The Best Fictional Police Officers of All Time Part 1: Best of the Best Television cops.

Kendall Rivers
8 min readNov 20, 2020

Cop shows and movies have been a staple in American pop culture forever and the fictional cops usually were the type of cops we as a public could root for and believe that all Law enforcement could be, and there are some heroic cops out there in real life but in our current time we’ve seen a lot of the Wolves in sheep’s clothing. This article celebrates the best of the boys and gals in blue from television and film that we all grew up wanting to be when we grew up. Now, keep in mind I’m not the biggest fan of police procedurals, they’re usually too dry and bland, and the characters are usually one note and interchangeable, so a lot of cop shows I have not seen obviously won’t be on the list so don’t worry that your fav may not have been on it. However, I do love the shows on this list with such amazing and relatable characters that made them iconic. This is part 1, part 2 will cover the best of the best movie cops.

  1. Andy Taylor and Barney Fife: The Andy Griffith Show.
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts

Andy and Barney were the sheriff and deputy of a little town in North Carolina called Mayberry and both of these do gooders were the type of law enforcement that could be your best friends but also the type of authorities you could depend on(mostly Andy, bless Barney’s heart).

2. The Squad at the 12th precinct in Barney Miller.

The cast of Barney Miller

Barney Miller boasted a stellar cast of characters that were all quirky and lovable but were also very grounded. Hal Linden, Barney Miller himself has said that creator Danny Arnold had a very specific rule for the show. Once when during a live taping of an episode Linden found himself mugging for the audience and the cameras and Danny Arnold pulled him aside and asked him a very simple yet brilliant question: “If you were in trouble would you go to a police officer who acted like that?” It was then that Linden realized that the goofy comedy should come from the criminals or visitors but the cops themselves had to be as close to believable as possible even with their quirks. That’s why Barney Miller is to this day Police officers’ favorite cop show. Instead of car chases and gun fights every episode the “action” mostly took place in the squad room doing paperwork, booking criminals to the cage and all in a messy, unkempt little room. You had a sharp and compassionate boss who tried to keep everything together, a well dressed intellectual writer with aspirations beyond police work, a guy with a gambling problem, another intellectual with random little facts and a clever deadpan joke at the ready, a lonely, over eager guy who failed the Sergeant's exam three times, An older, tired guy who had marital issues and a suck up who was constantly seeking promotion but was stuck as the office tool. These were all people we have all worked with at any job, they just happen to be cops.

3. Officers Smitty, Swanny and Hoppy: Sanford and Son.

Hal Williams, Howard Platt and Noam Pitlik

Smitty, Swanny and Hoppy were the friendly neighborhood cops on Sanford and Smitty and Swanny specifically were the first classic salt and pepper police duos on screen but it wasn’t until Noam Pitlik’s Officer Swanny left and was replaced with Howard Platt’s Officer Hoppy that the magic really came out and Smitty and Hoppy not only became one of the most memorable fictional police duos, but, also one of the funniest fictional police duos ever! Hal Williams’ Smitty, being the more hip and knowledgeable always had to correct Hoppy’s mangling of street language which was always comedy gold. Williams was the perfect straight man for Platt and the rest is comic history.

4. Sergeants Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall: Hunter.

Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer

One of the best cop shows ever as far as I’m concerned is Hunter and Rick Hunter and his gorgeous and no joke partner Dee Dee McCall aka “The Brass Cupcake” are two of the most badass officers cleaning up the streets of Los Angeles. The chemistry between the leads off and on was what gave the show it’s heart and soul and sadly when Stepfanie left after season 6 the show couldn’t recover. Thankfully she did return for the big Hunter reunion movie in 2003 and then the short lived revival in 2003. If you murdered someone, it was best to just go ahead and confess right after because you did NOT want Rick and Dee Dee on your tail.

5. The Sparta Mississippi Police Force on In The Heat of The Night.

Cast of In The Heat of The Night

Adapted for television from the 1967 film starring Sidney Portier and Rod Steiger, this Tv series had a lot to prove and unlike all the useless reboots being made today this “reboot” proved even better than the film and leads Carroll O’Connor and Howard Rollins managed to perfect the roles played well by Steiger and Portier. A true classic 80’s\90’s cop show that had more representation of black people at the time than most shows did as well as touched on such taboo subjects as race, rape, molestation, suicide etc. It’s also boasted a great cast of characters so likable and identifiable that you’d wish you could hang with them all on a daily basis.

6. Lt. Columbo from Columbo.

Peter Falk as the iconic and lovable Lt. Columbo

There’s just one more thing before we move on to movie cops… Lt. Columbo was Sherlock Holmes in a crumby rain coat, a brilliant mind with a humbleness and unsophisticated style that made him so wonderful and beloved. He’s so beloved in fact that he’s been around for over 50 years from 1968–2003 on television and now through books, streaming services and reruns on METV and Hallmark Mysteries & Movies. Columbo’s one of the greatest fictional cops ever because he didn’t need a gun or a martial arts fighting style to get the job done, he solved all his murders with his wits, his clever manipulative interrogation technique disguised as harmless “personal questions” and his trusty Dog… Dog. There’s so much to say about this lovable lug but I’ll just let this say it all for me:

7. Carl Winslow of Chicago’s Finest from Family Matters.

Reginald VelJohnson

Okay, so I lied, there are a few more things we have to get to before we go. I’ve talked about Carl Winslow a lot so to keep from getting boring, I’ll keep it simple: Carl Winslow is one of the most beloved and memorable fictional police officers and it’s because Reginald played him with such belivability, such sincerity, such warmth and with such good humor. All of those traits makes him one of the most perfect Tv dads and cops.

8. Officer Eddie Sutton from Lincoln Heights.

Russell Hornsby

Eddie Sutton was one bad dude: Great father, even better husband and one helluva cop. He went beyond the call of duty many times for a Beat cop: Acting as a proxy negotiator during a bank robbery, outsmarting a master criminal during an interrogation he wasn’t even supposed to be giving, along with his partner found and ended a human trafficking ring at a Chinese restaurant etc. Eddie was the 2000’s answer to Shaft. One bad mutha….

9. The Baltimore Homicide Unit of Homicide: Life on The Street.

Cast of Homicide

Homicide is an ugly business but somebody’s gotta do it. Much like Barney Miller, this show was made to bust through the phony reality about police work and inject some truth. The characters on the show used dark humor to deal with the bevy of dead bodies scattered across Baltimore. They also weren’t afraid to really go into a suspect or perp when need be, and that job usually went to da man Frank Pembleton played by the always pitch perfect Andre Braugher.

The show was honest, gritty and dark but wasn’t afraid to have a bit of humor to ease the tension and the cops, like many real squads were like a family whether it was through bickering or having each other’s backs.

10. New York detectives Eddie Torrez and JC Williams from New York Undercover.

Michael DeLorenzo and Malik Yoba

New York Undercover brought the hip and street style to policing on television. The show had a lot of first: The first prime time drama series starring two African American and Latino males, the first show to serve as a platform for many musical artists ranging from soul and r&b to hip hop and even occasional reggae. Ice-T’s first television role before he went on to fame and fortune with Law and Order Special Victims Unit, and it was also apart of the classic Fox Thursday night line up with Martin and Living Single that was the black audience’s alternative to the more white audience focused NBC Thursday night line up. New York Undercover’s Eddie Torrez and JC Williams were the coolest cops to ever grace the screen and were great icons for young boys of black and latino descent seeing themselves not as thugs or drug dealers but as heroes of the community through these two guys and for that they’ll always be legends.

11. Detective Joss Carter 3rd Grade from Person of Interest.

Taraji P. Henson

Last but certainly not least is Taraji P. Henson’s amazing Joss Carter from the CBS crime drama Person of Interest. She was fierce, intelligent, compassionate, bold, honest to a fault and just plain badass. She was the heart and soul of that show and when she was killed off in season 3 it was never the same, but, she left an amazing legacy.

Come back for part 2 where we’ll get into some of the greatest movie cops ever! See you, then!

--

--

Kendall Rivers

Kendall is a screenwriter who’s a huge fan of classic tv and movies. He enjoys creating good stories and characters. https://www.facebook.com/kendall.rivers.3