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Saturday, December 18, 2010

"The Good Guys” Aren’t So Good On Police Officers’ Rights

I’ll say right out that I love Bradley Whitford’s new show, The Good Guys. It’s funny and fresh, the actors are fantastic, and the writing is sharp. However, they missed the boat in the last episode I watched called Cop Killer. It was about an Internal Affairs officer who has it out for our main character, Dan Stark.

Of course, IA can indeed have vendetta on their minds. But this show got it all wrong, and it wouldn’t have hurt the plot one whit if they’d done it right. Maybe it bugged me so much because I do employment law, but the whole episode made me squirm.

Union Reps and Union Lawyers

Once a police officer is accused of misconduct, he’d have his union representative in with him on any questioning. This show is in Dallas, which has the Dallas Police Association representing officers there. The DPA has a law firm on retainer to represent its members. The Texas Municipal Police Officers Association also provides legal representation to members. (It took me 10 minutes and Google to find out the names of the organizations and the kinds of representation they offer, so why didn’t the writers bother?)

The officer wouldn’t be sitting alone with IA answering questions unless he’d lost his mind. And Stark and his partner wouldn’t be dithering about hiring a lawyer. Stark says he doesn’t want to pay, but he wouldn’t have to. Even my husband, a non-lawyer, was frustrated. He kept yelling at the screen, “Get a lawyer!”

The union contract (the collective bargaining agreement) will have details about what rights the officers have if questioned by IA, who can be present, what hoops they have to jump through to suspend the officer, and what appeal rights the officer has at each step. It’s unlikely that the union would allow IA to announce they were taking away the weapons of the two partners and that they were no longer police officers during the investigation. What union would agree to have so few rights for its members? Police unions are very politically powerful. They have the ability to negotiate lots of rights for their members, and their members know to invoke their rights.

DAs Don't Represent Perps, Even if They're Friends

When our hero Stark’s partner asked his girlfriend, the Assistant DA who prosecutes police misconduct, to represent Stark they really crossed over into the ridiculous. The Assistant DA would no way be involved in representing an accused cop. No officer with any sense at all would even ask her. To her credit, she said no, then helped off the record. But the fact that the writers had Stark refuse to lawyer up was off the wall. He’d be screaming for his rights, and the show would have been funnier having Mr. Law-And-Order-I-Hate-Lawyers suddenly best buds with a defense lawyer.

Disbarment is by the Bar

The IA guy (played by Joshua Malina of Sports Night and The West Wing) also threatened to have the Assistant DA disbarred. How on Earth could he do that? He’s not the State Bar of Texas. He could maybe file a complaint, but more likely he’d just go up the chain of command and seek to have her fired or disciplined by the prosecutor’s office. He’d have no authority over her whatsoever. The prosecutor’s office (Dallas County District Attorney’s Office) and the police department are completely separate entities. They have to be. Otherwise no prosecution would have any credibility. Can you imagine the defense arguments? What jury would believe the prosecutor wasn’t in the pocket of the police if the Police Chief could fire her?

An Easy Fix

The Good Guys is a show worth watching. It’s about a talented but off the wall cop, mentally stuck in the 70s, who has no concept of modern police procedure, computers, or civil rights. His partner is a young up-and-comer who balances Stark’s recklessness while learning to loosen up. I’ve adored Bradley Whitford since The West Wing and Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son) as his partner is perfect casting.

Stark is always in trouble with the department because he breaks the rules. The IA character mentioned Stark’s last IA investigation, and Stark crowed that he was cleared. We’re supposed to believe he was cleared without representation? That all these years he breaks the rules and gets away with it with no union rep or lawyer helping? Horse hockey. He’d know his rights by heart and have his union rep and union lawyer on speed dial.

There’s an officer in the show who absolutely hates Stark – I’d have made him Stark’s union rep. Union representatives have to represent coworkers they hate all the time. It would have been hilarious.

Getting it Right

This episode bugged me to no end. I expected to enjoy it since Josh Malina has also been one of my favorite actors ever since Sports Night. He was wasted here, but I hope we’ll see him as a recurring character. The episode was so far off reality that it took me out of the story. Hopefully the writers will step up their game to their usual high standards going forward.

Getting it right is worth the trouble, even when it’s comedy. A little research can make a good story better and give you good plot twists. Maybe I should send the writers a copy of The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers.

Or they could just ask me questions here, in the comments section, like you can. I’m glad to help.

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