Five laughable examples of how Hollywood messes up when portraying cops


Editor’s note: Behind the Badge recently spent some time picking the fertile brain of Lt. Brian McElhaney of the Anaheim Police Department for cool tales about policing. We randomly asked McElhaney, the Crimes Property Bureau Commander in the Investigations Division, to list five ways the movies/TV shows gets things wrong when it comes to portraying cops. Off the top of his head, and without missing a beat, McElhaney, 46, a police officer for 25 years, rattled off the following:

1) Handcuffing a suspect while reading him or her the Miranda Warning — This never happens, McElhaney says. OK, sometimes patrol officers who make arrests may read the Miranda Warning and conduct an interview, but never while putting handcuffs on a suspect, he says. For the most serious offenses, detectives will read the Miranda Warning and conduct an interview long after the cuffs go on.

“The art of interviewing a suspect involves establishing a good rapport, and you don’t have a good rapport when putting someone in handcuffs,” McElhaney said.

Also, the Miranda Warning is not read to a suspect in one long sentence, but goes like this:

You have the right to remain silent.

Do you understand?

Anything you say may be used against you in court.

Do you understand?

And so on.

Actors typically are portrayed saying the Miranda Warning in one large block without asking the suspect if he or she understands each section.

2) Racking a service weapon — You know the scene: It’s a tense situation. A cop enters a room searching for a perp. He then makes a show of “racking” a service weapon, or putting a round in the chamber. The thing is, no cop would do that during this point in a call — his or her service weapon already would have been locked and loaded prior to heading out on the call. “What they would be doing is actually emptying their weapon of a good round that already is in it,” McElhaney said. “I guess they do it for the sound effect because it’s more dramatic.”

3) The safety dance — Related to No. 2, many cop movies and TV shows will depict an officer pointing a Glock and using an external lever to turn off the safety before firing at a suspect. The thing is, Glocks do not have an external safety that can be physically manipulated – the safety is built into the trigger. “The safety turns off when you pull the trigger,” McElhaney says. “But that doesn’t look as cool.”

4) Shooting to wound — McElhaney recalled a real-life incident in which a sniper, after several hours and when no hostage was near the suspect, fired off a “pelvic girdle shot” to take down the bad guy — a bullet to the pant-pocket area that sent him into a helpless clump, but didn’t kill him. But such a shot is a rarity, McElhaney said. In almost all cases, he said, police officers never “shoot to wound” — rather, they are trained to “shoot to stop” by aiming at the chest region, meaning they shoot to stop the action that caused the officer to make the decision to resort to such a type of force. “An officer in such a life-threatening situation usually doesn’t have time to think about that (shooting to wound),” McElhaney said. “They are scared and rely on their training: shoot to stop.”

5) Commandeering a car from a citizen — “I’ve never seen that happen,” McElhaney said. There is a law that says an officer has the right to enlist the help of an adult when necessary, in effect deputizing him, but that almost never happens, McElhaney says — especially in the form of a cop who, while on a pursuit, frantically flags down a motorist to “borrow” his or her car. This is a staple scene in police movies. But as McElhaney says with a smile: “As cops, we usually have access to our own cars.”

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