How America Became Over-Policed

How America Became Over-Policed
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

In pop culture, representations of police have tended with few exceptions to start with the vision of a righteous force on the side of the people. In the 1950s, Dragnetshowed Sergeant Joe Friday solving crimes with a cool professionalism. In the ongoing Law & Order franchise, detectives often trample civil liberties in pursuit of New York City's most vile criminals. Any violation of rights that occurs in the course of this work results only from the relentless pursuit of truth and justice. “Hollywood's police stories,” the film critic Alyssa Rosenberg has written, “have reinforced myths about cops and the work of policing.”

In the early 2000s, The Wire made itself more compelling than any other police drama by assuming that policing—not just the people who do the job but also the institutional demands of the job—is flawed. Examining systems—schools, government, media, and, above all, law enforcement—and their impact on a decaying city, even as it captured compelling characters and told human stories, The Wire made a major innovation by putting police at the center of the show without assuming they were heroes.

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