The glaring difference between British and American cop shows

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Looked at that way, the police-focused seasons of The Wire took an almost British approach to things. Lots of surveillance (as the title implies), lots of investigative legwork, lots of navigating the justice system, and very little gunplay (at least by the cops). At the same time, the Baltimore police in the series are operating in an environment where crime and chaos is very much the norm. No side really loses, but no side really wins, either.


Luther is listed as an exception to the “no guns in British cop shows” rule, but given how gruesome and dark the show is, from an American perspective (well, mine at least) the absence of guns is glaring. which actually made the few gun scenes, in which a criminal has a gun, but Luther doesn’t extrenely intense. My wife and watched the scooter drive-by/trashcan lid scene over and over, and by contrast could only watch the scene with Luther desperately negotiatung not to be shot on the balcony once…


We’ve been watching The Fall and they do “gun up” in Belfast after an ambush of a cop at the beginning of the series. But they make it very clear that the detectives don’t normally carry guns. (Not sure about the patrol officers in NI.)


Sorry. No British show can approach the genius of Car 54, Where Are You.


Another noticeable difference is that American shows seem to always have that one goober Deputy cop who goes off half-cocked, or accidentally does something dumb every episode. Sure it’s the ‘humor’ angle but it’s soooo off key.


I remember being on holiday in the states, clicking though channels, bored. I stopped on something called SWAT Miami. Maybe the city was different. A naked man was besieged in his house, he was clearly in crisis, he stuck a handgun out of the window of a bathroom and discharged it blindly into the air. What struck me was that one of the officers admitted that in seventeen years of dressing like a fascist’s wet dream and waving military grade ordnance around while kicking in doors, this was the first time that any suspect had actually fired a weapon of any kind. Seventeen years. What did he think he was doing?


What about Canadian cop shows?

(This series recently appeared on a local “retro” station and it was like seeing a weird alternate history, since it never played on US television. Also, it’s remarkably bad, like a soap opera, plus it’s both a police show and a doctor show-- throw in some lawyers and all bases are covered.)

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Yes, they are armed. In the UK, the only officers that routinely carry guns are the ones on the beat in NI, Military base police, and the force that guards nuclear establishments. All the other forces just have small specialist teams who respond to firearms incidents.


Not what I was expecting. To me, the glaring difference is that every cop in 99% of American cop shows could have a second career moonlighting as a fashion model. In British (and generally Canadian) cop shows, they’re ordinary schlubs like the rest of us.


But where’s the difference (other than the guns, which reflects reality rather than the show)?

All the CSIs made use of video footage, though most was private, that gas station filming for its own security. Yes, it was fictional, able to enlarge a low resolution picture and get good detail, or a reflection n somebody’s eyeball provides a license plate. But the CSIs were about collecting evidence, and interpreting it. But since it was a tv show, it was more about catching someone, than preparing for a trial to prove their guilt.

They set the bar for ither shows. So Cri.inal Minds and the NCISs ware constantly looking for video footage, and checking databases.

TV shows are different from real life. So Adam-12 and Dragnet were oretty mundane, wanting to reflect reality, while endless other shows have the guns etc because they are action shows.

The problem with people’s new found outrage against cops is that it focuses on violence. But violence is just the tail end of how the cops treat some people. The first time I was stopped, Dec 1976, it felt wrong that they’d stop me to demand ID (I was just walking along a busy sidewalk in the daytime), but I comolied. When it was iver, I said I didn’t like it, and the cop swore at me. That never changed, they saw me as a criminal, and wanted ID so they coukd check to see if Ihad a record, and then they could pursue that. It’s not a police state" I said in November 1980, which built up to the point where the other cops disappeared so one cop couod tell me hoq much he wanted to beat me up (which he never actually did, just the threat). I can guess it was my long hair, but they never said anything so I could only guess, and do things like don’t go out in the middle of the day or carry things that might be deemed “suspicious” if they searched me (and after I checked and thus stopped identifying myself, they did search me for ID, hence I’ve not routinely carried it for forty years).

The second time I was arrested (both times for civil disobedience), I almost told the cop “considering we broke the law, yiu certainly treat us properly”.

Cop shows are entertainment, not propaganda.

And the anger of people who have experienced police abuse always trumps the outrage of people who read it in the news.

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I consider it telling that the Police in NI (now known as PSNI, previously as the RUC - the Royal Ulster Constabulary) do not operate from Police Stations - they operate from Barracks. It’s almost as if they were considered an army of occupation… :thinking:


We beg to differ. They can be both. If fact, intended or not, they ARE both.


I noticed that as a general observation in US vs British media.

I think the reason for that is mainly shear numbers. Only a certain percentage of people are proficient actors, and thus in the US we have more good looking people to pick from who can also act. And also have more interesting character actors too. The UK media has a lot of pretty “average” looking people. Culture might have something to do with it too, Hollywood glamour and all.

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You may be forgetting the Met. They guard embassies, the home office, downing st. and whitehall.
Automatic snub nose weapons galore.
I don’t know what the guns are called, because I’m a typical Brit.

still, Dixon of Dock Green, eh?


And if you let on you did you’d be shunned as a swivel-eyed loon

I’d be a target (need smaller font to whisper)

Tbf, if you go back to the 70s, Columbo isn’t exactly a roided up SWAT wannabe special forces operator either, although he is American.

It used to be different.


Used to love Columbo.
But I reckon one of the real differences is that Brit shows did not always have a happy ending. (back then)
70’s show The Sweeney. They’d solve 8 out of 10, but those other two, heartbreaking.
And the end music - honestly, youtube it, must be on there, pure melancholy.


One QUARTER use their guns? Holy crap - even in bullet riddled USofA I never expected it to be that high. I thought under 10% for sure. Depressing.