Professionals Share Unrealistic Things in Crime Shows That Would Not Happen in Real Life

This article was originally published on and has been republished here with permission.

Suffice to say; we’ve all been there. We’re enjoying our favorite crime series/ movie when they show something so absurd that you cannot keep your doubts suppressed anymore. Reality TV is exaggerated. Everyone knows that. However, on certain occasions, creators get too “creative” and stray too far from reality, damaging a core ingredient of the show.
It’s easy to pick up on the unnatural instances from a distance, but the scenario is different for professionals who live that life every day. And these professionals are teaching us to differentiate between legit and fake.
Unfortunately, for those whose lives were shaped by crime shows, this will be a disappointing read as we are going to pop some delusion bubbles.

No One Likes Paperwork

We can’t get enough paperwork any day! That’s right, paperwork is the one thing that keeps cops and law enforcement officers going. Wrong! No one wants more work than they have to handle (unless they are a workaholic like Amy Santiago). That’s enough reason not to be fighting over cases.

Despite what our favorite crime shows taught us, cops and detectives are not trying to swipe cases from each other or other agencies. They don’t want their brain to be working on five different things simultaneously, and that’s completely normal. In real life, professionals try to keep work pressure at a minimum.

Tougher Than It Seems

Our culprit conveniently parked the crime vehicle right in front of a camera in the middle of the street. That’s great! Except it’s not because that’s usually never the case. The car will generally be at least 300 meters away on a day when the sky has been pouring snow. So even if the camera was powerful enough to capture half an inch of the culprit’s activity, there would be at least some dots of melted snow on the screen blocking the view.

The generic “zoom and enhance” they show on crime shows couldn’t be farther from the truth. Recovering a plate from any CCTV footage is rather hard work.

Not So Secure

With the way these shows display CCTV footage, you would think that everything would be crystal clear on the videos. Real-life professionals ardently wish they could get help like that during one of the more complicated cases. But the truth is painful, and it’s that those cameras will not tell you what tattoo the suspect had up their right arm.

Professionals would consider themselves lucky if they could even find out whether the suspect was wearing shoes or not. Life would be infinitely easier if high-resolution cameras were cheap enough to be installed at every corner of every street.


Endless Time

Every TV show based on a crime in a small town shows both the prosecution and the cops dedicating all their time to one case. Except when something like this happens in a big town, like New York, it leaves us wondering how considerate the crooks were! They left a schedule clean enough for the professionals to work on just one case.

Seriously, real-life professionals would consider working on less than three cases simultaneously a vacation. One thing’s for sure: law enforcement professionals want to teleport to this land where an officer can get away with a minimal workload.


In a Minute

We wish the technology was as advanced as crime shows showed them. It’s time the labs there have some supercomputers and high-tech gears to produce results at an accelerated rate. The scientists must be rather dedicated to retaining the thrilling pace of the show.

If real-life genotyping could provide results in anything under a week, real-life professionals would suspect them of being in cahoots with the crooks. Had this procedure been that easy, catching perpetrators would not require so many hours of hard work. The lives of real-life professionals would get infinitely easier.


No Time to Pose

A crime scene isn’t a runway. It’s not the place for professionals to wear nice scarves, fancy jackets, boots, or designer pieces. Some protocols must be maintained. Law enforcement professionals can find themselves needing to walk through mud, sewer water, puddles, or blood. If it’s not obvious already, there is too much dirt and debris flaunting good outfits.

Actual professionals do not think of glamor when getting dressed up in the morning. Their last idea is to contaminate the crime scene, making it harder on the forensics department. Thus, they will most likely show up in their “dirt” clothes or department-issued overalls.


Take My Word for It

Imagine how valuable literature courses would be if simple words held the power to make or break a case. Fictional scenarios overestimate how impactful opening and closing statements are. While they do play important roles in a case, they aren’t going to be the sole determinant of a case. These statements are so dramatic and flashy that anyone who closely follows a real-life case and attends the trials would be disappointed.

After all, collecting evidence is a lot harder than using fancy statements. In real life, juries and judges will be more drawn to where the evidence points to them. Our justice system hasn’t progressed that much.


Oh, Shoot!

It seems like in every other episode of a crime show, and a law enforcement officer casually punches a hole through someone. To make it easier, everyone has forgotten about it by the next scene as if it was something as simple as shooting a bubble machine. As it turns out, real-life professionals cannot go around shooting people whenever and forget it that easily.

Shooting someone and ending their life are two challenging tasks. Most of the time, professionals will go to great lengths to avoid this scenario. However, when the time calls for it, they must resort to violence.


Lots of Training

We can be either one of the two things: Young and free, and a behavioral crime expert and profiler. Even for the smartest ones of the batch, acquiring a Ph.D. can take over five years. Crime profilers exist, but they are rarely good-looking 25-year-olds with a degree in psychology and great hair.

Becoming a criminology and psychology expert takes years of practice and experience. Most profilers have over 20 years of experience working in the field. But hey, good-looking, young psychologists are a great addition to any TV show!


Cascading Traces

The one that is constant, perhaps even on a planet as far away as Pluto, is a strand of a lady’s hair. Honestly, if a female has even walked a path, it has some remnants of her in the form of hair. So it’s quite comical when crime shows find no hair strands or make a big fuss over finding a single strand.

In real-life cases, hair strands will be flying around the scene, almost like a vortex. It becomes a challenge to decide whether they can be collected for evidence.


Time to Unplug

Unlike what we see in dramas, insomniacs usually don’t make good prosecutors or cops (without the exceptions, of course). Unplugging from work is important, and one of the core parts of training is learning how to “sign out” of investigation mode. As humans, law enforcement officers feel for the victims in different cases, but they don’t have the emotional capacity to feel deeply for all cases.

They are not losing sleep over every drug bust, fraud, abuse, and theft. On-screen cops and prosecutors are obsessed with cases, but that is rarely the case in real life. Professionals know how to balance work and life.


Come Clean

This line has been used so much in entertainment media that we have started to think this must be an unwritten law. According to this “law,” if you suspect someone is a cop and confront them, they must confess. While this would make the life of suspects quite easy, the case is the exact opposite.

Law enforcement officers do not have to blow their cover if they believe it could land them in danger. If it were all those easy, undercover cops would have a difficult time keeping things in line.


Knock Knock

Hot-shot lawyers all dressed in Dior suits and expensive bags swing open the door and dramatically enter the interrogation room before announcing the interview is over. In fiction, this is possible and common (and rather fun, must we add). However, real-life makes the situation boring with protocols. Lawyers are not allowed to barge into any room like that, let alone the precinct. They will be stopped at the lobby and asked to wait for the interrogation to be over.

The lawyer has to be called by the client themselves so that they can be present for the session. That is important in both reels and real life.


Paper Trail

Every professional has administrative work without exceptions. All activities inside a law enforcement office have to be recorded and stored safely for future reference. Plus, accountability is encouraged by having a specific trail of actions.

TV shows know how mind-numbing paperwork can be. That segment of mundane police work is always excluded from shots. Sometimes an old file will pop up to help with a recent case, but the newer cases are never being filed and stored for the future.


No Takeovers

The scene fills with a great sense of authority and urgency when the FBI walks onto the screen and utters something like, “FBI, thank you for your service, but we will be taking over from here.” Real-life does not work like that as much as it makes for great television. It’s never so dramatic and sudden.

People working as law enforcement officers are adults, and they communicate like adults cooperatively and peacefully. Authorities discuss matters of takeover way ahead, and this kind of “kicking the other party off the case” is mostly blown out of proportion.


The Boring and Unassuming

Crime shows never show law enforcement officers dealing with silly calls. It could be something as minor as a domestic fight between two inebriated friends, and the cops could get called over that. So, while there is imminent danger associated with the job of a cop, it can also be confusing and bizarre.

Cops have to respond to “emergency” calls only to find there is a cat stuck up on a tree, or a person had tried to prank their friend and simple non-dramatic cases. Crooks and criminals only make up one part of the job.


Late Communication

One thing that crime shows and movies consistently get wrong is the placement of radios on the cops’ uniforms. They are constantly placed on the back, and we must ask who they think they are benefiting from this. Not only does this slow down communication, but it’s also unnecessary.

In actual life, cops want to communicate with each other as fast as possible, so the radios are placed near the shoulders. The cops can talk without moving and unbuckling the radio from the back. It’s simply more efficient.


Over the Top

CSI shows will sometimes show such puzzling scenes that we start questioning whether anyone involved in the making of the show has observed an investigative process or not. The star of the show is one ace cop who is running around doing the jobs of 12 people. They find genetic evidence in the span of a few minutes and get the results from the gene labs in under an hour. Apart from the super fast tests, some tests do not exist!

Real-life tests take an eternity, and that is if the cops can find any shred of evidence to begin with. All those high-tech gears are found in a handful of labs across the country.


Final Resort

Despite their efforts to capture the perpetrator with minimal damage and destruction, law enforcement officers are often forced to use their weapons. For all their obsession with showing cops with a razor-sharp aim, crime shows are infamous for taking bad shots when the time calls for it. Even when the best call is to resort to violence, the cop would rather chase after the suspect.

It’s safe to say that shooting an escapee is not as cool as chasing after them and finally grabbing them after a thrilling parkour performance.


Piles of Files and Documents

One thing that crime series show that comes somewhat close to real-life is the endless piles of files and documents cops go through before the day of the trial. That’s the day in the life of a lawyer. It’s not glamorous – lawyers aren’t paid to strut around in their designer clothes with perfectly blow-dried hair. Surely, the glamorous moments are there, but not as common.

Tedious combing through case files often results in exceptionally low returns. This is what these professionals’ lives are like, and they have learned to accept it.


The Vibes

The overall setting differentiates a good TV show from a great one. The surroundings and brightness of the show play an integral part in building the overall vibe on set. We understand the sentiment behind making a police station all gloomy to appear like a serious place. But at the end of the day, law enforcement officers are humans too and want to make their place of work nicer and welcoming.

Police stations and morgues are mainly very bright. The light might also help comfort the troubled people visiting these places.


Staying in Their Lane

Honestly, it’s frustrating how mainstream this one is on TV shows and movies. The interactions between various authorities and departments portrayed on TV are often 180-degrees the opposite of reality. It’s easy to be disappointed upon seeing their interactions after building it all up in our heads.

Every department has assigned tasks, and they don’t usually ignore the chain of command. Moreover, none of them want more work than they have to do. It would be foolish of a fireman to add to their duties by investigating a crime while they have more burning (pun intended) matters at hand.


That’s a Ride!

Real-life professionals wish they could exude the rock ‘n roll vibes of on-screen cops and detectives: perfectly fitted luxury suits, expensive cars, lavish houses, and more. And perhaps the saddest of them – the flawless hairstyle! They can drive through a sandstorm in a convertible, and their hair would not budge. Needless to say, that is impossible in real life.

And while some higher officials in law enforcement do drive luxury cars, that is not the case for every other detective and cop. They have department-issued vehicles that are enough to get the job done decently, not in style.


Underrated Violence

Violence is part and parcel of a cop’s life. But more often than not, it is not the gruesome and bloody kind shown on TV. Law enforcement officers are at constant war with the flagbearer of monotony and boredom in their jobs: paperwork. Most cops and prosecutors hate it, but they cannot escape it. It’s saddening how much time they spent cooped up behind a desk punching the keyboards of a computer.

If they aren’t punching the life out of a keyboard, cops can let out steam by punching their malfunctioning lockers or through a stream of cusses directed at particularly nobody.


On the Job

Patrolling duty is common in a cop’s life and a routine part of their job. And given how frequently they are assigned patrol duty, it’s natural that this task gets coring. Most of the time, they can sit back because nothing happens. Small-time crooks are generally deterred from doing crimes once they know cops are in the area. Surely enough, they don’t want to get caught.

Cops aren’t always chasing after a vigilante or solving the riddles left by a serial killer. Life will have them stuck inside a car for hours staring at average joes walking by with their coffees.


I Am Speed

Crime shows are fast-tracked versions of reality. They do show realistic elements sometimes, but it’s often blurred with the addition of abnormal speed. Rest assured, anything that happens on-screen in a crime show takes twice as much time in real life. That includes finding genetic evidence, getting results from the lab, throwing the criminal behind the jail, and more.

Despite the show’s pace and false elements, these crime shows are fun to watch. It’s like watching an old favorite and realizing how childish it is but still enjoying it.


Speak Up

Thanks to crime shows, people have internalized the idea that they should not speak to cops. Law enforcement officers are not there to demonize everyone they come across – they want to extract evidence through every possible source. If the accused resists talking to the cops, there’s a good chance they can be thrown in jail for their attitude.

We should cooperate with the cops if we can because otherwise, we may delay them finding the actual criminals and doing more harm. But given the drama element it adds to shows, we doubt this practice will leave the screens soon.


Another Obligation

While it is completely true that the police are public servants tasked to keep the community safe, it’s unfair to expect them to be a group of guardian angels. Cops aren’t obligated to look after people who aren’t directly under their custody. Statements like, “I will protect you all!” are easy to make but difficult to maintain. And frankly, no one would make such grandiose statements unless they were a fool.

The best way to avoid casualty is by removing normal people from the scene, not keeping them close. We are better off away from all these complexities.


Unlikely Wins

Okay, we don’t like admitting this or saying this out loud, but this is the harsh reality of our world. Not every case has a satisfying ending. Detectives don’t get involved personally in one case and stay up 24/7 for weeks to find the culprit. There is so much crime going around constantly that many of them are lost in the mix.

Following hunches takes budget and time that detectives cannot afford for every other case. They don’t like it as much as we do, but they risk letting off a dozen others if they devote all their time to one case.


Track That Phone

Law enforcement officers face a lot of emergencies, and there are a lot of moments in their job where they have to act instantly. Tracing a phone, however, is not one of them. TV shows make this scenario way more suspenseful than it is in real life. It doesn’t take minutes but more like 5 to 7 seconds.

Fortunately, the suspect does not have to be kept on the call for a while as the tracking team hunts them down. This aspect is relatively easier, and perhaps we can revel in that glory amongst all the chaos.