HEWITT, Texas — "Chicago P.D." has plenty of drama, and its actors can get in life-threatening situations every single week. But how do the situations you see on TV stack up against real life police work?
KCEN Channel 6 reporter Andrew Moore spoke to the Hewitt Police Department to find out.
“For us at the Hewitt Police Department, it’s about 10 notches lower than what you would normally see on TV,” Police Chief Jim Devlin said. “Ninety percent of the time, it is probably very boring. Ninety percent of the time what they are doing is traffic enforcement, responding to calls for service, helping citizens.”
Like on "Chicago P.D." and other shows, the day can start with a pass down meeting. In Hewitt, those meetings are typically informal and not group events.
Similar to the shows, officers respond to calls, just not the same kind.
“Areas where we might not be needed like a child being disrespectful, someone may call the police on that,” Devlin said. “All the way up to a home that had been burglarized, even including some of the dramatic scenes you might see.”
On Feb. 5, the 10 percent happened. The first officer-involved shooting in Hewitt police history happened when officer Clint Brandon chased a bank robbery suspect.
Brandon was shot in the arm, and was released the same day in "good spirits."
The part that Devlin said annoys him the most though, is the way cases always end cleanly.
“I understand that on TV, you’ve got 45, 50 minutes to fill an entire crime and shove it into that time frame. It doesn’t work that way,” Devlin said. “For us, it takes a lot more time, and a lot more investigation and some of the things they put out in these shows don’t happen that quick.”
The Realities of solving crime
1. Not everyone is fingerprinted
Despite the experience Texans may have had at the DMV, not everyone is fingerprinted. Despite what is seen on TV, not all fingerprints are complete enough to be usable.
“There is no computer system that can just magically give an identity to every single person you find a fingerprint for,” Devlin said. “Most of the time fingerprints are so bad they are not of the quality you can actually run them.”
2. DNA is not the answer to every crime
Running DNA tests is expensive and, according to Devlin, it doesn’t work like it does on TV. He said DNA tests require having existing DNA to compare, as the department doesn't have a DNA database available for use.
Furthermore, police need a warrant to obtain a DNA sample from a person. Finally, the cost prohibits its use on every case. DNA testing can cost the department around $6,000, Devlin said.
3. Departments like Hewitt PD do not have access to “face databases”
“It may exist somewhere at the federal level, but it doesn’t exist at the Hewitt Police Department,” Devlin said. “Facial recognition is one of these up and coming tools for law enforcement, but it’s still somewhat expensive stuff right now.”
Another issue the department faces is it doesn't have a “face database” to use facial recognition software as a tool to catch criminals.
Devlin said there are much larger agencies that could have something like that available, but it is not cost effective for a typical municipal government.
4. A police department cannot unilaterally “triangulate” a cellphone position or go through a person's call history
How often do officers on TV race off to a location after finding a phones' location?
Devlin said that information is provided by the cellphone provider in most cases, and police, again, need a warrant to get the location of a phone.
When officers do get the location, it's not as precise as the TV world.
“I think that they are good to about 150 feet. Maybe up to 500, depending on the cellphone provider,” Devlin said.
It is possible to get permission to find a phone's location quickly. However, police have to prove that an emergency exists, a person's life is in danger or that the phone is connected to a criminal case that already existed before the department asks for its location.
Telling a judge, “I think this man may be dealing drugs,” is typically not enough to get a phone’s location or to plug a “found” phone into a machine to get data from it.
The same basic rules for credit card charges apply to cell phone information.
A warrant is required, and that means going before a judge and proving the information is important in solving an existing criminal case.
The realities of confronting criminals
1. Police do not engage the “bad guys” alone
In "Chicago P.D.," police often resolve standoffs or shooting engagements quickly. In real life, police will slow the situation down and get backup whenever they have the chance.
If police are knocking on a door and could have a potentially dangerous person inside, they take multiple precautions first.
“We’ll have one officer stay back to provide cover, one officer may be at the doorway and another officer will make contact at the front door,” officer Andre Woods said.
If shots are fired, police would call for additional backup.
2. Police don’t “go rogue” and enter a home or a dangerous situation without orders
If police have a shooter in a home, or if they believe there is a dangerous situation in a home, the officers on scene call for backup and get a supervisor on the phone. The supervisor will decide whether or not officers will make entry.
Officer Woods told Channel 6 that communication is key with both the chain of command and other officers.
“I will let my supervisor know, if he or she is not there yet, what I have and we will go from there,” Woods said.
Woods said another reason they have to stay in constant contact is to avoid crossfire.
“If we break contact with each other, and one person makes entry or one person goes around the other side of a house, or whatever the case may be, if I don’t communicate the fact that I have gone to the other side of the house and engaged the suspect, you could engage somebody that wasn’t meant to be engaged,” Woods said.
3. Police officers don’t try to “talk down” a shooter
If a shooter is in a house and police don’t know if there is a direct threat, officers will wait for backup. If there is a shooter that directly threatens officers or the public, the rules change.
Often on TV, you see police in a standoff with a suspect, and both sides have guns drawn. Police don’t try to talk the person out of shooting if they, or the public, are in danger.
“If we see the individual outside and they are shooting and we have eyes on them, then yeah it’s time to engage,” Woods said. “Eliminate the threat and do what we need to do.”