Thursday, 14 March 2013

TV Cops

A little while ago an American friend asked me what I thought of the quality of police based tv shows. He also mentione dthe drama based on the Special Air Service Regiment, "Ultimate Force" which starred the actor Ross Kemp who made his name in a long running tv drama "Eastenders". My friend said that  `Ultimate Force` was similar to the US programme `The Unit`. He was pretty unimpressed by the firearms handling as portrayed on British TV dramas and sought a view.  I don't watch these things much for a couple of reasons; one is that when I was a serving police officer I had little interest in these stories because I found the real thing rather trying and wanted to get away from it, to the point I'd even change into/out of my uniform at work, hoping to shut the job out a little as I closed the locker door. As a Londoner and an `Eastender` at that, I didn't take to Eastenders either, despite the assortment of acting talent, but thats another genre.

As good as the acting may seem to the casual viewer, for me they never get it right when portraying police officers of any rank, especially the tactical firearms units, of which I was a member for many years (and at several ranks). The weapon handling is always a giveaway. The actors learn their lines fine, look dramatic, take on their version of what `rough and tough` looks like and try to bring to their chartacters all the other emotions the drama school and their own life experiences have given them. But for those who have been there for real, you can see right through it and it can really irk. They just can't devote the same amount of time to weapon drills as they can to their lines or moves (and often the moves are dire - room entries, getting framed in a doorway, gun barrels appearing around door frames... grrrrr... Though I am glad they don't give all our secrets away. (I'd hate to come up against someone like me who had gone bad).
Drills need drilling but once mastered it's there to the point you could do it semi conscious (precisely when you might need to, worse case). Eg. After more than 35 years had passed since I was trained, I took up a job involving small arms. The organisation was making short video clips to market what we did and it was suggested we showed someone stripping a pistol. I volunteered and we did a first take. I field stripped a 9mm Browning Hi Power in about 3 seconds. The camera guy said he didn't see it so I re-assembled it in about 5. Did the same thing, only a touch quicker, with a Walther PP. Camera man was a bit gobsmacked so I did it much slower for him but my point, was that any one of my team of 40 guys could have done the same. My American friend asked if I thought the bad handling by actors was because we don't have the same culture/number of gun owners in the UK. I don't think so. We certainly have a population with far less gun familiarity and perhaps TV producers rely on that fact to let poor handling slip. If I were an adviser on those tv shows I couldn't let a sloppy drill pass, but then I don't think the tv people worry. What I will say is that just because the US has millions of gun owners it probably doesn't automatically equate to better handling! You need to take it seriously and practice and study and train; I'm sure responsible owners do and from what I've read many responsible American gun owners do precisely that, but on the other hand if anyone can buy firearms in any High I have seen some diabolical shooters out `rough shooting` in our countryside who think they are good.

As for the characters portrayed in these dramas, there is enough people out there with weapons experience for producers to ask, if they have the time or budget or make the effort and many do, with results commensurate to their attention to detail. A good eg. for me was in `Skyfall`. I have seen it just the once, so far, and there was a mere few seconds in a scene where 007 goes for some refesher pistol training. I noticed that one of his first shots was awful. My immediate thoughts were, `Duh, prick snatched it, that'll be low left by a mile` and was about to annoy Mrs HD by telling her (I'm getting much better and don't annoy her nearly as much these days) when, Lo! 007 is mildly rebuked for a lousy first shot. Yes, it was intentional! 99% of viewers wouldn't have seen that bum trigger action, but I did and I'm sure other keen pistol shots would have too, if they took their eyes off Mr Craig's other features long enough. Kudos to the producers and to Craig for replicating a snatched trigger. But that famous James Bond sequence looking down the barrel - he doesn't check before firing, its turn-bang in one movement. One always checks - but now I'm totally anal.

"Ultimate Force"? I have watched about 10 minutes in total and that was enough. I never tuned in again. Too many `tough guy stares` and actors posturing in a manner they think SF soldiers posture - bollocks! I should point out, though, that I really rate Ross Kemp who has gone on to produce documentaries in some horrendously dangerous places and worked alongside our forces in Afghanistan, to the point where bullets and RPG's were zapping over his head and guys were getting shot around him. [But then Ross's dad was a British policeman ;) ] Many of my TFU colleagues were former Special Forces or from elite British regiments like the Paras and Royal Greenjackets. My own tactical firearms instructors were former SF. They were not like anyone I saw in that programme or on the tv shows. I was grateful for the closeness with which our job worked with the British Army and I spent many weeks on courses with them, CQB, FIBUA, COIN, CT Search.

The toughest, bravest, most capable men I served with on that unit were small wiry guys, big gentle giants or just plain average looking men. They spoke softly, loudly and some hardly at all. With the exception of the gentle giants, most of them would simply disappear in a crowd. I have had several officers I worked with over the years shot in the line of duty, mercifully none killed although my best friend was murdered on duty in Oxford Street. I have one friend who has shot a criminal (kidnapper) but didn't kill him, just shattered his upper arm [ .38spl +P jacketed semi wadcutter delivered by a S&W Mod 19 for the techhies out there) I have one professional acquaintence who has killed 3 criminals (armed robberies) and one who killed a deranged man pointing a gun at a tac team that was moving into position (seige). The guy with 3 fatal shootings is quite exceptional even, I suspect, by US Law enforcementf statistics but in the UK less than 3% of police are trained to tactical/hostage rescue level and armed response vehicles in any force are measured in single figures, so as a consequence we were always the ones going out against armed crims so our odds were much greater. All my aforementioned friends reacted very differently. One guy never talked about it to us, other than as a technical de-brief or for training purposes. His wife was very `off` with him and I think religion played a part there. The other one was happy to chat. What got him over the shock was being amongst his mates and knowing that he had no choice but to do what he did. The third guy was berated so much by his wife about him doing what he had to do that she actually packed her bags and divorced him. He remained an instructor.

Regarding the units I worked on, I can say that I loved those men. Some of them were not the nicest of characters in their private lives and others I would not choose as personal friends outside the job, but in all the tasks we trained for, I loved those guys. I never made that connection with screen characters unless they were the real deal but then in that recent film with the real SEAL's you could see they were the real deal because they weren't as good at acting, so it sort of cancelled it out for me. I have never served in the military so my comments herein are based purely on the professional contacts made during my police career and their training and tasking is very different and mainly for high intensity warfare. I guess that's why I don't watch this sort of stuff on tv.


Sierra Charlie said...


In safety training a couple of years back we did some stuff about getting guns from crims. It was proper last resort stuff, basically distracting the gunperson while you make a wild grab for it and then run like stink!

The instructor mentioned that there is a gentleman's agreement in Hollywood at least to show bad technique so that people can't use movies as a learning tool. I don't know if that's right. He said that the way rappers hold their guns sideways is deliberately about the worst way to hold it.

Skyfall is great. But in that scene where Bond is being tested for operational readiness I thought the whole point was to show that he obviously wasn't (but gets signed off anyway because he is indispensable). One of Brosnan's had the same thing where he slept with the examining doctor in order to get signed off...!

Always fascinating to read your stories about what is effectively a completely different world!

Hogdayafternoon said...

SC: I should've pointed out that every time we did any shooting with the Army (usually on close protection courses) we always beat them, by a quite respectable score, at which point they would remind us that they could always call in an airstrike or resort to The Royal Artillery.
You're right re Bond, except I didn't realise at that point that he wasn't supposed to be up to par - I obviously wasn't concentrating! Either way, the `snatch` was a good one.
I was not a big fan of Pierced Bronson.

Sierra Charlie said...

Brilliant. Although the popo could always put superior weaponry on the copper chopper...

Anonymous said...

Most of the TV cop shows are fairly formulaic. If you think of them solely as entertainment then that's ok. The problem is that some people watch these shows and think that is how we operate.
To be truly realistic a TV show would have to show the mind numbing quality of paperwork generated and the non optional meetings anyone of any rank has to attend. I was thinking of floating an idea for a series called 'Chief Inspector Criminal Justice Unit'. Our hero would attend meetings with the CPS and various other bodies and spend his whole time chasing up missing files or explaining why various returns have not been completed. You could also show some tense meetings with various local single issue groups. I'm sure it would be a winner. When I worked for bit in a CJU my IA drills for dealing with a jammed stapler were pretty slick I can tell you.
PS I have been watching 'Spiral' on BBC4, it seems the gripes on the other side of the channel are just the same. They do get to have more fun however.

Sierra Charlie said...

Retired: I have often thought that a show that showed quite how much slow time and organisational nonsense there is would be quite - erm - eye-opening! I reckon an hour of fly-on-the-wall cop show must take several weeks to collate.

Anonymous said...

Hogday, well before mine if it's who I think it was- I don't really keep in touch having decided early in my service that for me the principle of 'never look back, never go back' worked best. Like you I came to value a clean break between work and home. I make no great claims as to what I did when I was on firearms. It was an interesting time but I have come to have the opinion that specialist departments (not just firearms) should look at what they are doing and how and why they do it from time to time and not be afraid to change, even if it means a few egos get bruised, people need to connect with reality from time to time and remind themselves that their department is not the be all and end all of their particular force and that no one is indispensible. Some specialist departments can fall into the trap of constantly saying 'we're good we are' when in fact the rest of the organisation regard them as divas and if not exactly a waste of resources begrudge what is spent on them.
Sierra Charlie - yes the amount of slowtime and paperwork is truly astonishing. I used to say to people that I would write thousands of words daily just to cover my backside because as the lawyers say 'if it isn't written down it didn't happen'. With regard to fly on the wall cop shows I reckon it must be like a wildlife film maker waiting for the elusive shot of the snow leopard in between the everyday stuff.

Sierra Charlie said...

"Some specialist departments can fall into the trap of constantly saying 'we're good we are' when in fact the rest of the organisation regard them as divas and if not exactly a waste of resources begrudge what is spent on them."

This rings incredibly true!

Hogdayafternoon said...

Very true ret'd. When I was posted into that dept I was given an unwritten agenda by the ACC 'turn it upside down and stop the tail wagging the dog'. I did but it caused me a load of grief. I reiterate, that agenda wasn't written down! No more on that matter for now ;)

Hogdayafternoon said...

PS. Was on a course once. Went out for a drink and some staff came with us. One wore a Tshirt emblazoned with a cross hairs and "Sniper - Death from afar" thereon. I vanished.

Hogdayafternoon said...

If I don't stop this exposey stuff I'll end up all bitter and twisted. I welcome overhauls but I've rarely seen a good one and the bad eggs I'd flagged up all got protected. Corrupt? I thought so.

Marcus Erroneous said...

My wife has gotten used to my comments about the weapons handling I see on screen. I've gotten much better at critiquing it, but some of it is just so unrealistic that I cannot let it pass. She's learned to ask me if something is realistic as well as asking me questions about how we did it.

I only trained with LEOs once and we out shot them and out fought them. Then again, we were not hampered with the issues that they were. My team sergeant had done CT so our team did quite a bit of pistol work and CQB stuff which paid off when we attended more formal training. And other times.

I didn't wear much "I love me" stuff while I was in, most of what little I had was because someone bought it for me as a gift. I have a few pieces now that I'm long retired from it that I trot out on the odd occasion.

Back when I was in, we were mostly big guys built for moving long distances carrying heavy loads and arriving ready to fight. Some weren't, but most were big guys. Like you saw, great guys to work with but some of their personal lives were real train wrecks.

I miss it, but we change and move on.

Hogdayafternoon said...

MarcusE: I did some requal shoots with aUS pd. The range masters would all form a 'huddle' after each shoot and kept peeking back at me. It seems I had become top gun by a goodly margin and I was viewed as a ringer, except there was no money in a pot as far as I was aware.
I had to explain myself and the key was that in my outfit we had to requalify monthly. Theirs was annually. It didnt help when I said we all shot to the same level. Training time - an investment, not a money pit.

Marcus Erroneous said...

I suspect that since not all police officers in the UK carry weapons, you ensure that those that do can properly use them. And stay on top of it. Vice the American attitude of everyone carries a weapon but only has to qualify annually. You guys (rightfully in my opinion) take the carrying and employment of a fire arm serious business. That folks that carry and use them should be highly proficient with them.

In SF that was out take as well. The LEO that we were working with were a couple of lads from the Secret Service. I was surprised that we were much better pistol and other shots than they. Maybe that's why they were there? To learn?

The Unit was a show that both my wife and I enjoyed. Yeah, the weapons stuff was crap and there was the posing, but there were other parts of it that were spot on. Which I will not go into detail about.

I'm going to a reunion with a group of them next month. It should be fun, there are several of the guys that I'm looking forward to chatting with and catching up with.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Sounds a good prog. I'll check it out on dvd on the strength of that.
I worked with Clintons SServ team in 1994. Have a few amusing anecdotes. Will mail one ;)

BillB said...

I am still trying to imagine field stripping a Browning 9mm in 3 seconds - unreal.

But when you have to train like your life depends on it, that provides the motivation.

on field stripping, have a somewhat funny story to tell - remembering it 42 years.

During Basic Training in the Army, we were issued M16s that had seen some rough service - from Vietnam?

Regardless they were rather worn.

After a day of shooting, we put the parts into a big communal vat with cleaning solution, being told that keep your bolt and don't mix it with someone else's

That lesson was driven home when the following day somebody took a shot and the bolt did something - I want to say exploded - but he wasn't injured - just shaken up.

Worn moving parts are best kept with the metal they wore against.

Regarding tactical weapons instructors going bad we had something like that a few weeks ago you probably heard about it.

He was angry at the LAPD to the point of murdering family members of officers - and killing one sheriff (not in the LAPD) just waiting at a traffic light.

They cornered him in a cabin up at Lake Arrowhead - Christopher Dorner Cops weren't in a mood to try and talk him into surrendering.

And of one of life's bitterer ironies, still can't believe one the the best military snipers ever - Chris Kyle - murdered in Texas trying to help some returning soldier.

I guess when you are around anyone with firearms keep your guard up - (why I don't like public ranges) imagine surviving Iraq - 160 kills - God knows the tight situations he was in and survived by his wits, to be killed at a Texas rifle range.

Hogdayafternoon said...

BillB: There really isn't that much to it. Mag off, Top slide, locking pin barrell and spring. Ta da! (Looks like a magic trick when done well though ;)

Hogdayafternoon said...


Yes it really can be reduced to about 3 seconds (with a former SAS instructor whispering merciless pisstakings in your ear!)

Anonymous said...

I once asked a mate if he watched The Sweeney. 'Don't do unpaid overtime', came the reply. The same guy had a dream - he wanted to follow the SWAT van and weld the doors shut before the squad 'shot out'. I have to agree Hoggie's points on weapon's use in the movies, but I spent more time as a detective and tend to notice I rarely had such obvious clues. Indeed, one episode of CSI has more clues per minute than I got by the year. Guys I worked commercial fraud with who are retiring now tell me not much has changed - they know thieving is rife in the banks and can't do anything about it. I'd like to see more of that kind of reality in the movies. I never got as intimate with my gun as Hog and in any case Sue has barred me from comment on what she regards as cowboys and indians.

Hogdayafternoon said...

ACO: Quite agree with the wise Sue! This was something I did as part of my job :) I was always wary of any officer who actually wanted to join the tactical firearms unit and their reasons for doing so were subject to very careful scrutiny! (I never volunteered either ;)

Anonymous said...

Have to agree that Hog. I was conscripted on the basis of my skeet shooting. I'm a fan of Miami Vice - largely as a 'how not to' training vehicle. Sue is still surprised when I roll to the floor watching the odd episode. I think she suspects PTSD, though in fact it's my perverse humour. Or have I missed something like Crockett's white suit having been made by Superman's mum?

sparkflash said...

A friend is determined to teach me how to shoot properly ".. can't have you messing around like some Hollywood fairy..".


But I still smile at some of the pictures of him and his compadres, down on the firing range in Hereford - it was the late 70's and shaggy hair and shaggier moustaches were all the vogue.

" least I don't look like the Village People.." made him lose some of his pint through his nose.

Hogdayafternoon said...

ACO: Once the proud owner of a Greener GP 12 bore with Martini action falling breech block, I was once reported to have thrown a settee onto its side and barricade myself behind, during a viewing (one of dozens) of Zulu :-/

Spark`: A brilliant response that you could only have delivered to a true friend!

Anonymous said...

Re your comment at 11.18 that rings very true. I have sat on many selection boards, for various departments and promotions as an interviewer/assessor and the answers/examples that candidates provide can be amusing (as well as slightly worrying). My all time favourite answer to the question 'why do you want to join this particular unit?' was 'God has placed me on this earth as an instrument of righteousness to smite his enemies'. The candidate didn't get the job but went elsewhere.
I could go for ages about selection but no matter what you do the odd square pegs will still get into the round holes. Hopefully they can be directed elsewhere before doing too much harm.
PS My youngest son always used to raid his collection of toy guns/swords/medieval weaponry when Zulu was on.

Hogdayafternoon said...

and what an answer! That would have brought the house down. I presume the unlucky applicant ended up in CIB2?

Re Zulu, my great gran's brother was killed at Isandlwana, so I thought it was just me - I'm reassured by your lad.

sparkflash said...

Honestly, who doesn't love Zulu?

But it's not just films that seem to get firearms and their handling wrong - to coincide with the death of James Herbert, I remember reading one of his books, where the hero seems to blaze away with a Stirling for what must be about a minute, before it finally runs dry.
Is it physically possible to be firing a revolver in one hand, whilst the other hand reloads the other revolver? Buggered if I know, but Stephen King's hero, the Last Gunslinger, Roland, seems perfectly able to.
Perhaps I ought to just suspend disbelief and just enjoy the story more...

Momma Fargo said...

Great post! I myself am very critical of cop shows and most often have to just brush them off as entertainment value and not compare them to the real world.

Hogdayafternoon said...

MF: Ditto. Despite the fact I like Mark Walberg and Tom Selleck. Myfave US show was Nypd blue. Closest to my sense of humour.

JuliaM said...

"...if they took their eyes off Mr Craig's other features long enough. "

Eh? Ummm, say what? I was....distracted. :)

JuliaM said...

ACO:"Guys I worked commercial fraud with who are retiring now tell me not much has changed - they know thieving is rife in the banks and can't do anything about it. I'd like to see more of that kind of reality in the movies."

Sadly, it makes for a rather dull movie. I can see people staring at PC screens & muttering any time I like - I just have to go to work!

Stressed Out Cop said...

There used to be an extras agency called "cops on the box" where they could get real plod to use the "real skills" on TV - the little things matter ... I suppose they paid more for it

Former Sierra Charlie said...

SOC - you mean like sitting at their desks all day sending emails out asking why everyone else's work returns are so low?

Hogdayafternoon said...

"OK copper, I want a re-written annual service plan and double the facilitators on the diversity and minorities team and get me a bisexual BCU finance manager or I kill a hostage every hour.."

Proabably true, but somehow it lacks that `Life on Mars` ring of drama, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

The Untouchables was essentially commercial fraud in reality - Eliot Ness was an accountant with a good sense of image building.
I can't see Hoggie and others here being tempted from cosy retirement to smash up breweries and distilleries, but we might go for a hell for leather bankster-busting job. We could make up the action Elliot Ness style and regularly catch the banksters snorting, whoring and being Miss Whiplashed.