Police Are Useless

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Let me tell you what I tell everybody who comes in here: the law is powerless to help you.
Chief Wiggum, The Simpsons

Whenever someone in film or on TV reports a murder, or a monster, or a stalker or whatever, the police come as close to ignoring them as procedure (and the local captain) will allow. And that's if the report is from a respected professional; if they're an Agent Mulder, or worse yet, a teenager, the cops might try to pin charges on them!

If it's a mystery with a respected Amateur Sleuth, the police detective the amateur has to deal with will be, at best, an Inspector Lestrade, and at worst an Obstructive Bureaucrat.

Also common in children's shows, since all Adults Are Useless. They might not even make it to the police station, but just (correctly) assume that no one would believe them.

In addition to police, this trope also covers the military, security guards, and other people whose job is to protect others.

This can apply even if competent law enforcement personnel are part of the main cast if other officers are portrayed this way. This is particularly common in combination with Cowboy Cop, where a character's cowboy status is why he's the exception.

A common interpretation of this trope is merely people not knowing how law enforcement actually works - This was part of why Police Quest was considered one of the most realistic games at the time it was made; because you actually couldn't just take what you thought was the obvious solution because it was either illegal, incredibly dangerous, or both. (Even law enforcement has to follow the law, despite some exceptions and what those games of cops and robbers may tell you.) Many times, the most obvious solution is actually a pretty good way to get yourself or others hurt or killed.

The Awful Truth is that this is sometimes justified - in corrupt cities/states, law enforcement may have been bought out by a corrupt government or organized crime. Someone may cover their tracks well enough or exploit a lot of other loopholes to remain legally untouchable, eg. Al Capone. In sparsely populated areas or small towns, chances are the police aren't numerous/trained/equipped enough compared to big-city law enforcement who have to deal with a lot of stuff on a day-to-day basis. And, of course, some are just standard-issue bumblers.

See also The Only One and Bad Cop, Incompetent Cop, though they are not necessarily incompetent: It may just be that the "calls" are too nonsensical to be believed by someone who doesn't know they're in a show. You Have to Believe Me occurs when the police don't believe the person because the person is presenting their case in a fashion where no one reasonable would believe them. Lemming Cops is another related trope. Contrast I Fought the Law and the Law Won, as well as The Men in Black, who do believe your reports of ghosts/monsters/whatever and probably know more about them than you do, but are still bad news.

No real life examples, please; Calling real-life people "useless" is a bad idea, and rude.


Examples of Police Are Useless include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The AD Police from Bubblegum Crisis could save a lot of money by firing everyone except Leon and Daley. And Nene, since they'd still need a dispatcher (and the Knight Sabers need an information source inside the AD Police).
    • Really, they just need Leon. Daley only exists to hint at Leon's closeted homosexuality, and Nene doesn't need to dispatch anyone because Leon just goes off to fight Boomers whenever. Then they could use the extra helicopter budget to fund his ridiculous revolver that can kill Boomers.
  • In an episode of Pokémon, the Sinnoh police are trying to stop a robbery in the Eternia museum. The object stolen was the Adamant Orb. However, the police force make some truly awful mistakes. Such as:
    • They arrest a reoccurring character, Nando, as a suspect, despite the fact that Officer Jenny saw the robbers (Team Rocket, naturally), of which there were two of, on the roof, who looked nothing like their arrested suspect. And this was an accusation being made by the same Officer Jenny.
    • When Ash and co. try to protest Nando's innocence, Jenny produces a picture of a Sunflora (a Pokemon that Nando owns, and that ran off during his arrest) making off with the Adamant Orb, and essentially declares "Ta Da! All the evidence we need!", despite the fact that A: a picture like that is not enough incriminating evidence and B: anyone who would compare this picture with one of a real Sunflora could see that the one in the surveillance photo looks like something in a bad Sunflora costume (it's actually Meowth in a Sunflora costume).
    • The police do not search anyone else in the building. Lampshaded by the Jenny from Viridian City (who came to the museum because it was her day off).
    • In the interrogation room, Jenny refuses to listen to anything Nando says.
    • And finally, in one moment when Team Rocket are fleeing the building, there is a massive crowd of police there waiting for them, but due to Team Rocket being previously sprayed by a Stunky, the smell emitting from them makes all the offices block their noses and they move into what looks like a guard of honor position allowing Team Rocket to run through and escape. What. It wasn't just this idiot Jenny. In a lot of Pokémon episodes, the Jennies can't or don't do anything to stop whatever crime is happening. And quite a few times, they do more harm than good. They've let Team Aqua escape once, and on many occasions, Team Rocket.
  • In Pokémon Special, Byron outright says that police can't handle evil terrorist organizations. The Gym Leaders and the kids who are strong enough to challenge them do that instead.
  • In Real Drive the only police presence seen are rather unintimidating, cone-shaped robots. Even when a madman runs amok in a shopping mall, mugging passers-by with impunity, no authority figure makes an effort to stop him.
  • In Mouse, the titular protagonist's success as a thief can be mostly attributed to the police's inability to do anything except stand around and curse his name. For instance, in the very first scene in the first episode, he steals a valuable mask by lifting the whole museum and flying it away with helicopters. The police never think of maybe following the hovering building being carried off very slowly by a large, loud vehicle? Maybe in a police helicopter? Or with a car, even? Later he also steals a tower that conveniently has a floating base by breaking its foundations and towing it out of the harbor with boats. While the police stand in the docks and marvel at Mouse's wondrous "water-traveling contraptions" that they apparently haven't figured out. Seriously, people!
  • The Paradigm City police on The Big O are confounded by their uselessness in the face of Humongous Mecha attacks on their beloved town; the day is generally saved by self-styled "negotiator" Roger Smith as pilot of the title mech. This is a somewhat more realistic case as trying to take down a Humongous Mecha with a measly tank just won't fly. They'd probably be pretty good at their jobs if not for that.'
  • The police in Lupin III sometimes come across this way, but it's more to do with who they're chasing. Inspector Zenigata, for example, is usually shown as being good at his job, it's just that Lupin is even better at his... Zenigata doesn't stand much of a chance of success, but it's strongly implied that he's the only guy who has any chance at all against Lupin.
  • Detroit Metal City. For all the crazy stunts Krauser pulls off in public (which includes inadvertent assault on a police officer), the police never seem to bother with following it up or taking any of the band members into custody. Possibly justified for two reasons: DMC are rock stars and rock stars stereotypically get away with such antics, and the fact that it's the Japanese police and as long as no one gets really hurt are more likely to just give everyone involved a scolding rather than actually arresting them.
  • The police in Code Geass are an interesting case. While never shown to explicitly kick any dogs, they are generally included in Lelouch's "all Britannian authorities are corrupt and must be obliterated" mindset. This is inferred in Lelouch and Suzaku's debate in an early episode about whether the Black Knights are heroes for Justice, or whether they are vigilantes who should just join the police force and work from within the system if they want to enact change (Lelouch comments that they'd simply be absorbed and corrupted by the system). They're not shown to protect or serve the Numbers in the Ghettos, and it's implied that they may have been involved in the smuggling of Refrain. The episode in which they gain the most (and any positive) coverage is when Lelouch geases them into shooting Mao after Lelouch beats him using that tape trick.
  • In the world of Hentai, at least 25% of all cases of sexual intercourse would qualify as sex offenses. And yet the only times the police can be said to be involved in the case is when a policewoman is either the victim or a policeman is the perp.
  • Inverted in Dragon Ball Z: The police and local law enforcement are always portrayed as being utterly useless in dealing with all of the threats to the Earth, but that is only because their opponents have become so powerful that silly little things like guns and tanks can't even scratch them.
  • A strange example in Codename: Sailor V: The police are made to look useless by Sailor V showing them up by taking on not only the youma but also many normal criminals (the first cops to appear in the manga found that Sailor V had captured the crooks before them again). So, what does their boss do? She hires Sailor V.
  • In One Piece most marines are completely incapable of stopping main heroes or any other more notorious criminals running around. Straw Hats and Whitebeard Pirates seem to do a better job helping distressed citizen. However, it’s justified, because most of said criminals can turn into elemental forces at will, have Super Strength and Super Speed or are otherwise beyond ability of normal soldier to handle. Only people who can fight them are others with similar abilities (mainly other criminals like Straw Hats). Whitebeard, on the other hand, is The Dreaded whose sole name and declaration of ownership of an island is enough to keep it out of harm’s ways. This trope is also subverted by most of the marine officers, who posses superpowers or are Badass Normals themselves and proved they are more than competent when it comes to chasing down the criminals.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Batgirl Year One, Barbara Gordon goes to a Police Ball, and they are attacked by Killer Moth. Hundreds of cops against a guy with a glue gun and less than half a dozen of thugs; and the only ones who does anything are the bibliotecary with five-inch heels and Bruce Wayne dressed as a harlequin. Police can't be more useless!
  • Averted in an early Captain America story when the Sentinel of Liberty is trying to stop a number of destructive Sleeper robots. He decides he can't stop them on his own and races to a military base and they take little persuasion to help the superhero fight the machines.
  • The Runaways' first approach to discovering their parents are supervillains is to call the cops. Alex's explanation that their parents are all supervillains does not get them much aid. Part of this may be the extent of influence their parents have. Alex is also deliberately making their story sound insane.
  • In Superhero comics, police officers and security guards are rarely more than an annoyance for even the lowest-level Super Villain. There are occasional subversions, however, when they save the hero's life or capture the criminal before the hero does.
    • One such example is the Metropolis Police Department Special Crimes Unit, which was organized to oppose supervillains as best they can. More importantly, they got their own mini-series to show that they are very good at their work. Mirrored in Superman: The Animated Series where Dan Turpin saves Superman or stalls the villain long enough for Superman to catch his breath and recover. The SCU gets to fight off alien invaders while Superman prevents natural disasters they are causing, and Turpin squeezes in a Heroic Sacrifice to rescue Superman from their leader.
    • The Gotham City Police Department also got their own ongoing series that highlights the difficulty of being a cop in a city full of costumed whackjobs. In the first story arc, they need Batman's help to apprehend Mr. Freeze, but run down the new Firebug on their own after he murders a girl who discovers his Secret Identity. Being Gotham, especially in the early years of Batman's career, it wasn't so much "Police are Useless" as "Police are Corrupt or Too Scared To Be Useful". Perhaps best illustrated in Kingdom Come where the Metropolice PD apprehends the Joker after he's released poison gas in the Daily Planet, before Superman.
    • Another subversion occurred as far back as the 1960s in an early Spider-Man comic, where Spider-Man tracked down the crime boss known as the Big Man and captured most of his gang for the police but the Big Man gets away. Thinking that the Big Man is his boss, J. Jonah Jameson, Peter Parker returns to the Daily Bugle in hopes of helping the police catch him. It turns out, though, that Peter was wrong, and the police managed to track down the real Big Man, who was in fact reporter Frederick Foswell. In Spider-Man comics, not only are the police largely useless but they also attack Spider-Man on an almost constant basis, because of Spider-Man being falsely accused of a crime. Thus, the police would try to capture Spider-Man for several issues, sometimes even going to ridiculous lengths. Naturally, Spider-Man would be cleared of the crime, only to be falsely accused of something else a few issues afterwards.
    • Averted hard in Starman. The O'Dares, a family of policemen (and woman), regularly help Jack because his father saved their father. They start by capturing the Mist while Jack fights the Mist's son and keep up that track record throughout the series. Jack & his father consider them friends and celebrate Christmas with them.
  • Elk's Run looks like a case of this at first, and the initial two policemen sent to investigate don't survive very long. However, it's a major plot point that Conservation of Ninjutsu does not apply to the cops — if reinforcements come, everything's over.


Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

"So the gard walks into the room and sees the orcs, and does nothing. Legolas runs off down the hall, then runs back and asks the gards where Laura is. They say that the orcs took her, neglecting to mention that they stood by and watched..."
"And by that time, the orcs have apparently already returned to Mordor. I think we can safely assume that all the characters have gone insane."


Film[edit | hide]

  • The Blob, starring Steve McQueen, is perhaps the archetypal example.
    • Which is odd because it actually plays against itself throughout with one cop willing to trust the teenagers and another (the former's subordinate) being extremely distrustful of them.
  • In Superbad the two cops are a good deal less mature than the teenage protagonists.
  • In Gremlins, Billy's efforts to warn the police about the title creatures get blown off. But hey, would YOU have believed him? It gets even worse when those same cops see a man being mauled by the creatures and they don't bother to help him.
    • A Mad Magazine spoof of the film makes fun of this. A cop tells Billy, "The police never listen to the hero until it's too late!" Then he mentions films like The Blob.
    • Billy suffers similar disbelief and a helping of mockery from the security team in the sequel. They wise up when one gremlin tears through their surveillance system and assaults them.
  • Changeling. First, the police (who, in that area, were extremely corrupt at that time) refuse to investigate Walter's disappearance until the morning after Walter's mother Christine reports it. Then, after months of searching, they give her a boy who isn't her son. They refuse to believe her when she points this out, despite many obvious discrepancies between his physical characteristics and Walter's (such as the boy being three inches shorter than Walter). It just keeps getting worse from there, with the police actively obstructing any and all attempts to locate the real Walter, simply to avoid losing face. An officer who has discovered a possible murder case is even ordered not to investigate because it could mean finding the real Walter's body and admitting that they never found Walter to begin with. They even go so far as to have Christine involuntarily committed to a mental institution to destroy her credibility. The staff there turn out to be no less corrupt than the police. The worst part is that Changeling is based on a true story.
  • Pick a Die Hard movie. Any of them.
    • Al is the exception. And John McClane IS a cop. Otherwise...
    • Probably the worst instance is in the first film, where John's quite rational radio call about the hostage situation is dismissed as a prank for no reason at all.

Dispatcher: Attention whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only.
John McClane: No fucking shit, lady! Do I sound like I'm ordering a pizza?!

    • This is somewhat averted with the portrayal of the New York City Police Department in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
    • In Live Free or Die Hard, this is subverted due to the police being rendered incapacitated by Gabriel's cyberterrorist attack (blocking cell phone signals and causing gridlock on highways).
  • In the movie Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Sgt. Mooney doesn't just ignore the protagonists — he gets dozens of calls from citizens under attack, and declares all of them to be pranks... and ends up an Asshole Victim for it. On the other hand, his direct superior does believe the kids, when given enough evidence, and ends up displacing the protagonist as the film's real hero.
  • In Jodie Foster's movie Panic Room, the protagonist calls 911 only to be put on hold. When the police do finally show up, it's because her neighbor heard her screaming. And still the cops are dissuaded from sticking around.
    • Quite on the contrary, really. The police first showed up because Foster's in-movie husband called them out of suspicion. They show up and confront Foster at the entrance door, and do notice that something is horribly wrong. They then return with a SWAT-squad, albeit quite late into the movie.
  • Averted in The Monster Squad when the character Eugene writes a childish letter to the military about Dracula, they actually show up at the end.
    • And again with Sean's dad, a cop, who immediately gets on board to help his son once he figures out what's going on.
  • In the French film franchise Taxi, the police forces of Marseilles are completely incompetent except for Petra. It says a lot about their boss' abilities that in the third installment he talked about his brother, who copied one part of the exam wrong from him, got zero points and thus couldn't become a police officer.
    • The first movie plays the trope differently: Most of the cops except Emilien are decent enough, they are just outside the area of expertise to catch those particular crooks. The chief is peculiar... but not outright incompetent, the implication being that the pressure of this crime wave is getting to him. The sequels make the cops outright dumb and dangerous: Only Petra is in any way competent, and the cops are more dangerous to the city than the criminals themselves.
      • In the fourth film, Petra and the French Intelligence stage a Batman Gambit using the cops' incompetence.
  • Subverted in the Die Hard-on-a-bus film Speed where the police are actually competent at helping out the protagonist, such forming an escort to prevent collisions, mapping out a survivable route with the help of a police captain from a chopper and blocking off roads so the bus won't explode.
    • It helps that the protagonist is another cop, but that just goes towards subversion, too.
    • Except for the S.W.A.T. officers who try to assist the woman off the bus while on the highway, despite knowing that the killer is watching and told them explicitly not to do that.
  • Averted in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers where Michael gets shot innumerable times and knocked down a mine shaft by the state police, who were contacted earlier, near the end. Opening of Halloween 5 also shows them dropping dynamite in the shaft, just to be sure.
    • Also played straight, since earlier in the movie Michael singlehandedly slaughtered the entire Haddonfield police force. There's a reason the state police were called in.
    • In Rob Zombie's Halloween II, Sheriff Brackett asks Andy, one of his deputies, to protect Annie. To say he fails horribly shouldn't come as a shock.
  • Angels & Demons has a really bad case of this. Although this was supposed to be a more or less rational thriller, a single assassin manages to kill the entire Italian and Papal police presence at a top-priority crime scene in city centre of Rome, using little more than a Silencer Pistol.
Shortly after, Langdon manages to convince two Carabinieris to accompany him to the soon-to-be crime scene to stop the killer in time. The van with the assassin and the next victim arrives boldly. The policemen, however, (instead of, you know, calling for better armed reinforcement, seeing how he had managed to kill a dozen others earlier), immediately try to sneak around the van, one by one (not even attempting to sneak in or something). They also are eventually sniped by the killer one by one, who then proceeds pushing his fourth victim into the water unhindered.
Later in the movie, Langdon and the Italian special units storm the presumed criminal hideout. But instead of following Langdon's directions like they were supposed to, they run off into the other direction for no obvious reason, even though Langdon begs them to stay with him. A few minutes later, he finds himself face-to-face with the armed assassin.
    • And The Da Vinci Code (the previous film), actually shows the police to be partially competent rather than completely incompetent. The French police, for instance, may not have managed to catch Langdon and his cronies, but still managed not only not to leave them unguarded in the Louvre, but also to seal off the American embassy and all the public Transit of Paris, and managed to track them down very fast over and over, by investigating in the right spots, and asking the right people.
Langdon only managed to escape the first time due to an insider helping him, the second time, because a bank director hijacks one of his own armoured money transporters, in which he hides Langdon and Neveau (and convinces the police, that it can only be opened again upon reaching it's destination, Geneva), and the third time, because Teabing and his butler drive them from their property in a badass crash course through an off-track rough forest in their Land Rover, before the police manages to storm the Chateau.
The police in Britain is equally competent. They fail to stop the plane on the airfield, and Langdon manages to get out before the police catches up with the halting plane. Yet, they did manage to dispatch Silas and Aringarosa and to find Teabing, Langdon and Neveau, partially using investigation (but paying with a few injured police officers during the raid of Opus Dei House)]].
  • Mocked and played straight in Super Troopers. The Highway Patrolmen are useless because they are just goofing around. The local Police are useless because they are actually in on the drug ring.
  • In Air Force One, the President's entire Secret Service detail and the armed soldier holding the nuclear football are all killed without so much as wounding a single terrorist. Is slightly justified in that the terrorists are all wearing body armor and armed with heavier weapons while the Secret Service has nothing but pistols. Also justified in that the guy heading the Secret Service is in league with the terrorists.
  • Hot Fuzz: Although Nicholas Angel himself is an obvious subversion, the central device allowing the plan of the bad guys in the movie to work is based around the idea that the Sanford Police Force are a bunch of incompetents who've been lulled into such a false sense of security and complacency by the tranquility of the village that they will respond to even blatantly obvious acts of homicide with the assumption that it's an accident of some kind. And they do, to the extent that their complete inability to recognize the blindingly obvious at one point leads Nicholas to doubt his own sanity. Ultimately subverted, however; once their eyes are truly opened to what's really going on in their village, they transform almost immediately into an efficient, competent unit more than capable of kicking ass and taking names.
    • Partly justified because the police chief is in on the conspiracy, and deliberately trying to keep all the other cops complacent.
    • Also London's police department. They pretty much throw Nicholas out for making the rest of them look bad, and then beg him to come back in the end, when they realize that the crime rates are going up in his absence.
  • In War Games the FBI is sure that Lightman is a criminal:

Nigan: He does fit the profile perfectly. He's intelligent, but an under-achiever; alienated from his parents; has few friends. Classic case for recruitment by the Soviets.

    • In all fairness, he did hack into a national defense computer & immediately fired up the ICBM software. You can understand the mistake.
  • In The Goonies, Chunk calls the police to report a dead body and gang of thieves they discovered. The police instantly dismiss his claims, though granted Chunk was a constant liar and already had a reputation for calling the police over false and fantastical claims.
  • Played straight in most Alfred Hitchcock films, due to his own fear of the police from a traumatic childhood experience. However, it's subverted in Dial M for Murder, with a cop that works against the innocent framed protagonist but eventually figures out what's really going on and sets up a trap for the villain and Frenzy, where the cop suspects the protagonist's innocence right from the start.
  • In the B-movie pastiche Monster, the Genre Savvy mentor instructs his successor that the police will never show up until after the monster is defeated. In the end, after The Hero dunks the monster in a vat of liquid nitrogen, he wonders where the cops are and realizes that it must still be alive. After defeating it one more time, the cops finally show up.
  • Played straight, but conspicuously averted in spirit, in the horror movie Jeepers Creepers. When the two frightened, teenage heroes from out of town run to the small-town police in the middle of the night with wild stories about a monster pursuing them, the police utterly break the formula by being quick to believe them and trying their level best to protect them, with the entire force finally facing down the monster in a standoff. Their efforts prove useless, though, as it has a Healing Factor.
    • Not necessarily. They just needed more men and larger guns: when they showed up at the end in full body armor and armed with assault rifles, they force the thing to flee. It was quite obviously worried about being killed at that point.
  • Subverted in Pineapple Express. The heroes avoid going to the police because one of the villains is a cop. When Seth Rogen gets arrested, he finally spills his guts to the arresting officer, who immediately believes his entire implausible story and vows to crack the case. After getting "rescued" from the cop, Rogen berates his friend for ruining everything.
  • Many James Bond films, particularly (for some reason) the ones with sequences in America, see Bond having to avoid getting arrested by the police as well as staying on the villain's trail. Luckily, they're all hopeless drivers.
    • This actually makes perfect sense, since what Bond is doing actually is illegal. Most of the movies, after all, take place on foreign soil, where Bond has no legal powers whatsoever and would doubtless be arrested as the spy he is if the cops found out what he was doing.
    • With the U.S., it's a gray area-in some cases he's working with Leitner and the CIA and his actions are sanctioned, in others (like Licence to Kill) he's operating without authorization.
  • Manos: The Hands of Fate may be one of the most credibility-stretching examples. The police, who spend most their time harassing a young couple at Make-Out Point, finally hear a gunshot fired by the protagonists, who are being chased through the desert by an insane cult. The cops don't get four feet away from their car before giving up and deciding that the gun was probably fired somewhere in Mexico and that it doesn't concern them.

"Sound does travel a long way at night."

  • The 6th Day, like The Simpsons, combines this with For Inconvenience Press One. The system's voice-activated, and the answer to each question is an increasingly annoyed "Yes." The last straw is when answering that there's a direct and current threat to someone's safety still doesn't connect the hero to a human being.
  • Showcased in the idiotic Jennifer Lopez movie Enough. As one review put it, "I wonder how exactly the judge would word his ruling. 'While it is true that your husband has beaten you and that you have produced three separate and unrelated groups of reputable witnesses from around the country who say that he has committed at least a dozen serious felonies, including threatening to murder six different people, the mother of his child among them, I rule that custody goes to the father and furthermore proclaim that he shall not be prosecuted for these crimes because he is rich. Even though J-Lo is now rich too, via her father. I just hate women. And children. Bwoohahahahahaha'"
  • In Spider Man 2 the titular hero's temporary retirement caused the crime rate in NY to skyrocket by astounding 75%. That's right. One man, albeit a superpowered one, managed to contain almost as much crime activity as the whole NYPD did.
    • Like Batman before him, it was more the knowledge that Spider-Man was out there that kept most of the lower-level criminals at home, leaving only guys like the Green Goblin and Doc Ock to take over. Once word gets out that Spidey is gone (thank-you, Mr. Jameson) they come out of the woodwork and crime skyrockets, with the press inflating the figures to sell more papers.
  • Taken to ludicrous extremes in the Prom Night remake: a police department cannot prevent a former high school teacher armed only with a knife from murdering several people despite knowing exactly where he's going.
  • A somewhat more well-thought out example happens in Demolition Man. The San Angeles Police Department has been reduced to a peace-keeping force for a city full of petty crimes. As such, when Simon Phoenix, a real criminal awakened from cryogenic stasis, starts making trouble, the police are utterly incapable of stopping him. Only Spartan, a cop from the same era, is up to the challenge.
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off: The police don't believe Ferris' sister when she calls them about Principal Rooney breaking into her house.
    • It's worse than that. It takes her several minutes to finally convince the police to show up, and it likely takes several more for them to get to the house, and when they finally do, they immediately turn around and arrest her for making a fake call, there being no intruder present. Because, after all, if an intruder is found out, it's not like they'll try to leave the area or anything.
  • The Lifetime Movie of the Week A Cry For Help doesn't even begin to describe this trope. First off, the abusive husband already has a restraining order against him, but it doesn't stop him from marching on over to Tracy's house. Then Tracy calls the cops, who take their sweet ass time getting there. By the time they do, the husband has stabbed her multiple times. This also draws in a crowd, who now are witnesses to this crime. The cop also restrained a guy who was restraining the husband, who pretty much beats her up. Guess what the cop does? He stands there and looks as the husband beats her up and rants on how she should die. While they did call an ambulance and restrain the husband from clawing at her while she was on the stretcher, the fact that they could have done so much more and could have prevented some of the damage done onto Tracey got them sued for it, making this...
  • Subverted in Hocus Pocus. The apparent cop who bullies the children begging for help (insulting Max's manhood) is only a man in costume on Halloween. It plays Adults Are Useless straight, though.
  • The cops in Intruder on two instances. First is when they come to check a disturbance caused by one the workers' ex-boyfriend and then quickly leave without putting any effort on finding him and second is in the end where they arrest the wrong people for the killings.
  • The remake of Fun with Dick and Jane had one part where a Latino man impersonates Dick with a picture ID. And it works.
  • The opening sequence of Predator 2 had the LAPD having a gunfight with a much smaller group of Colombian drug dealers. Curb Stomp Battle for the much better-equipped police.
  • Played straight with the Chicago Police Department in The Fugitive. They suspect and arrest Richard Kimble for his wife's murder within hours and don't appear to do any investigating into his (truthful) account of what happened, whereas Kimble, once he escapes, is able to track down his wife's killer within weeks. To make matters worse, the guy is a former Chicago cop, resulting in the Unfortunate Implications of the department deliberately letting an innocent man take the rap in order to let one of their own walk.
    • Averted with Gerard and his team of US Marshals. Although technically incorrect in their pursuit of Kimble, they are not the least bit incompetent, and end up being his allies in proving his innocence.
    • I always thought that it was implied that he was slightly framed by the Chicago police more than that they were incompetent.
  • The sheriff in Frailty automatically assumes that Fenton is lying when he comes and tells him in a total panic that his father has murdered at least two people and immediately has a sit-down with his father as the first course of action. Then again, the movie's such a Mind Screw, so it's hard to tell how much, if any of the story told is true or not.
  • The sheriff in Bad Day At Black Rock is a useless drunkard; mostly as a result of his guilt regarding the dark secret of his town.
  • The Other Guys both parodies and plays this straight, then again they play it so straight it might also be parody. The chief repeatedly shuts the guys' investigation down and ignores all of the evidence they're getting because he told them not to investigate anymore.
    • Subverted because Da Chief actually does know full well that there is something going on. In fact, he just wants to keep the two titular guys away from the danger zone (he is probably the most timorous Chief you'll ever see in modern media). In the end, they actually convince him to help them for a change and to support them in their pursuit. He does.
  • While reporting a ghost is pretty ridiculous, it's hard not to shake your head when the police officers in Dead Friend laugh in Ji-won's face and call her crazy when there are a bunch of random, unexplainable and downright impossible deaths happening around the city.
  • The "party cop" from Cabin Fever. Instead of doing his job and helping the protagonists, he's only interested in partying. And talking about partying.
  • Played for Laughs in Arsenic and Old Lace, where the beat cops who visit the Brewster house to pay their respects to the protagonist Mortimer's sweet old aunts remain cheerfully oblivious to: (a) the mysterious disappearance over the past several years of a dozen old men who've entered the residence; (b) the sudden appearance of a highly wanted Serial Killer; (c) the fact that Mortimer is tied to a chair involuntarily and is about to be tortured to death by said serial killer; (d) the presence of said killer's equally wanted accomplice in the same room even after the killer himself has been recognized and captured. By contrast, the one time they do act rationally is the one time that Mortimer wishes that they wouldn't: when his sweet old aunts innocently confess to the murders they've committed right in front of the police captain.
  • The Keystone Kops. Indeed, this was their entire shtick.
  • Also the shtick of The Naked Gun movies for the most part. Lt. Drebin does get his man in the end, but getting there is a comedy of errors.
  • In Trick 'r Treat, when Mr. Kreeg is being menaced by the evil spirit Sam, he calls 911... and is immediately put on hold. Sam then cuts the line, and no patrol cars or other emergency response are ever dispatched to the location of the call to check up.
  • Thompson and Thomson in the Tintin movie. One man they talk to gets nervous at mentions of the pickpocket they are looking for, evidently doesn't want police officers in his apartment, and when they are inside, they find dozens of wallets on the shelves. He claims he is a wallet collector and they believe him.
  • The police are depicted as being extremely incompetent in The Chaser, to the point where they're more concerned with damage control over someone throwing shit at the mayor than they are with a missing woman and a man who confesses to be a serial killer and claims that he's holding her captive.
  • In Race with the Devil, Sheriff Taylor and his deputies are in league with the cultists, and are covering up their act of Human Sacrifice.
  • The cops in Home Alone are poster children for this trope. When Kevin's mother calls them to report that her eight-year-old son has been stranded alone for at least a day, she spends several minutes being bounced around between two bored cops who can't be bothered to try to comprehend what she's telling them before finding someone else to foist her on. Eventually, they dispatch a third cop, who then waits all of 45 seconds after knocking on the door of Kevin's house before concluding that no one is home and leaving.
  • The entire premise of the Police Academy movies. Somewhat subverted though, as the bad guys are even more incompetent.
  • In Kuroshitsuji the situation is so bad that a villain can commit mass murder For the Evulz and only worry about the main character figuring out what had happened.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Part and parcel of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, since having a competent police force would render the need for crime-solving eighteen-year-olds unnecessary.
  • In Tamora Pierce's Provost's Dogs novels, this seems to be the case for Day Watch and any of the Dogs portrayed unsympathetically. Taken up a notch with Sir Lionel of Trebond, in charge of the Dogs in Port Caynn, who is, not only incompetent, an incredible coward willing to put up with huge amounts of criminal activity to save his skin.
  • Averted with the Special Investigations unit in The Dresden Files, led by Karrin Murphy, who among other things has taken down a tree-monster with a chainsaw. Though the unit still calls in Dresden for consulting, it's mentioned a few books in that they've learned enough to handle most of your usual supernatural riff-raff without the wizard's help. There are also things with enough power that getting the police involved would lead to a bloodbath. Several times Dresden convinces Murphy not to involve her unit by telling her what he's facing is "worse than the loup-garou", a Nigh Invulnerable variety of werewolf that rampaged through the station in the second book.
    • Dresden Files sort of plays around with this trope a bit. While SI is helpful (usually) and useful, the police in general are useless (or worse) because they refuse to believe in magic or monsters. SI is, in fact, made up of A) people that have pissed off their superiors but can't be fired and B) cops who have seen enough non-mundane stuff that they brought it up to their superiors and got demoted for being "crazy". Overall, however, the world works on the principle that "Police Are Fucking Terrifying" because the magical world is scared shitless of the possibility that mortal law enforcement in general might decide to acknowledge their existence and apply human ingenuity and ruthlessness to wiping out magical types. Involving mortal authorities in non-mortal matters is often referred to as "the magical world equivalent of the tactical nuclear option".
  • In the early Sherlock Holmes stories, the police inspectors of Scotland Yard were outright idiots, overlooking clues and coming to false conclusions. In The Sign of Four Holmes proclaims, "I would rather have the help of Toby (a dog) than the entire detective force of London!" This was improved in later stories, as Inspector Lestrade, especially, was shown to be more lacking in the specialized knowledge and Hyper Awareness that Holmes possessed, than simply being a moron. Holmes even praised Lestrade and Gregson for their courage and tenacity, even if their own detective skills were lacking by comparison.
    • This was in response to the development of forensic science; when Doyle started writing the stories, the police often failed to take statements from witnesses at crime scenes. As time passed and investigation improved, so did their treatment in the stories. Holmes was always better than them.
    • Indeed, it's said that the real Scotland Yard detectives read Holmes novels, and took hints. It's worth noting that many things that Holmes does that are common police procedure today were barely given a lip service in the 19th century.
    • Even leaving aside the lack of development in forensic science, at the time Doyle started writing the Metropolitan Police had developed a reputation for being woefully incompetent and corrupt. It was also around this time that the Jack the Ripper murders occurred, and it soon became apparent that the police were completely ill-equipped to deal with what was going on; as a result of this, serious and long-needed reforms began to be introduced.
  • Even the magical Aurors from Harry Potter do very little good.
    • More like teams of Aurors were useless. Solitary ones like Shacklebolt and Moody were Badass. Conservation of Ninjitsu?
    • It might have more to do with the fact that all the competent Aurors are in the Order of the Phoenix and the rest are little more than Mooks for the corrupt Ministry.
  • In the Montmorency series, especially the fourth book, the police do very little to help, including capturing the wrong person on a few occasions. But they try. Really, they do.
  • The City Watch in the Discworld novels started out in Guards! Guards! as basically an intentional parody of itself; the Thieves' Guild was better at regulating crime, for one, and eventually the watches were filled by Vetinari with useless no-hopers, led by an alcoholic Sam Vimes on nights. Then events happened, propelling things to the current status.
  • Cops tend to be fairly useless in Stephen King's books. Even when they're persuaded to investigate the strange goings-on in a particular novel, they have a tendency to get bumped off before they can help the heroes.
    • There's a big exception in Needful Things, though; the main character, a small-town sheriff, manages to singlehandedly fight off a demonic Puppet Master. Most of his deputies manage to handle themselves half-decently considering the circumstances, too.
  • In Very Bad Deaths, Russell is hunting Alan, a serial torturer/killer, from information gleaned by his telepathic friend's brief brush with Alan's mind. When Russell gets a police officer to listen to him, she can only help him as a civilian because the police can't legally act on any of the (scant) information he has on the Alan.
  • The police in Incompetence, as the book's title suggests, are completely useless. Examples include an officer suffering from "Non-Specific Stupidity" who manages to handcuff himself while arresting a suspect, a food safety officer who brings SWAT teams on restaurant inspections and a police captain with anger management problems so severe that he opens fire at the pavement when told to calm down. The one police officer shown to display any form of competence is said to have zero promotion prospects due to this fact.
  • in Goose Girl Ani/Isi is snatched off the streets during the festival and the King's Soldiers, who are there, don't do squat. Later she points this out:

"Did you know that there are men who call themselves Peace-Keepers, obeying their own code of law and not the King's, sworn to keep the streets safe because the King's soldiers do not, or will not?"

  • In The Inkworld Trilogy, Meggie and her aunt go to the police, but the police refuse to come. Also subverted, when one of the police turns out to be employed by the Big Bad. Precisely one cop, who is able to hide the illegal activities of a town, which include regularly kidnapping people.
  • In the Children of the Red King series, the police appear occasionally, but there's not really anything they can do about say, a murder committed by a 300 year old magically animated sword. Generally, they just ignore it and hope the endowed people can solve their own problems.
  • A military variant happens in The Destroyer #113, "The Empire Dreams". The neo-nazi villains successfully blitzes London three times because the same obstructive RAF officer keeps refusing to take the reports seriously. The first time he rejects the reports because they were made by a farmer and a meteorologist and who would fly WW 2-era planes anyway? He later rejects a second report because it says the planes come from the direction of the English Channel, and the first planes obviously came from Ireland. In the third case they actually have a tight security net up, but fail to consider planes launched from within Britain, so he rejects those claims too, because "nothing can get through our security measures". He then accuses the near-hysterical official reporting the bombings of being drunk, while gunshots, explosions and screams can be heard in the background. The villains later seize Paris by kidnapping roughly over a dozen important officials, including the French President, and torturing them until they sign a surrender. The entire coup is carried out one morning without any mention of interference from bodyguards or police, and the new regime has their jackbooted neo-nazi skinhead troops marching in the streets the same day, with no visible resistance at all.
  • Amelia Peabody and her husband, who are detective archaeologists, routinely ignore the police in their detective work. Justified, in that their adventures happen in Egypt in the 1880s to 1920s, where the police are indeed ineffectual, violent and corrupt. Things get better by the end of the series, but by then, their habits are ingrained, to the chagrin of the new police inspector.
  • In Death: Played with. Averted with Eve Dallas, who is a cop and the best officer to go to if there's a problem. Played straight with other police groups, because they are inexperienced, incompetent, lazy, insensitive, too stubborn, too territorial, have a lack of instincts, out for glory, dirty cops, and so on. Fortunately, Eve's squad has closed a number of cases, which shows that Eve is not the only effective cop out there.
  • A variant occurs in Animorphs, where going to the police or even sometimes the army is out of the question because a percentage of the force are controllers and going to either cover up whatever it was to keep the invasion secret or just turn in the Animorphs or both. It's hard to tell who's a controller and who isn't.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Played very straight! The cops know who killed Barbara Rutledge in a hit-and-run in Weekend Warriors, but can't do anything about it because the driver uses Diplomatic Impunity. Indeed, the Vigilantes operate under this assumption, and considering how the police are often incompetent or in the bad guy's pockets, that assumption may not be too far off!
  • Enid Blyton's popular Famous Five series has the Big Bads committing heinous acts and the police completely unable to find even the smallest piece of evidence against them. In the end, the police are the ones who arrest the Big Bad, but it is a certain group of teenagers and a dog who find all the clues and figure it all out.

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Not once during the entire run of The Sopranos is there any hint that anyone in New Jersey law enforcement might be interested in investigating Tony and his gang for any crimes.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: Comically portrayed, through the bumbling of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and (to a lesser extent) deputies Enos Strate and Cletus Hogg. Although Enos is presented as a competent (though certainly not excellent) officer, he's had his moments where his superior skills have not been evident, particularly in the 1983 episode "Too Many Roscoes," where—after an experienced bank robber who is a dead ringer for Rosco bungles simple facts about his friends, but remembers in exact detail an expected armored car shipment at the bank—Enos fails (several times) to even become suspicious about the phony; instead, he gets upset when "Rosco" shows his "forgetfulness."
  • Murder in Coweta County: In the TV adaptation of the true story of John Wallace, the lawmen and judges of Meriwether County, Georgia, are all under the control of ruthless, sadistic land baron Wallace, and this allows him (Wallace) to savagely beat his sharecroppers and hired hands regularly, make moonshine runs, rob people and run roughshod throughout the county doing whatever he pleased, beating and raping whoever so much as slightly blinked wrong at him ... and the police would do absolutely nothing (sometimes, they'd even assist(!)). Wallace's actions against sharecropper Wilson Turner are especially callous and heinous, and regularly ignored and/or condoned by the sheriff's department; when Wallace fires Turner for making too much money on his moonshine runs and refuses to compensate him for his mortgage or crops, Turner—knowing he would never stand a chance in small-claims court—takes matters into his own hands, but this will all lead to his death. Wallace arranges for Turner's release from jail on the theft charge ... only the two had colluded to set up Turner's brutal fate. (The killing of Turner takes place in neighboring Coweta County, and this will lead to Wallace's ultimate downfall, as he will soon be dealing with a lawman who is not only honorable but more than useful.)
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cops of Sunnydale are deeply stupid, and according to Buffy if you get them involved you'll get them killed. Much of law enforcement is -in- on 'it'. It being the town is designed to feed monsters.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Unless you're stupid enough to assault them. Then, in their words, "Justice is swift!"
    • But lampshaded then averted in the episode "Blink", a background character is watching TV and asks why no one goes to the police; this prompts Sally to ask the police herself, and they're pretty competent. Not entirely equipped to solve the case of "the woman who was transported back in time by living angel statues" admittedly, but who can blame them?
    • Also used earlier in "The Idiot's Lantern", and for similar reasons. The Police want to do something, but lack both the manpower (due to an upcoming Coronation ceremony) and any clues (due to People's faces disappearing being out out their league) to do anything until the Doctor lends a hand. Once again, it's hard to blame them for being ill equipped.
    • But it's okay, because the Doctor will just step inside this police box and arrest himself.
  • Subverted in Highlander the Series: Methos repeatedly derails epic showdowns by calling the police on them. Apparently two men going at each other with broadswords is not an Unusually Uninteresting Sight in a modern day city.
    • Brandishing dangerous weapons in public, disturbing the peace, hooliganism. Any cop witness to such who didn't try to break it up wouldn't be doing his/her job. Besides, you could put someone's eye out with those things.
  • The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries: not ONE episode on the Hardy Boys' side in season one or two had a single case of the cops ever believing what the brothers' said. At least, not at first. Usually, said cops were just as likely to toss the Hardys in jail for disturbing their peace.
    • The episode "Creatures Who Came on Sunday" played with this by having the sheriff be in on the whole secret. He was stonewalling the Hardys with his useless act to deliberately keep them away from the top secret operation on top the mountain.
  • A TV series premise based around this trope: Reno 911.
  • Another comedic example, Trick detectives Yabe and Ishihara epitomize this trope. They're more often than not goofing off on the job, going to amusement parks and such, while physics professor Ueda and stage magician Naoko solve the case. The best example of their incompetence comes in season 2 when they run into a group of people in the woods. There's a dead body on the ground, in plain view, in daylight, not a few feet away from them, with Naoko pointing at it. They ignore it and her and instead ask about the stolen macguffin.
  • Became a major plot point on The Shield, when two old women's frantic calls to 911 are ignored allowing the attacker (spoilered for extreme Nightmare Fuel) to jam their hands into the garbage disposal. This causes a massive amount of public backlash, leading to a series of attempts at police murders and a full-blown riot.
  • Subverted in Perfect Strangers when Balki is a victim of a crime. Balki wants to go to the police, but Larry insists that the police are incompetent and they have to deal with the criminals themselves. Sure enough, when they try, they find themselves in deadly danger and the only thing that saves them is the police come out of undercover to catch the criminals.
  • Making the basic premise of Veronica Mars possible is the Neptune County Sheriff's Department. Deputies like Sacks, who border on Too Dumb to Live, make up the majority of the department, while guys like Leo, who are smart and have a good head on their shoulders, don't last nearly as long. But the main reason they're so incompetent is Sheriff Don Lamb, a Smug Snake who only got the gig when Keith Mars was (unjustly) fired. He's more concerned with political maneuvering than solving crimes, he's incredibly corrupt, and in his first appearance on the show he basically laughs Veronica out of his office after she tries to report a rape.
  • On an episode of Seinfeld the police completely brush off Jerry when he calls them about being stalked by a madman who has made death threats. Kramer tried to warn him.
    • In the episode "The Summer of George", Elaine tries to tell a cop that a psycho coworker has threatened to kill her. The cop's reaction? He laughs at her, and talks about how it's just a "cat fight". (Really, now what would you expect from a cop who also happens to be the Almighty Janitor from Scrubs?)
    • They then cap it off by doing nothing but standing there laughing and making wisecracks while Elaine is assaulted by Raquel Welch right in front of them.
  • Burn Notice usually Justifies the irrelevance of the Miami P.D. in several ways. First, the kind of trouble that Team Westen's clients tend to be in is the kind that immediate police involvement would just make worse (e.g. gang activity); in such situations, TW's plan usually involves getting the crooks to act openly so that the cops can arrest them. Second, many clients are crooks themselves, albeit harmless or sympathetic ones, and calling the police would likely just get the clients arrested. Third, some clients are (usually) inadvertently mixed up in heavy spying shit, and getting the police involved would just lead to a lot of blue-uniformed corpses and not much else. Finally (as Michael likes to point out), cops are beholden to a bureaucracy: they have to follow procedures and file paperwork which can slow them down in an emergency. This last bit does allow Michael to run some pretty effective Bavarian Fire Drills, though.
    • Incidentally, the fact that so many of Team Westen's plans rely on the principle of "get the bad guys to commit a crime out in the open, then have the police arrest them" arguably counts as a Subversion. The cops are useful, and are usually clean and competent—it's just that some jobs are simply too big for them to handle without help.
    • The Miami P.D. was also shown to be competent enough to be a pain in Michel's side early in the third season when he up on the grid. Since Michel (and friends) outclass to an incredible extent this shows the epitome of competence.
  • Averted and subverted by the SRU team and most other police forces in Flashpoint as they do their jobs competently and get the job done. But sometimes played straight with others, such as in the episode "Jumping At Shadows" where the team found out an officer was bribed into letting people gunning for a little girl discover her location.
  • Psych. The Santa Barbara Police Department actually isn't entirely incompetent given how many times they've saved Shawn and Gus's lives, but a 2010 episode had the main characters say that they're too afraid to break procedure, and amusingly, like every fictional and comedic duo, when Shawn and Gus actually went into the police academy, they did much better when they pretty much flat out ignored procedure and did something that'd get a real person killed.
  • Averted and subverted in Criminal Minds where the local police helping the team are competent and helpful within their expertise and experience, though often outmatched by the Unsub of the Week. Though there are a few exceptions occasionally showing up.
  • Played straight in pretty much every episode of The A-Team to justify why any particular client couldn't go to the cops to deal with the week's villain. This eventually ended in the final season when the format changed to the team handling government missions instead of working as "soldiers of fortune".
  • Played straight most of the time in the British mini-series Sherlock, except in episode 3 where Sherlock says "Contrary to popular belief, we actually have a secret service in this country".
  • Play straight in most Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series in the Heisei era (except for Kuuga, Agito, and Dekaranger), the local authorities are often absent in last stands against insert evil forces. When they do face them, it is often in the form of Five Rounds Rapid.
  • An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had the detectives searching for the man who had raped and murdered an assistant DA and was now stalking Olivia. When they interview his co-worker, she reveals that the man had been stalking her as well. When the cops ask why she didn't go to the police, she states that she HAD reported it, only to be dismissed. Needless to say, in addition to being terrified for her life, she was now reluctant to cooperate and doubtful that the police could protect her.
    • One could say that this trope gets played straight very often on all versions of Law and Order if the cops in question aren't those from the main cast.
  • A comedic example from Kids in The Hall: the recurring police officer characters pull over a drunk driver who was doing 90 in a school zone while wearing a blindfold. Then they let him go because their shift just ended.
  • Endgame: This is Arkady Balagan's general attitude toward the police department. Given that he grew up in Soviet Russia, it is somewhat understandable that he came to have this attitude.
  • In Everybody Hates Chris, the cops often refuse to help blacks, even when they're black themselves. The whole thing is a parody of the 80s.
  • Parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Look with their futile attempts to catch the "Identity Killer," whose calling card is that he leaves behind clues to his identity at the scene of each crime. Such as, for example, a calling card. By the end they have his name, a picture of him, a tape of him committing a murder, his birth certificate, address, mobile number, and him sitting in the police station covered in blood. They are baffled.
  • Officer Dan on Married... with Children would rather nap under a bridge than respond to a bank robbery. He also joins a NO MAAM protest instead of arresting them.
  • The Community episode "Epidemiology" goes beyond to the level of the Army is Useless. They make a point out of showing up six hours after the first news of infection. Also, they apparently didn't think of a cure that a doctor in a banana suit casually hypothesized. They seem prepared to eliminate a school full of people because they have a virus that's cured by dropping the temperature 58 degree.
  • In Misfits the police occasionally show up, but never seem to investigate anything, so as long as you don't commit crimes when they're watching you're safe. Most obviously, they appear not to have noticed that over the course of a year about twenty people have disappeared without trace while they're supposed to be at or have recently visited the same community center, including four parole officers, all of them assigned to the same group of people.
  • Batman: Subverted with Gotham City Police Department: Commissioner Gordon, Chief O'Hara and their whole staff discuss and lampshade since the pilot that they are useless against Super Criminals, so they maybe are useful with normal crime, but since they are also Lawful Stupid and The Cavalry Arrives Late...
  • Knight Rider: The local police are usually too dangerous to contact or have been corrupted by the villain, and so they're useless at best, obstructive at worst.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • Generally averted in Adventures in Odyssey, where most of the police are played straight and do their jobs just fine—sometimes in detail. However, there was one notable exception early in the show: Officer David Harley, an absent-minded, bumbling police officer who was a recurring character and ready-to-go comic relief. However, he was pulled off of the show when parents complained that he was presenting the wrong image of police to kids.
  • The radio play Sorry, Wrong Number is about a bedridden woman who overhears on the phone, in detail, a conspiracy to commit murder. When she calls the police, they aren't really interested in looking into it.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Given how prevalent the military version is in Zombie Apocalypse fiction, it's worth noting that it's utterly averted in Unhallowed Metropolis. The main deciding factor in whether a country or region still exists is whether or not there was a swift and effective military response, whether it consisted of actual military strikes to curtail the Animates, erecting fortifications, or simply fleeing to more defensible geography.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Prototype, the police are so useless that by Day 4, they're kicked out of Manhattan and replaced by the Marines and Blackwatch. They only ever use a pistol in combat, which amounts to throwing spitballs in terms of damage to most things they fight. It is not their fault they weren't trained to deal with a flesh-eating zombie death-virus and two Persons of Mass Destruction throwing each other around Manhattan.
  • Averted in Police Quest, in which you are the police officer and if you do stuff like what you think the police can do, you'd get a game over. The game was praised for being so realistic for its time specifically because you couldn't just go in and shoot everyone who broke the law.
  • A particularly notable aversion are the cops of EVE Online, which are overpowered specifically to avoid this trope.
    • In practice this is both an aversion and played straight. The EVE cops are highly efficient in punishing certain crimes but have a limited range of what they consider a crime. If you blow up another player's ship they will blow up your ship in response but will completely ignore your buddy who is looting the wreck of your victim for all its valuables. The EVE cops are completely useless for any activity that they are not programmed to recognize as criminal. Loophole Abuse is rampant for this reason.
    • Justified because anything they are are not programmed to recognize as criminal actually isn't criminal in-universe.
  • Pokémon. Where to start on this one. There are criminal bases that aren't hidden in the middle of town in broad daylight with police all around, doing nothing. They are letting 10 year olds sprint into a crime zone, and somehow they do a better job than the cops. A blatant example of this trope.
    • In Pokemon GSC, police officers are rare trainers who are only fought at night, as they will spot the player and assume he or she is a criminal, then unleashes his Growlithe. It is only after the child beats his Growlithe to death over the course of a 5-minute battle that the officer realizes you're a child. Let's not get in to what would happen if the child weren't a Pokemon trainer.
    • Most triumphant example has to be in RBY, where you go into the house that Team Rocket have just ransacked. The police are still there, and you see there's a giant hole in the wall which they're ignoring. Go outside through the hole...and you see that the thief is still sitting in the garden. What.
    • Even Deputy Sherles would Face Palm at the disgrace of the Eternia Jenny depicted much higher on this page. Then again, he isn't much better; only Interpol's Looker and the Ranger Corps have had any success at snuffing out crime without having to resort to an external prepubescent battle prodigy, and yet neither of them dare to think about Orre at all. Sherles and Officer Johnson both patrol Pyrite Town and yet are unable to make a lasting dent in the horde of hoods that inhabit that town, much less the rest of the region.
      • Above, Byron said that the regional Pokemon League and the people that challenge said League (substitute the Ranger Corps for the regions they cover) are the ones most fit for fighting the various villainous groups, and that said groups were out of the police's jurisdiction or ability to handle. Justy is the only Gym Leader in Orre, and in XD he's shacked beneath his own gym courtesy of Cipher. It's safe to say that, were it not for Wes or Michael, Orre is completely and utterly FUCKED.
    • And for you "League is government" crackpots out there, Unova is just as guilty of this trope as the rest. You'd think someone who listened to one of Ghetsis numerous speeches would have voiced objections to liberation, but the Unova League only acts against them when [A] they are acting overtly criminal (Nacrene, Castelia, Driftveil) or [B] their big plan has come out into the open (Icirrus onward). At least unlike the other leagues (bar the Champions) they get their act together period, but there's a reason "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it" is an effective phrase. Speaking against Team Plasma back at Accumula had the potential to derail Ghetsis' entire plot at the station. On the other hand, Looker is pretty competent, even though the player has been led to believe otherwise, and takes down multiple crime syndicates despite not owning any battling Pokemon, albeit with the player's help. As for some of the other examples, several teams are well liked by the public and others are seemingly paying off cops.
      • To be fair, people do voice objections to liberation—the game very, very clearly doesn't want us to agree with Ghetsis or Team Plasma, but just speaking out about owning Pokemon isn't illegal. That goes out the window after they steal the Dragon Skull and then Bianca's Munna, but...
  • Largely the case in Spider-Man 3, in which "police crackdowns" rarely achieve anything substantial against the H-Bombers and Apocalypse gangs - but a few drubbings from Spidey can seriously reduce the territory of these gangs. On the other hand, you sometimes come to the aid of cops being attacked by gang members and they handle themselves pretty well.
  • Invoked in Crackdown; the Agency Peacekeepers are so pathetic that the three major organized crime syndicates have divided up Pacific City between themselves; so the Agency has to create a super soldier in order to take them out. It was invoked intentionally, however. The agency's leader secretly supplied and informed the gangs while "running law enforcement into the ground", in order to make the citizens accept the police state that would be ushered in once the Agent killed off all the bad guys.
    • But also subverted, the Agency as a whole may have utterly failed to keep crime down, but in gameplay, Agency Peacekeepers have been shown to be quite competent in a firefight. A 2 on 2 shootout often ends with both Peacekeepers alive, and both gangsters Dead.
  • In Crazy Taxi there's no police (at least patrolling).
  • The Grand Theft Auto series tends to portray police as incompetent. Not only can they fail to capture the player despite supposedly being better armed and in superior numbers, they can't hold him for any time and use capture tactics that would be more dangerous to themselves and the innocent civilians than suspects. That, and they're even less likely to go after NPC criminals. That said, police are more effective in Grand Theft Auto IV than in other installments; in a shootout with your average street thug or gangster, they usually win.
    • In the Saints Row series you attract police attention by attacking a cop or shooting/running over a civilian in front of them, but notably not by crashing into a car, or even jumping out of a car with nitrous active and pointed at a crowd of civilians. Rear end a cruiser at a traffic light, though, and they will try to shoot you.
    • And taken to a ridiculous extreme in Saints Row 3. The way to shake the cops off your tail instantly? Why, hide in a store you own. This immediately causes your notoriety to drop to zero. The game explains this by telling you there are (invisible) gang members defending the shop. This may be a step back from the visible gang members guarding your stores in Saints Row 2, but this way the game doesn't have to explain just what two gangsters with machine guns are supposed to do against the numerous SWAT teams, microwave tanks and the air force on your tail. And if the cops still have to let you go, they would probably find you at your own super secret stronghold which is so super secret it is a giant purple skyscraper with the Saints fleur de lis on the front. It should come as no surprise that the law finally decides to bomb the whole city to dust, lampshaded by one of the characters as "if they blow up every building we gotta be in one of them".
  • Averted in Bully, where getting other kids in trouble with authority figures is frequently a viable tactic.
  • In Persona 3, the Police aren't capable of activity during the Dark Hour, but they provide the bulk of the weapons used by the party to fight the shadows.
  • In Persona 4, the police can't do everything given that they can't travel to the other side of the TV screen, but they still contribute a lot more to the investigation than you would expect. Dojima in particular correctly guesses at the involvement of the main character and his friends in the case, but as he has no knowledge of the TV world, he can't fill in all the gaps. It doesn't help that not only does Dojima not believe his nephew at a critical juncture when the player gets the option to tell the truth, but a member of the police force is also a villain and deliberately misdirects the force to ensure more murders occur.
  • In Ace Attorney the police range from mostly effective (Jake Marshall, Angel Starr, Tyrell Badd) to corrupt (Damon Gant, Lana Skye) to flat-out incompetent (Maggey Byrde, Mike Meekins, Dick Gumshoe). You spend the most time around the latter.
    • Maggey's less incompetent than horrendously unlucky.
  • Justified, averted, and played straight in City of Heroes.
    • Justified because, in a city where the gangs consist of fire-breathing demon worshipers, juiced-up Hulk-wannabes, elementally-powered mutants, and soul-eating carnival performers (among other things), there's not a whole lot your average guy with a gun can do.
    • Averted because, you will occasionally run into police duking it out with gangsters, or holding them at gunpoint. There are also the more ambitious parts of the police department, such as the Powered Armor Cops, the Psi-Division, and the Awakened Division.
    • Played straight, because your contacts in the police department and various guards will never move, no matter how close any baddies come.
    • Lampshaded in Going Rogue when you break into a Destroyer drug den; the enter-mission blerp includes you wondering how the PPD keeps missing the drug dens... then they show up; after you rescue the person you're trying to rescue and they try to stop you from escaping; failing.
  • Heavy Rain: The police detective in charge of the Origami Killer case is rather fanatical about beating confessions and information out of suspects, even ones who are obviously innocent. The one cop who isn't useless, FBI Agent Norman Jayden, never gets any backup from the locals which can lead to his death on three separate occasions. One of which after he discovers the body of a murdered local cop that they don't even know about. The Killer, posing as a private detective, manages to collect and destroy most of the evidence against him because apparently the police never even asked for it.
    • The hilariously-incompetent SWAT team that tries to catch Ethan. Some seem to be unarmed, the others carry nothing other than pistols. They fail to seal off the hotel and are evaded by an untrained and extremely fatigued man who has, in the past week, sustained broken rib(s), an amputated finger, electrical burns, severe lacerations, a possible concussion, as well as an assortment of other more "minor" injuries.
  • Played straight, justified and then subverted in Urban Chaos: Riot Response where the Burners more or less make mincemeat of the city's cops, who do try to fight back but are outnumbered and out-gunned. That's where you come in, as part of a new zero-tolerance unit, you're given the shiny new stuff and license to Kill'Em All.
  • Martha, the cleaning lady from Rule of Rose writes to the police about her (correct) suspicions concerning the recent disappearances, but Officer Dolittle (oh, the irony) dismisses her fears, leading to her death and worse disasters later in the line.
  • Initially averted, but quickly played straight to the point of being painful to watch in Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh. The only time you see the police in action is Detective Powell. She is not a credit to the police force for the following reasons... 1. She did not arrest Paul Allen Warner for completely ruining her crime scene (Curtis Craig's cubicle) the day after Bob's murder. 2. She is convinced Curtis Craig is the murderer despite the facts that he could not have known Bob would be in Wyntech so early, he could not have known Tom would be in Wyntech in the middle of night, and he does not possess the murder weapons in his home or anywhere for that matter. 3. She used intimidation (starting with her saying "You're screwed up!" and then going on a bizarre and stupid rant about how she will hunt him down wherever he hides if she finds proof of what he has done) on him when he only answering a question about Tom and Paul Allen Warner's confrontation. 4. She alerted him to the fact that he was under police suspicion 5. She never even tried to have him put under surveillance. 6. She never mentioned warrants or reading people their rights. 7. She never recorded or documented any of the conversations she had with the characters. 8. Curtis made statements about what he thinks is going on, and she refused to even investigate or consider them. 9. She always confronted and questioned him all by herself, even though she suspected him of murder. She did reach for her gun when he became angry and started moving towards her. Really, if she was so sure he was a murderer, then she should have brought a partner with her. 10. She should have questioned Curtis in another room, out of sight of Bob Arnold's body. 11. She seems to think that Curtis is a Serial Killer just because he is a loner. Detective Powell, and the entire police force in the game are basically useless jokes. They could greatly benefit from reading police procedural novels.
  • Switches between being played straight and subverted in Alan Wake. At first, the Sheriff of Bright Falls is more than cooperative with Wake, attempting to be helpful and understanding in the search for his wife. However, the trope is played straight later on when Agent Nightingale gets involved, leading law enforcement officials in the area on a manhunt for Wake. Not only is Nightingale often drunk, belligerent, and trigger-happy, the deputies he sends into the forest end up having to contend with the Darkness. They don't do very well, which is somewhat justified by the fact that they were chasing a single person and weren't aware of the Darkness and its people puppets which promptly slaughters them. However, the trope is later subverted again when the Sheriff is quick to support Wake in fighting the Darkness, releasing him from prison and proving to be a very competent escort when armed with a shotgun and flashlight...
  • Exaggerated in Uncharted 2: the Big Bad invades Kathmandu (the capital city of Nepal), riles up the local guerrillas to cause a massive amount of collateral damage, ransacks 500-year-old temples that form a large part of the city's cultural heritage, and generally tears the city apart looking for the next clue for the Cintimani Stone. None of this garners any sort of response from the Nepali Army.
  • In the Resident Evil series, it tends to be both subverted and played straight to the point of exaggeration. On the one hand, most of the protagonists (Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Leon Kennedy) are from police backgrounds, and prove to be competent (barring the occasional bit of Cutscene Incompetence ) and intelligent while surviving their respective ordeals. On the other hand, you have characters like Brad Vickers, a man who flees from the slightest hint of danger and leaves the rest of his team stranded at the mansion. Not even police outside of Raccoon City are spared. The Spanish police in Resident Evil 4 send only two uniforms to escort Leon into potentially hostile territory. This is just exacerbated by the fact that the mission they are supporting Leon on is rescuing the kidnapped daughter of the President of the United States of America! Even the deaths these characters suffer show their incompetence. How in the name of God does a police marksman get pecked to death by crows ? While armed with a grenade launcher no less! Chief Brian Irons deserves special mention. True, he's a stooge for Umbrella but even that is astounding, because he is spectacularly unreliable, with obvious and serious mental illnesses. This makes the whole of the RPD completely ineffective by the time the zombies show up. This is however lampshaded a few times, mostly by RPD officers who question his competency after numerous questionable decisions and displays of odd behavior. In defense of the Spanish Police they were only investigating a lead. Unfortunately that lead was real and lead to a village of psycho villagers. And still the police officers were killed by getting rammed off the road and into a steep ravine.
  • Deep Fear mentions frequently how the Navy SEAL's will arrive to save the day. Half way through, they finally show up. But they get massacred by some of the most blatant Cutscene Incompetence ever put in a video game. When confronted with a mutant, they begin wildly firing from the hip or with one hand at well-lit walls with nothing to shoot at, firing hundreds of rounds without being able to hit a thing. And what is it that brings down these men from such an elite and respected special forces unit? A mutant rat. Ouch.
  • In Ghost Trick, the police mean well and do their best to figure out what's going on, but most still are pretty incompetent. Granted a lot of their confusion stems from the fact that there's ghostly activities going on, but the detective Lynne is still quick to point out particularly bad performances (for example, the one cop failing to notice a very suspicious notebook right in front of him, or realize that if the suspect tries to phone for someone, it's best to notify a higher-up). Lynne herself is the only cop to take on a difficult case to save a fellow officer from death row or so we think, but she still manages to die five times (to be fair, she does put herself in danger mainly to protect others) and Sissel comments that her job as a detective doesn't look long, when she says she has trouble remembering names and faces. Inspector Cabanela, meanwhile, seems to be very laid-back and has a tendency to randomly do Michael Jackson-inspired dance moves, but still has a "natural genius" for investigating and is secretly putting vast amounts of time and research into clearing his friend's name. Inspector Jowd, meanwhile, is pretty Badass, but spends most of the first part of the game in prison. There's also the matter of his greatest failure...which set the entire plot of the game into motion.
  • Sonic Adventure 2

"Sheeesh. There always seems to be a lot of police around when you DON'T need em'!"

  • Payday: The Heist: An average of 130+ Police Officers, SWAT Units, and FBI Agents versus 4 Armed Robbers, guess who comes out on top?
  • In World of Warcraft, some guards will try to take out enemies that come too close. Most are much stronger than the players in the area, but the guards at Sentinel Hill will stand around for ages whacking at gnolls that the player characters can kill with two hits. And then some won't do anything at all, even if the player leads an enemy right to them.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • In the web comic Bitmap World, the security guards at Macrohard stand around doing nothing while equipment is being stolen, then complain that they might get hurt when they're sent to take care of it.
  • In Shortpacked, Ethan calls 911 after his Roadblock poster and Roadblock action figure start sexually harassing him. He gets hung up on almost immediately, as you might expect.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob has two local cops named Baskin and Robbin (as opposed to the two recurring federal agents, Ben and Jerry) who diligently ignore all the seemingly nonsensical "crank calls" they keep getting about flying saucers, unicorns, dragons, robots, and the like. Like so.
  • In the Ciem Webcomic Series and its novel counterpart, the police are either pathetically incompetent or else actively working for the villains.
    • Aliens raid the town and start ravaging it? Quick! Let's look through the neighborhoods and arrest every sexually active teenager we find!
    • There's an obviously distraught girl walking in the rain with her head down. Possible rape victim. Did we arrest her or her sister earlier? Let's just arrest her now and ask questions later!
    • The girls' sister-turned-caregiver is mutilated almost completely beyond recognition in a senseless murder? Let's wait until the house smells of death a full day later before we even bother to investigate!
    • Hazing at school? Ignore it. Stupid kids will be stupid kids.
    • Libelous sex tape being spread around of an impersonator, by students trying to defame another student? It's that same damn mixed-race chick from earlier? Ignore.
    • Girl raped by vampire? Ignore. She had to kill him in self-defense? Ignore.
    • Girls drive another girl to suicide? Ignore. That chick from earlier thwarts the latest victim's attempted suicide? Consider surveillance on her.
    • Mixed-race chick faces attempted murder by alien assailants in parking lot? Ignore. Seen with a boyfriend? Keep an eye on them.
    • Chick marries the new boyfriend? How dare she! He gets killed by supervillain? Declare her an outlaw and put her in jail! And jail anyone remotely sympathetic to her cause! Give award to supervillain.
  • Daisy Owl tackles this one:

Daisy: This isn't like [dad] at all. We need to go find him.
Cooper: Shouldn't we call the police?
Daisy: Yeah, sure. And then we can have ice cream with a nice lady from the DSS. And she'll ask us why Daddy's not home, and why he's an owl, and why he doesn't wear pants, and so on.

  • In Sluggy Freelance the two-man police force in Podunkton actively discourages people from reporting crimes. Deputy Edsel is a straight example, whose first response in the face of an emergency is to say, "Somebody should call the police!" Officer Tod, however, is actually quite skilled, but he prefers to just let Oasis chop criminals into little pieces, while he gets paid for doing absolutely nothing.
    • When Zoë tries to tell some apparently less dishonest policemen that she was kidnapped into a building that turned into a rampaging ground for "zombgeeks" (don't ask), she runs into a downright parodic version of the trope. Sure, her story is extremely implausible, but the policemen are also ignoring the fact that when they went to check it out, "a rocketship made of mucus and unidentifiable bits burst through the roof." Apparently they thought this wasn't anything unexpected because "it's a Monday."
  • In Zeera the Space Pirate Zeera at one point tries to go straight and joins the space cops, only to discover that the space police are so corrupt that piracy was actually a more honest career choice, and she reverts to being a pirate. Since then, she has met a few cops who are honest and are trying to reform the organization.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, this trope was played straight (and mercilessly lampshaded) with the police during the 2005 Schlocktober arc.
  • Suicide for Hire cops never seem to get anywhere. A rash of gruesome teen deaths goes unheralded by the news and not investigated in any detail, and acts of violence in public go ignored, such as when Autumn pulls a knife and attacks another girl at the prom. They did respond and do their best to deal with a case of domestic violence (the author of the comic has been trained to work with victims of domestic violence and didn't want to make light of it) but the victim's non-compliance meant they couldn't convict the attacker.
  • Sequential Art has Art, who - despite repeated cases of Cassandra Truth - never learns and still calls the police whenever something wrong happens. At one point, Pip mocked him for still trying.
  • Subverted heavily in Girly. The C.P.D. even outdo the actual superhero most of the time, not that that's very hard. In the later arcs, they're practically a Badass Army.
  • Ansem Retort: the police have been muzzled by a state law that all crimes committed by people on TV are ignored to protect the entertainment business. Notably, the closest Axel came to being actually punished for his many, many crimes against humanity was before he was on TV.
  • In Mayonaka Densha whenever the police show up they only serve to make the situation worse or just don't do anything at all. Then again, they are being lead by the man himself, Inspector Lestrade.
  • Played With in Kiwi Blitz, as a kid Reed Bahia's mother explained that the police were always useless in the stories to make things more interesting for the hero. And now in the present day the police don't have a big enough budget to deal with all of the costumed villains running around.
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, the police refuse to deal with "freaky WOOF! going down at the cemetery" and make the mayor take care of it instead. But not because the mayor is a main character and the police aren't...nope. The rest of the times they really ought to be doing something, the police don't even offer an excuse.
  • Every example of the police in Drugs and Kisses, much to the delight of the main characters
  • 8-Bit Theater, in the spirit of CRPG, has such guys. Cobblepot's city guard, for one: "His story checks out"!

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Survival of the Fittest has the Denton police force, who are either too corrupt or too incompetent to deal with any of the gang violence rife in the city. This is to the point where the gangs practically run the place, shootouts and mass brawls being a common occurrence.
  • One of Cracked.com's 31 Life Lessons You Can Only Learn From Video Games is that police cars in a beat-em-up are just for decoration. "Only trust your fists; police will never help you."

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Parodied frequently on The Simpsons with bumbling Police Chief Wiggum:
    • In an early episode, Otto drives a school bus through a police picnic, running over their food. Chief Wiggum asks if anyone got the license number. No one did.
    • He makes light of Homer when he reports an alien sighting. Then he does the exact same thing when an arsonist shows up, covered with soot and holding a lighter, confesses to torching a building and admitting he feels like doing it again.
    • Chief Wiggum receives a call from Marge after Homer gets his finger cut off by mistake, but Wiggum misinterprets it as attempted murder, sends units to arrest her... and asks Marge for her address in order to do so. Later in that same episode, he attempts to confirm through the radio his informant is wearing that it is indeed the dangerous mobster Fat Tony that the informant is seeing, by asking the mobsters himself over the radio. And it later turns out the "informants" he sent were Bart and Milhouse. Next thing he hears is the mobsters shooting the informant and missing.
    • When he gets an emergency call over the radio from a remote mountain house, he thinks the "over" bit at the ends means the emergency is over.
    • On a field trip to the police station, Bart sees Wiggum erase the police station's answering machine tape, asking "Aw, can't anybody in this town take the law into their own hands?"
    • Another time, not wishing to miss a lotto drawing on TV, he hangs up on a 911 call, telling the caller they've "got the wrong number, this is 912".
    • Ignoring a rash of calls about property damage from a rampaging elephant, thinking they're prank calls, and getting so wrapped up in dismissing them that he starts dismissing every call that comes in, including officer calling in that he's been shot in a liquor store robbery.
    • He refuses to believe that Sideshow Bob has broken the law by sending death threats written in blood to Bart until he's shown the actual line in the statute book that spells it out as a crime. He then reads on and learns it's illegal to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling, and has to tell his officers in the next room (who are doing exactly that) to knock it off.
    • In the "Beer Baron" episode, a tough Federal Agent takes over the police department from the hopelessly ineffective Wiggum and orders the other officers to: "Get a haircut!" "Get those shoes shined!" and "Take that badge out of your mouth!" Even the Federal Agent wasn't immune to the trope. He was so focused on enforcing the dry law he didn't mind Fat Tony dealing drugs. And he ignored Homer walking next to him with beer ingredients while interrogating an innocent Comic Book Guy (shortly after arresting Ned Flanders because "he sounds drunk"). And at the end of the episode he claims that the law is the only thing stopping him from killing everyone who looked at him "cockeyed".
    • Wiggum once busted Homer Simpson for electronic pan-handling but didn't bother taking the evidence with him. He goes so far as to tell Homer to bring the auto-dialing machine he was using to solicit money to court, otherwise he has no case and Homer will get off scot-free. Homer obliges, being one of the few Springfielders even stupider than Wiggum.
    • When Marge and Homer come to him for help in getting Bart back from Mr. Burns, he rolls his eyes and asks "can't you people solve these problems yourselves? I mean, we can't be policing the whole city."
    • Homer tells Wiggum that "someday" the people of Springfield will stop putting up with police corruption. Wiggum responds with a non-sarcastic "Have they set a date?"
    • Sideshow Bob runs off from a prison work detail Wiggum is supervising. When informed Bob has escaped, Wiggum tells an officer to write Bob up as having been beaten to death instead of trying to go find him.
    • When he and the other officers witness a brainwashed Bart vandalizing a Krusty-shaped drive-thru speaker with a baseball bat while Sideshow Bob is standing next to him screaming "Yes! Kill Krusty like you will kill him tomorrow!", Wiggum merely comments how nice it is that Bart is using a wooden bat instead of an aluminum one (as well as giving a subtle Take That to then-recently elected George W. Bush). And then gets side tracked by a mini pinball toy in Lou's Krusty Meal.
    • When Maggie gets a hold of the car, this is Wiggum's reaction:

Wiggum: Aw, isn't that cute? A baby driving a car! [looks offscreen] Oh and look! A dog driving a bus!

    • After hearing what he thinks is an approaching Biker Gang, a scared Wiggum orders the Patrol Car to be disguised as a Pizza Delivery Car. As a Take That to Dominos Pizza, he used their logo as means to be sure the "gang" wouldn't want any pizza they might have (an Affectionate Parody, since Dominos Pizza sponsor the show).
    • In another episode, in an effort to stop immigration into Springfield, he and Eddie set up a checkpoint on the road, but Wiggum was too lazy to capture any of them, and couldn't even capture the one that crawled through his legs.
    • Wiggum to Marge: "I'm gonna tell you what I've told everyone who walked through those doors: the police are powerless to help you". And Later in that episode when the police arrest Marge: "I said the police are powerless to HELP you, not to punish you."
      • Which is, by the way, Truth in Television. A Supreme Court case established that police exist to investigate and punish transgressions of the law, but are not required to help people in danger, especially if it puts their own lives at risk. (Many do, of course, but they are not actually expected to as part of their job.)
    • In the episode where Mr Burns and Homer steal the trillion dollar bill:

APB: Be on the look out for a maroon, 1939 Stutz Bearcat!
Said car goes by.
Wiggum: Eh, that really was more of a burgundy.

    • When pursuing a getaway vehicle, he identifies it as a "red...car?" and gives his location as "on a road."
    • When an obvious criminal makes a getaway from right in front of him, he refuses to follow, saying "I'd rather let a thousand guilty men go free than chase after them." All of this proves, better than any DNA evidence, that he is indeed Ralph Wiggum's father. In case there were any doubts.
    • In another episode, a Brazilian police inspector is shown to assume that everyone who comes to him to report a crime is actually trying to flirt with him.
    • Another time the 911 operator refuses to send an ambulance to the Simpson house because of all the prank calls made in the past. "Simpson? Look, we’ve already been out there tonight for a sister-ectomy, a case of severe butt rot and a leprechaun bite. How dumb do you think we are? "
    • And yet another time, Springfield's 911 system is shown to be a needlessly complex phone-tree menu.

If you know the name of the felony being committed, press 1. To choose from a list of felonies, press 2. If you are being murdered or calling from a rotary phone, please stay on the line."
<Beep> <Boop>
"You have chosen "Regicide". If you know the name of the King or Queen being murdered, press 1. <click>

    • Similarly, the official SFPD Website has the following trap:

"If you have committed a crime and want to confess, press "Yes", otherwise, press "No".
"NO"
"You have selected "No", which means you have committed a crime but do not want to confess, a police van is now speeding to your location"

    • The Springfield jail is shown to work on the "honor system".
    • After arresting Sideshow Bob yet again, Bob remarks how he'll be back on the street within the week. Wiggum corrects him to say it'll be later that same day. A similar incident occurs with Snake. He says he'll be back on the street within twenty four hours. Wiggum says he'll try and make it twelve.
    • The regular force isn't much better. In "Homer at the Bat" Eddie and Lou arrest Steve Sax for murder, on the basis he's from New York City. When Sax asks for an attorney, the cops brush him off with "You watch too much TV."
    • "It's a good thing you drifted by this brothel."
    • When Marge joins the police she does her best but quits after seeing all the corruption on the job. She caught Herman who was running a counterfeit jean operation, but Wiggum says they have to release him because there is no evidence. Homer points out there is a whole garage full, but Wiggum notes they have "mysteriously disappeared." Cut to the entire police force wearing the jeans right in front of everybody.
    • Ralph Wiggum was once driving a police car while Chief Wiggum followed him in a tricycle. Wiggum said he'd allow Ralph to play with his weapon if Ralph stopped the car.
    • When budget cuts prevented the cops from having weapons and proper equipment. Lou's speedometer is just a thermos and Chief Wiggum drew a weapon in a piece of paper. It was so ill-drawn Lou assumed Ralph drew it.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, the police of Bikini Bottom either are completely useless or make simple things like littering Serious Business.
    • No kidding. In "Spongebob Meets the Strangler", the Strangler draws a picture of Spongebob on the back of a police cruiser's seat and viciously tears it up, obviously implying he's going to kill him. After the police see this, and Spongebob asks for their help, what do they do? They tease him about it.
  • Subverted in Swat Kats at least once. While the titular heroes and the city Enforcers butted heads more often than not, the Enforcers were quick to step in in a fight against a giant alien insect. While they ultimately couldn't do much against said insect directly, they still managed to torch its lair and all of its eggs, and were ultimately responsible for its destruction. As a general rule, however, while they're fairly Badass for cops in a superhero show, the Enforcers just Can't Catch Up to the titular SWAT Kats and the enemies they face.
    • Played straight in an episode when T-Bone and Razor were once in the Enforcers, and Cmdr. Feral caused them to crash into Enforcer HQ, blaming them for it.
  • Subverted by an episode of the Super Mario Bros Super Show where Bowser and the Koopas follow Mario and Luigi back to Earth. Bowser decides to conquer Earth along with the Mushroom Kingdom, and the New York police department helps the Mario Brothers get rid of them. Unfortunately, Bowser turns them to stone (and we never see them get changed back).
  • The Detroit Police Force in Transformers Animated is usually ill-equipped to deal with whatever supervillain/alien robot/giant monster related weirdness is attacking the city this time. They even become part of the problem after an Allspark fragment in an assembly line robot causes the police bots it constructs to go violent and berserk.
  • Kim Possible. The very few times the police are actually shown, they show up after the villain is captured, no exceptions. Lampshaded in the episode with the Fashion Police. When Kim calls them out on being completely useless, they point out that they were trained in fashion, not combat. Makes you wonder how they're supposed to enforce anything.
  • Inverted twice in Batman Beyond when that Batman charges in to stop a crime, only to learn the hard way that he just screwed up a police sting that would have stopped the criminals on its own if he hadn't butted in. Naturally, that annoys his ally, Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon, to no end. But for a former Batgirl she's pretty quick to believe in an illusion of him killing a criminal. Then again, even Bruce seemed to believe Terry killed the criminal until Terry stated otherwise and was shocked upon the accusation.
  • Recess: School's Out. Granted, the story was pretty crazy, but when you get THREE seperate reports of the same story (not only that, but the third person who reported it was not only a teacher at the same school as the one with the strange reports, but the same person was also likely old enough to have most likely would have taught them as kids), don't you think it might at least be worth a look?
  • DuckTales and Darkwing Duck both had their respective protagonists, Scrooge McDuck and, well, Darkwing Duck, wind up in jail at least three times because the villains are messing with the police's heads. Of particular interest is that, in the "Super DuckTales" serial that introduced Gizmoduck; the police also actually give judge and jury duty to the Beagle Boys despite them being known criminals!
  • The Powerpuff Girls Movie shows what Townsville was like before the girls came along. The reason crime was so rampant? The police were always at the donut shop.
    • The villain of one episode was an incompetent cop who blamed the girls for his firing. Said cop was a lazy Small Name, Big Ego type that sat in his car sleeping and ate donuts, somehow thinking that he was up for a promotion any day now. The rest of the police are actually competent, as they rescue the girls in the end.
  • While the police of Woodcrest do appear to be useless on a daily basis, this is mostly because they are either on the take, innocents roped up in some so-called heroes' criminal activities or simply not called upon in the first place. They prove how useful they can be in the episode of The Boondocks "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy". Only after the Freeman family's other plans fall through including purchasing the incredibly pricey protection services of the now deceased Bushido Brown, someone resorts to 'snitching' on the three antagonists making attempts on their lives and the police resolve the issue quickly with minimal fuss.
  • Used in a brief throwaway gag in the Looney Tunes cartoon "The Stupor Salesman", A bank robber blows by a parked police car with two officers in it, both of whom are fast asleep.
  • Done in Rocky and Bullwinkle when the World Economic Council calls the police when Boris and Natasha escape with a truck load of counterfeit box tops.

Officer: Would you spell it please?
Council: B-O-X-T-O-P-S!
Officer: B-O-S...
Council: X! X! B-O-X!
Officer: One question? How do you make a "B"?

  • Justified in the Venture Brothers episode The Trial of The Monarch, in that the police, in exchange for substantial funding, refuse to acknowledge any criminal activity of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, and do not respond to any emergency calls regarding them.
  • In South Park, when Kyle tries to report the obvious serial killer (who wants to get caught) with DNA evidence, he is berated by Sergeant Yates for being a waste of his time, since he is not a psychic.
    • Officer Barbrady is extremely incompetent in the early seasons for being incapable of solving crimes and other stuff. Despite that, he actually kept South Park in peace since he's the only cop in town and had moments like when he learned to read and solved the "Chickenlover" case. He becomes much more competent in his job as he was Demoted to Extra and the Park County police takes the role.
  • A Robot Chicken sketch.
  • In the movie Aladdin, the guards were actually fairly useful, even managing to catch Aladdin once. In the series, they're another story. Aladdin solves all of Agrabah's problems, while the guards seldom do anything and sometimes even get in the way. The opening of the episode "Black Sand" is probably the best example of this. All four guards fail at catching a tiny flying eel. Subverted with Razoul when he's given A Day in the Limelight.
  • Inspector Gadget lives this trope. He only managed to arrest the right person once in his entire series. And that was because the thief fell down the fire escape and landed in front of him with the stolen goods. Most of the episodes include at least one scene of Gadget trying to arrest his dog.
  • On Family Guy, Stewie reports the theft of his tricycle to the police. Since no adults understand the talking Stewie, the cop says, "Oh, look at the little baby. Aren't you cute? Where's your mommy?" The cop says the exact same thing to when a man shows up to turn himself in when he has a dismembered Baltic hooker bleeding through the tarp in his trunk.

Peter: Hey Joe, can't you just arrest the guy?
Joe: I can't arrest Jeff unless Brenda files a formal complaint with the police.
Quagmire: She won't go the the police, she's afraid of what Jeff'll do! [...] What if he hits her one of these nights and kills her?!
Joe: Sorry, Quagmire, police policy; we can't step in until it's too late.

    • The page image is from a joke Family Guy did about the cop show CHiPs, where Erik Estrada's character Ponch is hitting on a woman and ignoring a violent gunfight and a truck carrying cocaine passing behind him.
    • Also, when James Woods stole documents of Peter's identity, Joe said he had no choice but treat Woods as the real Peter Griffin.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Justified in Season 1's opening two-parter where Nightmare Moon blasts three Royal Pegasus Guards with lightning.
    • A Canterlot Wedding: Canterlot is protected by a magic shield and a small army of Royal Guards who, despite being on high alert, are overrun by Changelings as soon as the shield collapses.
      • Well, they were outnumbered about thirty to one...