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The typical movie police department

Your guide to the cliché Hollywood precinct

The typical movie police department
22 February 2011

Unless it’s a crime-ridden Detroit in 2030, Hollywood’s average police precincts are largely met with acceptance rather than chin-stroking scepticism.

And while it’s probably true that 95 per cent of the force habitually dunk doughnuts, we see the same recycled character in almost every cop-based film. And we love 'em. So join us as we lay down the blueprint...

(Images: Allstar, Rex,

Chief with a mayor constantly "up his ass"

See: Peter Riegert in The Mask

The cinematic relationship between mayors and police commissioners often mirrors that of Superintendent Chalmers and Principal Skinner in The Simpsons, with the latter spending every minute of their day scrutinising the former’s work day, usually through some hotline direct to his office, mobile phone and always at 5.30am by his bedside table phone. You would think a mayor would have a city to run. Those pen pushers down at City Hall!

Cuffed gang member resisting arrest - again

See: extra #58 in every cop movie

Walking into the station, past a loudly dressed prostitute who’s just been released, a usually leather-jacketed and sometimes bandana-clad hoodlum will be futilely resisting a walk to the check in area. Surely he knew where he was being brought to on the ride over? And while we’re at it - why do cops need to walk them over to a reception? There has to be a better place to book criminals in than a foyer.

Shouty staff sergeant

See: Frank McRae in 48 Hrs

You’ll find more police shields under this hot-headed commanding officer’s desk than you will in lost-and-found – largely due to his disdain for people who disobey orders. Being loud enough to shatter glass windows is essential to the job role, as is fast talking, and no one does it better than Frank McRae who impressively out-quipped Eddie Murphy and outmuscled Nick Nolte for 48 Hrs, later parodying the role in Loaded Weapon 1 and Last Action Hero (pictured,

Rookie whose partner instantly resents him

See: Charlie Sheen in The Rookie

An argument breaks about between two strangers, polar opposites you could say, as they attempt to burst into the chief’s office at the same time. “Cop one meet Cop two”, the chief gambits with. “You two will be getting to know each other a lot more.” Cue realisation of a sponsored_longform, comedic results ensue and subliminal acceptance at the end of the movie when they realise they were made for each other.

Officer with a screw loose

See: Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon

A long time before they’d be seen in his mug shot, back when he still rocked a mullet, the glazed eyeballs of Mel Gibson lived in the memory as those of the spectacularly unhinged Riggs from Lethal Weapon. Nonchalant Uzi spray from Sylvester Stallone in Cobra and unrelenting insults from Mark Wahlberg’s spikey staff sergeant in The Departed prove that every good movie precinct has its resident psychopath.

Detective obsessed by fire arms

See: Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry

How we all guffawed at Police Academy when Tackleberry brandished a sidearm that could obliterate time itself just to take down a jewellery store perp. But this police obsession with fire power isn't just restricted to comedies - rogue detectives like Steve McQueen’s Bullitt and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, essentially to handguns what Mick Dundee is to knives, have been underlining police brutality for years.

One cop in the building who isn’t corrupt

See: Al Pacino in Serpico

In most cop films, spotting an officer who isn't taking bribes is a bit like playing Where’s Wally?. Not because he’s hard to find, but because his dress sense is slightly different to everyone else's and it’s an enormously fun game to play. Al Pacino’s Serpico was perhaps the most poignant example of a man who couldn’t be bought off. And quite a flamboyant dresser too.

The other lot, all 'on the take'

See: Cop Land

For every Serpico/Freddy Heflin/Nicolas Angel there's a conglomerate of less clean gentlemen who are, shall we say, enjoying the perks. From your Training Day crew to the Cop Land lot (pictured) they will come down on you like a sack of planted cocaine and firearms if you don't play things their way. Punk.

Detective berated by peers for having an education

See: Guy Pearce from LA Confidential

Even Robocop wasn't immune to staff ribbing due to an uncanny talent to recite umpteen chapters of law when making an arrest. Any police officer who's spent more time reading books than he has raiding crack houses is in for a rough ride, as Guy Pearce in LA Confidential, who gets constant earfuls from Russell Crowe’s grizzled veteran and James Cromwell's acidic-tongued captain, knows all too well.

Cop who is permanently anout to retire

See: Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon

You know who they are – those close-to-retirement policemen who repeatedly mutter about being too old for the job throughout the entire film, despite going on to make a batch of sequels. Our only gripe with the otherwise brilliant Lethal Weapon is that Danny Glover’s character falls firmly into this category.

Cop trying to live up to his dad’s name

See: Bruce Willis in Striking Distance

We know the gist: police recruit follows in the footsteps of a heroic cop killed in the line of duty. It happens to about 9 out of 10 cinematic rookies, yet, because it only takes 90 minutes running time to work their way out of traffic duty, emotional poverty and hunt down a serial killer to get redemption for the family name, we never feel too sorry for them.