.
  • John Hartigan from Sin City both invokes and averts this trope. It is invoked in the sense that he apparently skirts the rules here and there and his actions at the beginning of That Yellow Bastard would be considered police brutality. It's averted since he's the cleanest cop in the city to the point where people treat him as if he were a boyscout.
  • Superman villain Preus is a very dark take on the trope. As a member of Kandor's Citizen Patrol Corps, Preus frequently ignored procedure and acted on his own in order to secure criminals. Since he was an Absolute Xenophobe who essentially used the rules as an excuse to purify the city this was a bad thing, and even the rest of the CPC thought he was crazy.


  • McClane in Die Harder and Die Hard With a Vengeance.
  • Dirty Harry - Harry is a classic example. The films also make fun of this trope and show people reacting somewhat more realistically to it. In these movies, unlike the cop shows on TV, people actually notice and complain about how Harry is always running up the body count, how he keeps totaling (very expensive) police cars, and the way his partners keep getting shot.
  • John Woo directed films:
  • Lethal Weapon series - Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs. Getting a Counterpart softened him up at the end.
  • Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz is an inversion - he plays completely by the rules and so perfectly that he gets assigned to a sleepy little town because he makes all the other cops in London look incompetent. But later plays the trope up in order to bring in the real criminals.
  • Shaft - Samuel L. Jackson doesn't really get his groove on until he turns in his badge—by throwing it like a shuriken to embed itself in the wall next to a judge's head.
  • In Running Scared, detectives Hughes and Costanzo: arrange for a drug lord's car to be illegally towed and later steal it from the impound yard, steal a drug dealer's money to get him in trouble with his boss, break into homes without a search warrant, and are hinted to have violated other suspects' rights before the movie starts.
  • Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer) in Split Second.
  • Axel Foley from the Beverly Hills Cop movie series. In the first movie alone he takes a truckload of cigarettes without authorization and wrecks it, is chewed out by Da Chief and warned that if he commits any more offenses he'll be fired. Then a friend of his is murdered and he's told to stay away from the case and again warned he'll be fired if he doesn't. Of course he ignores the warning.
  • Predator 2. LAPD Lieutenant Harrigan is ordered to not interfere with a Federal investigation of multiple murders (committed by the Predator). He defies the order and his Captain threatens to fire him if he doesn't stop.
  • RoboCop becomes one of these eventually, to a point.
  • Cobra - Marion Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone). The weirdest thing about Cobretti is that he never really uses excessive force. Everyone he kills in the film tried to kill him first. However, since Cobra is So Bad It's Good, his superiors act like he is anyway, making it look like self-defense is against police procedure.
  • Speaking of Stallone, John Spartan is the main character of Demolition Man. The film isn't named after the psychotic Simon Pheonix, even though his first scene is blowing up an abandoned hospital. The film was named after Spartan, who got the nickname of Demolition Man because of the buildings he destroys in the process of apprehending the perps.
  • Rush Hour - Both Carter and Lee. Especially Carter—he causes massive property damage, uses highly questionable investigation techniques, and does not bother hiding the fact he smokes weed.
  • Deconstructed brutally in the first Saw movie. Tap's recklessness nearly kills one of Jigsaw's victims, gets his partner shot by multiple shotguns at once, gets his own throat cut, nearly killing him, and gets him dismissed from the force. And that is just backstory. By the time the events in the movie proper start, he is a broken shell of a man in a fetid bedsit across from the house of the guy he thinks is the killer. It is arguably creepier than any of Jigsaw's actual traps.
    • And again in the second movie with Detective Eric Matthews: as the movie progresses, it's revealed that he has a very nasty record of violence towards suspects, and in several cases planted evidence to gain a conviction. And after spending most of the film watching his son trapped in a house with the victims of said evidence-planting, he resorts to thrashing the living daylights out of Jigsaw for the location of the house... which turns out to be a trap set up specifically for Matthews.
  • In the re-make of S.W.A.T. Gamble tries a Cowboy Cop move in the beginning and winds up shooting a civilian while killing a terrorist. The resulting lawsuit gets both he and his partner kicked off the team. Then, when the new team is formed all the Cowboy Cop subtropes are played perfectly straight. Up to and including Samuel L. Jackson rejecting a By-The-Book Cop from the team because he's too mild-mannered.
  • Bad Boys - Detectives Lowery and Burnett of the Miami PD. They pissed off Da Chief so badly that he asked them if they called each other in the morning and discussed ways to make his life miserable. In one scene in the first movie, Lowery pulls out two guns and puts them to the head of an innocent person to get him to tell them who might be capable of cutting the heroin for the bad guys.
  • 16 Blocks deconstructs the trope, as it turns out the cowboy cops are the villains, having succumbed to He Who Fights Monsters.
  • David from Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a Québecois Canadian take on this trope. His reaction to Martin telling him how much rules he breaks: "J'm'en câlisse" ("I don't give a shit").
  • The Trope Maker is probably the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, which is also considered to have invented the Car Chase. Due to the Unbuilt Trope, however, the cop turns out to be an an absolute screwup, essentially ruining any chances of catching the real bad guys.
    • Bullitt was told to guard the wrong man, uses that man's shooting to trap his killers, embarrasses the DA who sent him to guard the wrong man, tracks the right man down to the airport and prevents his escape from justice with the millions of dollars he stole. The only thing that Bullitt screwed up is when he went to arrest the right man, he couldn't prevent the suspect from fleeing back into the airport and iniating a gunfight with security and Delgado. That leads to Johnny taking some lead instead of testifying.
  • Joe Don Baker's character in the film Final Justice (as seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000) is a figurative and literal example, as a Texas lawman who doesn't let little things like international boundaries get in the way of gunning down criminals.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) provides an early Deconstruction. Detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) flouts authority and beats suspects, but it all catches up to him when he accidentally kills an innocent man. He was legitimately defending himself, but his superiors have been getting increasingly frustrated with his brutality and might not believe him, forcing him to go to ever-increasing lengths to conceal what he did.
  • Played for laughs in The Other Guys with Danson and Highsmith. They manage to cause $12 mil in property damage bringing in a bunch of guys in possession of half a pound of marijuana. Not only is it hilarious, but also a Crowning Moment of Awesome.

Highsmith: You have the right to remain silent, but I wanna hear ya scream!

  • James West in Wild Wild West.
  • Deconstructed Trope in Blitz, where Jason Statham's character, Sergeant Brant, has severe anger issues that lead him to excessively brutalize criminals. This is shown in the opening scene, where he beats the crap out of a trio of car thieves with a hurling stick ("An Irish sport, cross between hockey and murder.") He is repeatedly chewed out both in the media and in the police station for his antics. This tendency resulted in him thoroughly beating down Weiss, the movie's Serial Killer antagonist, about a year before the movie began, resulting in him being hospitalized. Weiss, already a bad apple before Brant beat the everloving crap out of him, was apparently driven off the deep end by the experience and snapped, turning into a cop-killing lunatic.
  • Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is a Jedi version of this.
  • Charles Bronson played a lot of these cops back in the day, who circumstances would force to take the law into his own hands and become a Vigilante Man delivering violent justice, such as in the movie Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, where he's forced to do just that against a ruthless pimp running a child prostitution ring.


  • Deconstructed with Sam Vimes in Discworld. Vimes, despite being promoted time after time, is nonetheless an archetypal Cowboy Cop, rejecting the rules if they stop him from doing his job and hunting down criminals - or, as in Night Watch, rejecting the code that has lead to the Watch becoming useless and Ankh-Morpork a police state - and frequently running up against Da Chief in the form of Vetinari (although Vetinari is quite trope-savvy in this case, and appears to willingly take the position of Da Chief in order to nudge Vimes in the right direction). The deconstruction comes because Vimes hates it - he hates that the system does not work, that it forces him to be a Cowboy Cop to get things done and that it keeps trying to push him into chaos when all that is important to him is the law.
    • Occasionally he resorts to it and the trope is played straight. It is always in circumstances that clearly warrant extreme measures. His rationalization: "It's me doing it." Put it this way; Vimes is a Cowboy Cop who kept getting promoted. He's also very aware that the justification "It's all right to break the rules because it's me doing it" could very easily be the start of a very slippery slope.
    • A character that is a unmitigated Cowboy Cop, is the wali of Prince Cadram, 71-hour Ahmed. As he says to Vimes (paraphrased): "Your beat is a city you can walk across in half an hour. Mine is a million square miles of barren desert with no company but sword and camel." His rationality is that he must strike first, and swiftly, before the criminal has a chance to. He got his nickname from when he killed a man in the man's own tent after 71 hours, not the 72 mandated by Klatchian hospitality customs, because the man had poisoned a well, and he had testimony and a confession.
    • When Vimes continues his Cowboy Cop ways in Night Watch, it works so well that Da Chief tries to have him assassinated. Ouch.
    • Sergeant Detritus could be considered a Cowboy Cop as well. In his case, the subversion is that he's a troll officer who usually works the troll beat, and it could be argued that in a culture who regard hitting each other with rocks as a form of conversation, nailing drug-dealers to the wall by their ears is simply maintaining community relations.
  • Captain Kotov in Night Watcher, at least before he became a Cowboy Vampire Hunter.
  • The Black Echo by Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch is this trope to a T.
  • Matthew Hawkwood - a cowboy Bow Street Runner!
  • The In Death series. Eve somehow manages to be both a By-The-Book Cop and this! Peabody is a straighter example of By-The-Book Cop but not entirely.
  • Lieutenant (later Sergeant) Murphy plays this straight when she helps out Harry Dresden but is also distinctly Lawful Good, especially in the early books to Inspector Javert levels.
    • Harry is effectively one of these as Warden of the Council.

Live-Action TV

  • Most of The Shield features the Cowboy Cops trying to escape the consequences of doing their jobs this way.
  • Life On Mars makes hay out of the fact that all cops in 1973 were Cowboy Cops by today's standards.
  • The Sweeney starred a pair of misogynist, foul-mouthed London cops who were a brilliant example of this - but they often completely failed to catch their man, and fairly often got into real, serious trouble with their superiors.
  • Similarly, The Professionals has Bodie and Doyle breaking the rules on a regular basis. Despite a serious lecture from Cowley, they usually get away with it.
  • Jordan Cavanaugh, the title character of Crossing Jordan, regularly qualified as a Cowboy Cop despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she's not actually a cop - she's a medical examiner.
  • Ironically, Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris) from Walker, Texas Ranger is literally a cowboy cop (from Texas, wears the cowboy hat, etc.) but is by the book, prefers to use his fists (or feet in the case of his signature Roundhouse Kick) rather than his gun, and is never yelled at by Da Chief (in fact Da Chief usually praises him).
  • McCloud was another literal cowboy cop. A marshal from Taos, New Mexico who wore a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a leather coat while on "temporary" assignment in Manhattan! He was less 'break the rules' than bend them, but still drove his superiors crazy.
  • Ana Lucia in Lost is (well, was in her backstory) a rare female example.
  • Thoroughly and at times brutally Deconstructed Trope in The Wire with its (usually) lead character, McNulty. He thinks that being a Cowboy Cop makes him a hero, but it really winds up getting him in trouble, alienating him from friends and co-workers, and annoying everyone around him. He is depicted as immature, self-destructive, and more concerned about proving he's smarter than the system than being a moral crusader for justice.
    • It is repeatedly demonstrated that only officially sanctioned, by-the-books police work will get the cops the convictions they need. And in season five, when McNulty goes completely off the rails, it results in the worst drug dealer they ever went after getting away with all his crimes scott-free.
      • That said, McNulty never actually assaults anyone and is tolerated to an extent by his coworkers because their superior's directive is to do nothing about organized crime unless someone with political clout forces them to do it.
  • Several examples in the Law and Order franchise:
    • Law and Order: Mike Logan and (in the beginning) Ed Green are less extreme examples. Dennis Farina's character of Joe Fontana also regularly displays these tendencies during the two seasons of the show he appeared on.
    • Robert Goran from Law and Order: Criminal Intent has done this as well, particularly in later seasons.
    • Elliot Stabler from Law and Order Special Victims Unit. Let's just say that if he suspects you of something, wear a helmet. And a cup.
  • Both Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice had no problem tossing the rule book. This pissed off a fair number of other law enforcement officials. Oddly enough, however, their own chief, Lt. Castillo didn't seem to really mind, as he focused more on results. But then again, he was a Four-Star Badass himself, so.
  • The Streets Of San Francisco - Earlier in his career Don Johnson played a cowboy motorcycle cop or "Hot Dog" in the episode with the same name. When Johnson was a guest on the Letterman show in 1996, he played a funny montage of clips from the episode of the times the term "Hot Dog" is said. Which was a lot.
  • Gibbs on NCIS has some cowboy in him. Once, when a perp couldn't be arrested on the evidence they had, Gibbs instead informed the rest of the guy's gang that the perp had killed their leader and secretly taken his place and iced several other gang members, but NCIS couldn't prove enough to get a conviction. Then Gibbs gave the perp a ride back to his territory, where the other gang members are waiting. Cut to a news report the next morning about a gangland killing last night. Hanging up on his boss in the middle of a lecture, counts too.
    • Mike Franks is probably even more of a Cowboy Cop than Gibbs, since he's retired and doesn't seem to feel like even pretending to play by the rules anymore. Arguably all the NCIS regulars have some Cowboy Cop tendencies. Do you really think that evidence gathered from breaking into a suspect's home, or hacking into their computer, or hacking into their bank's computer and pulling up their records, would hold up in court in the real world?
      • Remember that the characters on the show function in both a law enforcement role and a counter-intelligence role. That latter role doesn't give two shits about making a good court case, and for good reason - their job is not to gather evidence for criminal prosecution, its to find spies and prevent leaks.
  • The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed - A good Soviet example would be Gleb Zheglov: he is Cowboy Cop and a Knight Templar rolled into one.
  • David Rossi of Criminal Minds has a tendency to be this, particularly if bending a rule will help a team member or save someone's life. He's not the only one- most of the team has done this at least twice.
    • Elle is an example of this gone too far, with her departure from the team being caused by her committing Vigilante Execution on a perp that walked. They couldn't prove she'd done it, but also couldn't trust her anymore, so she resigned.
  • Dollhouse - Paul Ballard, the Hero Antagonist.
  • When cowboy cops show up in the likes of Dragnet and Adam-12, they're portrayed as well-intentioned extremists at best, somewhat villainous at worst, and usually end up either back in line or dead.
  • On The Mentalist, Mr. Patrick Jane would qualify for this, but he's only a consultant. Cho, in a purer example, is particularly awesome because he is the rare combination of The Stoic and Cowboy Cop. And, in fact, all of the team have been known to become this as they play along with Jane, especially By-The-Book Cop Lisbon, who occasionally Tasers people in a Crowning Moment of Awesome kinda way. Of course, they all get away with it by being a Deadpan Snarker.
  • Justified - U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, both figuratively and literally. Raylan hails from rural Kentucky and almost always wears a cowboy hat. The first season actually opens with him facing off against a killer to whom he gave a 'get out of town in 24 hours or else' ultimatum and later justifies the shooting because the other guy 'drew first'. The character is meant to be a throwback to Old West lawmen.
    • He is actually quite professional when the crimes are not targeted at him or someone he cares about. His usual style is more laid back and Columbo-like. However, when things get personal he has no issue with breaking the rules.
  • Dan Stark from The Good Guys. He gets away with it in the show but the behavior clearly ended his career, and traumatized his last partner so badly he quit the force. That same case happened to make him such a hero that he can't be fired.
  • Sledge Hammer! is an unabashed parody of the trope.
  • White Collar tries to avert this with Peter Burke, but Neal Caffrey goes off the reservation every chance he gets. Sometimes the FBI doesn't just look the other way, but actively supports him. Perhaps the most Egregious case, though, was in the episode Vital Signs, when the FBI kidnaps someone and threatens to let him die of renal failure unless he coughs up evidence against himself.
    • Granted, the guy wasn't actually dying. They just made him think he was.
  • Due South has Detective Ray Vecchio, who has a tendency to bend the rules to get his man. This, plus his general wheeler-dealer personality, actually bites him in the ass: since everyone knows he's a Cowboy Cop, it's easier for people to believe he is capable of doing legitimately criminal things such as intimidating witnesses or fabricating evidence
  • Community parodies this in "The Science of Illusion" when Annie and Shirley become temporary campus security guards. They end up getting into an argument about which one of them should be the By-The-Book Cop and which one should be the Cowboy Cop despite the fact that both of them are equally suited to both roles, and Genre Savvy Abed, who is following them around, ends up invoking a whole load of tropes based on this.
  • Mac Taylor on CSI: NY at the end of season 3, and several other times as well
  • On CSI Jim Brass seems to have these tendencies, especially when he picks up Ray's flex-cuff to keep it a secret that Ray killed Nate Haskell after he was cuffed.Brass also has begun remarking lately that killed killers get what they deserve and is often reluctant to help catch the killers. Jim used to be much more of a By-The-Book Cop, often showing disappointment in colleagues who stepped outside the rules, and his reputation for being squeaky clean was often brought up, but around Season 9 or 10 he started getting more cynical and less rule-bound.
  • CSI: Miami's Horatio Cane ventures into this territory every so often.
  • The title character of Luther. As per the current deconstructive trend regarding this trope in fiction, it causes him no end of trouble in his professional and personal life.
  • Deconstructed in Castle: Three cowboy cops kidnap two mobsters and murder one, who turns out to be an undercover FBI agent. They frame the other mobster for his murder. Kate Beckett's mother, a lawyer, agrees to take the framed mobster's case and gets murdered.
  • Jack Bauer is a Cowboy Federal Agent ("A FEDERAL AGENT!") with a long history of using excessive violence [1] and disregarding protocol in the name of saving innocent lives and fighting terrorism. He goes rogue at least once a season when the guys in charge don't believe his Cassandra Truths, and he's probably turned in his badge more often than he's turned in his paperwork. In-universe, given that the entire show is a Race Against the Clock, Jack's methods are (usually) justified since there's never more than an hour or two before the next terrorist attack can be launched, or the latest group of hostages need to be saved, or the next MacGuffin needs to be found.
  • Gene Hunt and Ray Carling in both Life On Mars and the American version of same. Gene isn't above planting evidence to put somebody away, for instance.
  • Touching Evil (the US version) features a protagonist, David Kreegan, who has no hesitations about breaking the law to achieve an objective. In at least one case, this backfires, as the actions he takes to rescue three children from serial killer Ronald James Hinks result in Hinks being unprosecutable for the murder attempt. An even more extreme example is Krakauer, who kills Hinks and stages it as a suicide; when he is fired from OSC on suspicion of having done so, he murders yet another killer who looks to be unprosecutable. It is implied that he did not do so with impunity.
  • Starsky and Hutch often fit this trope. They almost seem to be private detectives rather than cogs in a larger machine. Also, their methods include bribery, blackmail, and Mafia-style intimidation.
  • Hill Street Blues Detective Buntz, and to a lesser extent Detective La Rue, much to the frustration of Captain Furillo. Although one major storyline involving the brutal rape and murder of a nun showed that even Furillo himself isn't above resorting to some ethically questionable tactics when the stakes are high enough.

Newspaper Comics

  • Parodied by the "comic within the comic", in Al Capp's classic Li'l Abner. "Fearless Fosdick", who Abner Yokum idolized, was a satiric Captain Ersatz of classic comic strip detective Dick Tracy, and he often turned up the Cowboy Cop aspects of the Tracy strip to at least 11 (if not higher). The typical conclusion of a Fosdick adventure would feature Fosdick himself ventilated by a number of large bullet holes in his person (though in the context of the strip, these amounted to mere flesh wounds), while he stood surrounded by large piles of bullet-riddled corpses of innocent bystanders.

Tabletop Games

  • The "Cop" character archetype in Cyberpunk 2020 and its related games is essentially this trope. This is somewhat justified in-setting where everyone and their mother is packing high-caliber heat and cyberware.
  • In Magic: The Gathering's Ravnica block, the Boros Legion was an entire guild of this sort - it's what you get when you combine White's morality and concern for the greater good with Red's emotional nature and individuality, and then give it the task of enforcing the law.
  • The Maverick Cop from Feng Shui is nearly invariably one of these kinds of cops. In many games, he or she is usually paired up with the more by-the-book Karate Cop.

Video Games

  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
    • Case 5 of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney features Jake Marshall, a cop who's dedicated himself to finishing his personal investigation of his brother's murder, no matter what rules he has to break or who he brings down. He also wears a poncho and ten-gallon hat, decorates his office with cacti and speaks in a 19th-century Western dialect, all for no reason that anyone can figure out, making him both an example and a parody of the trope.
    • Ace Attorney Investigations somewhat averts this with Detective Tyrell Badd, who despite his badassery tends to obey orders and do things by the book even when he finds it distasteful. Except for that whole Yatagarasu thing.
  • Mass Effect's Garrus Vakarian, although considerably more polite and soft-spoken than is usual for the trope, is certainly a Cowboy Cop. In his very first appearance, he is arguing with Executor Pallin over his most recent investigation, and throughout the rest of the game he's a frequent supporter of killing criminals rather than giving them the chance to escape justice. He also is a Deconstruction of the trope because his Cowboy Cop urges are not tolerated by C-Sec.
As such, a Paragon character can rein him in and teach him that it's important to do things the right way, not just get them done. Although it doesn't end up sticking completely -- even if you took this route with him, he's become a vigilante by ME 2, which he will apologise for. In fact, Garrus even admits in Mass Effect 2 that he isn't a very good turian, because of his refusal to obey orders if he feels the order is unjust.
    • Renegade Shepard can be this. In fact, C-Sec generally doesn't like Spectres because of the risk of them becoming this.
    • "The Council thought Blasto, the first hanar Spectre, would play by the rules..."
  • Max Payne - Though, Max's idea of police work is pretty flimsy: If he isn't investigating the crime scene, he is making it.
  • Mocked in a Heavy update for Team Fortress 2. After eating a sandwich (long story), the Heavy sometimes says, "You're a loose cannon, sandvich, but you're a damn good cop!" Made hilariously literal here.
  • House of the Dead: Overkill's Isaac Washington, a Cluster F-Bomb-dropping Guns Akimbo-using Scary Black Man.
  • Metroid - According to a prequel manga, this was the occupation of Samus Aran before she became a bounty hunter, then savior of the universe. In Metroid Fusion, where Samus is revealed to hate following orders and ends up disregarding them entirely to eliminate the threat. And given that when the Federation saw a being with equal firepower to Samus at her strongest, who blasted its way out of top-security quarantine, can reproduce through mitosis and have ten of itself running around (at full power) in a matter of minutes, can assimilate anything that isn't Samus by touch, and wants to spread the X throughout the galaxy Zerg-style, they wanted to capture it alive, it's probably a good thing Samus didn't play along.
  • Lieutenant Blake in Heavy Rain fits the model perfectly. He's hostile towards journalists, prefers to draw guns and beat the shit out of suspects rather than interrogate them, and is openly disdainful of Jayden's young, naive approach to crime fighting. Unlike most examples, his actions hinder the investigation more than anything. A Deconstruction example.
  • Agent Nightingale in Alan Wake really fits. Like Blake, he is a Deconstruction due to him being rough in the edges, won't let regulations get in the way of justice, and his trigger finger really gets everyone to hate him.
  • Velasquez of Traffic Department 2192 takes this trope and runs with it. She has no sense of professionalism, displays no concern for protecting the innocent, disobeys orders in order to kill more baddies, and primarily interacts with her colleagues and superiors through Ineffectual Death Threats (or effectual death threats.) Yet she can face twenty better-armed opponents and kill them all, and until such time as order can be restored her superiors have no choice but to keep her around, no matter how much they hate her guts.
  • In SWAT 4, acting like you are in Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon where you shoot the criminals without them firing back can get you plenty of "Unauthorized use of Lethal Force". in the elite difficulties, this hits even harder as the death of more than 2 suspects is an automatic mission failure.
    • The game gets rather extreme about it. Shooting a perp is considered 'Unauthorized Use Of Lethal Force' by the game unless the suspect has already fired his weapon. Even if he already has his weapon aimed directly at your face, you still have to wait for him to actually put a bullet in your face (or at least towards your face) before you can shoot him. In the real world, its considered perfectly acceptable police procedure to shoot someone who points a weapon at you, a fellow officer, an innocent bystander, a hostage, etc, etc., without having to wait until after he actually attempts to murder them before starting to do anything about it.
  • Ex-Marshal Anderson from Outlaws (1997 video game) is an interesting example. He gunned down a suspect in cold blood, was called out on it, and was fired. However, when we meet Anderson, he fully accepts that it was right to fire him and that officers of the law have to follow the law, and is very quick to put down anyone who says otherwise.
  • In Dragon Age II Aveline is forced to become one of these early on when it becomes increasingly clear that Kirkwall's City Guard is corrupt. After removing the root cause of the problem Guard Captain Jeven, she gets promoted to the vacant position. Even then, she still takes time off from her duties to go adventuring with Hawke and makes allowances for some of her less than law-abiding companions (Merrill the apostate blood mage, Anders the apostate abomination, and Fenris the squatter).
    • To be fair, the primary purpose of the City Guard is not to enforce the law, but to keep the peace. And since Hawke and co. are the most effective freelance peacekeepers in town, letting them do their thing is far more productive than getting half the City Guard hospitalized trying to stop them and then the other half mulched by all the various horrors that Hawke is no longer available to kill for you... and the Viscount agrees with this, and specifically uses you for that purpose himself in phase II. Does it really qualify as Cowboy Cop when the chief cop is doing it on orders of the mayor?
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, you have the option of installing one of these as the Sheriff of Primm. He's found in a nearby jail, having been arrested for being a Cowboy Cop back in NCR territory, though he played no part in the Powder Gangers' uprising. In the epilogue, it's stated that while he is fair for the most part, occasionally a few people will wind up dead with little to no evidence against them.
  • In Deus Ex, Anna Navarre's preferred method of law enforcement is to sneak in and kill everything in sight. She was the reason why you didn't go back to Unatco without pay during the Battery Park Mission is because she wrote a good report for you and claimed the NSF were beyond negotiation.
    • In fact, that is UNATCO procedure, most of the troops wants to shoot first and ask questions later. Even if it means racking up a huge civilian bodycount.
  • A good way to lose in Police Quest, acting like Dirty Harry will not be tolerated in the force.
  • Depends on how you play in L.A. Noire. At the end of a case, the game keeps track of all the collateral damage you cause in the process of solving it.

Web Animation

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Parodied in these articles from The Onion.
  • The internet comedy group BriTANick has performed a sketch during at least one of their live shows featuring a Cowboy Cop parody character named MacNamara who explains to Da Chief that he acts the way he does because his wife and children were killed by a werewolf. Understandably, the chief is skeptical, and rightfully so, because it turns out MacNamara just shot his dog while pretending it was a werewolf and subsequently claimed to everyone his family was dead when they obviously weren't, all so he could be seen as insane and be given early retirement. It doesn't work, so he changes tactics and pretends to transform into a werewolf himself. When it seems like he's about to get naked, the chief relents and grants him the early retirement.
  • Seeking Truth - Zeke Strahm, though he is woefully Wrong Genre Savvy and ends up having to deal with a problem a bit bigger than an ordinary scumbag.

Western Animation

  • Assy McGee is an over-the-top parody of this trope, perpetually intoxicated, told to hand in his badge and gun at least once an episode, and other offenses too numerous to list here.
  • The Simpsons

Chief: You're off the case, McGarnagle!
Mc Garnagle: You're off your case, Chief!
Chief: What does that mean, exactly?
Homer: (watching at home): It means he gets results, you stupid chief!
Lisa: Dad, sit down.

Chief: One UPS vehicle valued at twenty-five thousand dollars, one civilian vehicle valued at sixteen thousand, the second floor of the post office AND a coffee shop valued at sixteen thousand! The mayor's gonna have my ass!
Stan: Uh, sir, we just kinda got blind-sided by the-
Chief: You got careless! Now, I don't know how they do things down at that dog-and-pony show they call the Fourth Grade, but here we have rules! Jesus, we don't have guys to question now, because you killed them all!

You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, you'll probably bore me to tears - so shut your trap, dog-breath.

  • Parodied on Clone High, when Gandhi and George Washington Carver collaborate on a Salt and Pepper Buddy Cop Movie called Black And Tan. The gag is that Carver (a black guy) plays the role typically associated with the white cop, while Gandhi plays:

Tandoori Jones, a typical East Indian cop who plays by his own rules... NONE!

Real Life

  • Most famously, suspicions of "cowboy" antics by police proved fatal for the prosecution in the murder-trial against OJ Simpson. Evidence was introduced of LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman being a hard-nosed racist and violator of Civil Rights, who talked of routinely committing and covering up police brutality and other police-crimes against citizens—particuarly African-Americans. Even though Fuhrman claimed that he was only playing a character for dramatic purposes, his proven use of racist language and innuendo allowed Simpson's defense-lawyers to create reasonable doubt into the minds of a jury, on an otherwise-strong case.
  • The "Rodney King" video likewise presented an image in the minds of America, of (white) "cowboy cops" beating a helpless (black) citizen; even though defense-lawyers successfully argued that that the police were going strictly "by the book" in properly subduing Mr. King as a criminal suspect,[2] their acquittal resulted in the famous L.A. Riots, and sparked the officers' eventual conviction on Civil Rights charges.
  • Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is what happens when a Cowboy Cop becomes Da Chief. He promotes himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff", takes a very hard line on crime (especially illegal immigration, often to the detriment to other enforcement), and his handling of the prison system has included: making prisoners wear pink underwear, bringing back chain gangs (albeit volunteer-only), creating a tent city to house surplus inmates (both prisoners, and those merely awaiting trial) outside in the Arizona heat (justifying it by saying that American soldiers in Iraq wearing body armor live in the same conditions, which they don't), setting up an in-house radio station called "KJOE" (playing classical music, Opera, Frank Sinatra and patriotic music), and being called out twice by the federal courts for violating Constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment (including charges of feeding moldy, spoiled food to prisoners and denying medical care).
    • Property destruction, too. He once brought a full SWAT team complete with TANK to break up a cockfight. Why such a show of force? He swears it had NOTHING to do with the fact that Steven Seagal was filming an episode of his TV show with them...
  • During the Occupation of Berlin, after World War II when Russian soldiers came into the American zone to find a woman to rape, the American MPs arrested and booked them. In the British zone, British MPs simply ganged up on them and beat them up
  • Police in Shanghai during the 1020s were some of the toughest in the world. Given that their town was one of the meanest in the world they pretty much had to be.
  1. We named the trope after him!
  2. The videotape as edited for broadcast did not show the part where Rodney King had refused police orders to stop and raise his hands, thrown several officers to the ground when they attempted to handcuff him, and at one point charged directly at a police officer, but the defense showed the uncut version to the court.