Monday, March 11, 2002

Bad cops, good cops behind 'The Shield'

        Shawn Ryan was writing The Shield, a new FX drama about unethical cops in Los Angeles, when Cincinnati's civil unrest made national TV news headlines last spring.

        “There's been a lot of questionable police work in this country over the last decade,” says Mr. Ryan, who created the police drama premiering Tuesday (10 p.m., FX).

        “In L.A., we've had some good riots here,” says the former Nash Bridges writer, “and Cincinnati — which wasn't quite that big — they had some stuff going on.”

        But Cincinnati's recent police problems aren't anything like on The Shield. The main character, Detective Vic Mackey (a buff Michael Chiklis from The Commish), gleefully breaks laws and violates police procedures to enforce his brand of street justice.

        On The Shield, viewers sometimes won't be able to tell who are the “good” cops and who are the “bad” cops.

        “Not all cops on this show are bad, and even the bad cops do some good things. And some of the good cops do bad things,” Mr. Ryan says.

Revealing pilot

        In the pilot, Mackey shakes down a drug dealer on the streets of his rough Los Angeles neighborhood. The next night, his “strike team” breaks into the home of another dealer without obtaining a search warrant.

        Mackey also openly challenges his boss, Capt. David Aceveda (Benito Martinez from Outbreak), in the squad room.

        “In the real world, you're not my boss,” Mackey says, knowing that police brass and politicians appreciate the drop in crime from his “broken-window” enforcement style.

        Aceveda, who secretly invites the feds to investigate Mackey, says of his problem officer: “He's not a cop. He's Al Capone with a badge.”

        But before the hour ends, Aceveda admits he needs Mackey. He summons the renegade officer to interrogate a doctor suspected of sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl. After Mackey smacks him around, the doctor tells him where to find the missing girl.

Parallels to Cincinnati

        The good cop/bad cop debate is at the heart of The Shield, researched by Mr. Ryan during the probe of Los Angeles police corruption for framing gang members in the city's tough Rampart area. The scandal overturned dozens of criminal convictions.

        The news from Cincinnati caught his eye last spring because officers here took a different tack after the April riots. Officers backed off and made fewer arrests.

        “I saw the parallels to what we were writing about, and how it related to that situation in Cincinnati,” he says. “Police had adopted what they call a "no contact, no complaint' policy, where instead of going out and getting into the streets and stopping crimes before they happen, they just responded (to calls).”

        The Enquirer reported last year that police arrests were off 35 percent in May and June, compared to the year before, after Officer Stephen Roach was indicted for killing an unarmed black suspect. That death sparked rioting in Over-the-Rhine and downtown in April.

        Officers said they were hesitant to do their jobs because of the criminal prosecution of Officer Roach; the anti-police sentiment from the April riots; and the federal investigations of the department.

Right balance

        Though Mr. Ryan is intrigued by the Cincinnati situation, he doesn't plan to mention it in scripts for The Shield.

        He'll continue to focus on a larger issue, he says.

        “City officials, and politicians, and police officers all over the country are struggling with this issue: What is the right balance between how our police officers engage with the public, and the public safety?” Mr. Ryan says.

        “What's the right way to police a community? And does your opinion change when your circumstances change?

        “Do you want Vic Mackey policing your streets? If your answer is no, what's your answer when someone is breaking down the door?”

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