This week’s question comes from reader Stefan Robak:
What fictional character would you want protecting your hometown as law enforcement?
While it’s tempting to go with John McClane, I’ve got to go with Deadwood’s Sherriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant). He’s not the most squeaky-clean lawman, but he’s fair, and he gets the job done. He knows what’s right for the town, and he knows what shady business to overlook, lest he get bogged down in writing tickets for soap selling and jaywalking. He’s also smart, a little funny, and seems to have the kind of long-term commitment small-town justice requires. Plus, he’s not too shabby to look at. All in all, a fine combination that would no doubt birth copious amounts of civil obedience.
Over the course of the ’90s and ’00s, the NYPD did an admirable job of turning the city from a pee-pee soaked heck-hole remembered mostly for its pimps and CHUDs into the safest big city in America. But when you have a well-equipped, vigilant police force and not much actual crime, you have a new set of problems. One is that you’re more likely to get shot by the cops “on accident” than you are to get shot by an actual crook. Don’t even think about camping out for a peaceful protest unless you want to face cops in full riot gear. Also, if you can manage it, try your best not to be black. So I’m going to fight my overwhelming urge to ask for Batman, and suggest New York could use a little more Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), who keeps his gun’s only bullet in his shirt pocket, and keeps the peace with an aggressive campaign of nipping things in the bud.
Sgt. Nicholas Angel, Simon Pegg’s initially humorless cop from Hot Fuzz, for sure. He’s efficient, skilled, and dedicated to the job. He can’t hold down a relationship, and he’s apparently never seen a movie, so his personal life and entertainment needs aren’t going to get in the way of the work. He can’t be bribed (important in Chicago), and is unfazed by suspects’ rank, power, or privilege (even more important in Chicago). He even has a nigh-magical ability to convert lazy, incompetent cops into dedicated strivers. What do I care if he makes everybody around him look bad by comparison? If London doesn’t want Angel, Chicago will take him.
If I could just have Karen Sisco from Out Of Sight follow me around everywhere with the piece her dad gave her and her dry-cleaned favorite outfit and her incredible ability to break rapists’ hands with an expandable nightstick, I’d feel a lot better about everything. She’s a badass Latina policewoman (well, she’s played by Jennifer Lopez and Dennis Farina plays her dad, so maybe not Latina, but something) who never feels a moment’s doubt about her ability to be ruthless police while also being feminine, sensitive, and caring. I mean, come on: The girl shoots the man she loves in the leg to save his life. We might all be better off if every hometown had its own Sisco to take the night watch.
What do I want in a local police chief or sheriff? I want a man with empathy, someone who’s been on both sides of the law and can understand when a softer touch ought to be applied. I want a man with integrity, someone who’s willing to investigate the rich and powerful even if it costs him his career. I want a man with a quick wit, but who’s also not afraid to make the corniest jokes possible. In short, I want Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni) to be the dad of this town, and I don’t even care if that makes sense. Bonus: He comes with a private investigator for a daughter, who’s able to achieve justice when the constraints of the law prevent it. But it’s okay, because they’re heroes.
Since I’m a Canadian living in Chicago, it only makes sense to pick Constable Benton Fraser (Paul Gross) from Due South as my local lawman. The show (created by Paul Haggis, of all people) is about a Mountie who comes down to the Windy City to search for his father’s killers and ends up sticking around to solve mysteries. On top of being easy on the eyes, Fraser has an encyclopedic brain, great combat skills, and that perfect level of deportment that should be expected from the RCMP. He’s already comfortable with Chicago (having worked here for four seasons), and I expect he’d continue his stellar work looking after the city. Who needs badass when smart and polite will do?
First, may I say that Marah has really good taste. Secondly, my answer is Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) from Justified. What’s great about him, from my point of view as the protected, is that he may have a bit of a trigger finger, but it’s almost always to the benefit of the good guy. So, if he’s supposed to just wing an intruder, but happens to pump the bad guy and his accomplices full of lead, who am I to quibble? Also, it helps that he is just a little bit funny without being too much of a wise guy. A wry, thoughtful employee is appreciated. I will be happy to pay him in bourbon. The only problem is that I cannot afford a uniform for him so he’s just going to have to do his job while shirtless. But he can keep his hat on.
There’s a lot of cops who would certainly deal with threats in definitive (read: explosive) fashion—your Martin Riggses, your Raylan Givenses, your McBains—but the question isn’t about who’d kick the most ass, it’s who you want protecting your neighborhood. For my money, I’d only trust real po-lice to keep me safe where I live, and there is no better fit, no realer po-lice man than The Wire’s Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddik). Tough, authoritative, principled and not afraid to knock down doors or show up at a murder scene personally, Daniels is the sort of cop who keeps a clear head in tough situations and can keep a squad room in order by virtue of his pissed-off stare. The Wire was all about moral ambiguity, but Daniels was one of the few people you could count on to do what he thought was the right thing—even if that got him exiled to the evidence room on occasion. Plus, any cop who had to deal with Jimmy McNulty and Lester Freamon on a daily basis has the proven patience to deal with any annoyance that comes his way.
Technically, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is a spy, not a cop, but anyone who watched the first four or five seasons of Burn Notice can tell you he spent a lot more time busting con artists, drug dealers, and random thugs than spying. And damn, was he good at it. Sure, his predilection for using C4 to intimidate petty criminals is a little messy, and the bad guys he goes up against end up dead as often as not—albeit, often at each other’s hands, because he’s clever like that—but if you go up against Westen, you lose. It doesn’t matter if you’re running an insurance scam or you’re a Mafia heavyweight, he’s going to take you down and manage a couple of half-funny one-liners while he does it. Plus he never, ever catches the wrong guy or kills innocents, which is more than I can say for the local law enforcement in Denver. Bottom line is, the man is efficient and effective (assuming he has his pals to back him up, but let’s just go ahead and consider them a package deal), and isn’t that what we’d all like in our local lawmen?
As a resident of Los Angeles County, I could choose from any number of fictional police officers who actually worked in the general area where I live. The problem is far too many fictional L.A. cops are really bad dudes, whether you’re looking at film, TV, or even mystery and crime novels. It would seem “Los Angeles cop” is easy shorthand for “someone who abuses authority and only occasionally gets the job done,” possibly because, uh, the real-life LAPD doesn’t have the most sterling reputation in the world. So who would I like? Well, Vic Mackey would scare me (I suspect he would like that), while Joe Friday would be simply too boring. If I were willing to reach out to other corners of California, Dirty Harry might be kind of fun, especially if he came complete with catchphrases. But I’m going to look toward the world of film and say that I think it would be kind of cool to have Chinatown’s Jake Gittes solving all the crimes in my neighborhood. Sure, the job would eventually beat him down, and he’s not some law-enforcement superman. But ’70s-era Jack Nicholson would fit right in where I live, and I imagine he’d bring far cooler crimes with him—or at least ones that illuminate the darker side of the county water supply.
I could just attribute this to the fact that Twin Peaks has been on my mind a lot over the course of the past few weeks, but, no, I think my answer to the question would always have been Sheriff Harry S. Truman. I wasn’t terribly familiar with Michael Ontkean before I started watching the show, so I didn’t know he already had a history in TV law enforcement. As such, I watched Sheriff Truman amble onto the scene, a folksy fellow with plenty of charm but seemingly not much in the way of intensity, and was surprised to see his darker, angrier side emerge over the course of the show’s run. By the time Twin Peaks wrapped up, I’d seen enough of the man to know that he was a good guy who’s always got your back and has more than enough brains and brawn to kick ass and solve crimes with the best of ’em. In other words, don’t dismiss him just because he seems like a small-town yokel. If you do, rest assured that he’ll give you what-for.
I’d be perfectly happy if Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) from White Collar were protecting my town in some sort of capacity. Why? Because, unlike most fictional feds, who either possess super deduction powers or are so officious and aggressive that they get in the way of the investigation the main character is conducting, Burke is written as a solid guy who’s good at his job. How many times have we seen a fed who’s not only as smart as the guy he’s chasing—in this case, his forger-turned-FBI-consultant Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer)—but outsmarts him as many times as he gets outsmarted. In other words, he’s not perfect, he’s not Superfed, but he gets the job done pretty damn well. I don’t think you can ask your local cop for much more than that.
There’s something to be said for having a competent figure keeping a town safe. But personality goes a long way as well, enabling this individual to set the tone for the entire community. Thus, I’d enlist “Gay” Perry Van Shrike (Val Kilmer) from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I need someone as quick of wit as trigger finger, and Perry fits the bill on both counts. Sure, he’s only a private investigator, but he could step up to not only monitor crime for an entire town but also provide an environment in which crime itself would seem like a bad idea. Who wants to mess with a man steeped in noir sensibilities yet has both feet planted in this century?
I thought of Anthony Perkins’ Sheriff Ben Owens in The Tin Star, who comes as close as an Anthony Mann hero can to achieving a nonviolent resolution, but no cigar. Still, a slow trigger is number one on my list of priorities. Well, solving crimes would be nice, too. Hot goes without saying. Compassionate should also go without saying. And I’m open to an ironic pick just to keep everyone frustrated with those in power (say, Mireille Enos’ Sarah Linden from The Killing). Ultimately, though, I think I have to go with Dutch (Jay Karnes) and Claudette (CCH Pounder) from The Shield, who are hard-working, tough, and demonstrably strong in the face of easy corruption. Granted, they’re detectives, so they don’t have to draw very often, but they nevertheless check three of my four boxes. It’ll be tough, and it will cost me decades of second-guessing, but I suppose I can valiantly sacrifice hot cops for the sake of good ones.