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I’m A Cop – And That Is Not Funny

I’m A Cop – And That Is Not Funny

Yeah it is. Or at least it can be.

If you don’t have a sense of humor and let it out every day on this job, you’ll go nuts — and be a pain to the people around you at the same time. You know the officers (and supervisors) I’m talking about: always serious, always “focused” (whatever that is) and no time for any laughing. I get it, they’re cops, and being a cop is ‘sposed to be serious business, right?

Well, sorta’ right.

When I was on the San Diego PD, people would sometimes tell me all about some TV cop show they watched and would go on about how they knew it was very realistic, and gosh, how did I deal with the constant pressure? Invariably the TV shows they spoke of were moronic, drama-laced prime-time-wastes-of-time, with multiple shoot-outs in each episode and enough cleavage to populate a local strip club. Realistic? Right.

If they asked my opinion about what was the most realistic cop show on the air, I’d always smile and say, “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” Of course, then they begged and pleaded until I did. Keep in mind this was some time ago, and many of you may not even know the show I’m talking about, but ask some old guys and they’ll likely agree with me. The show? Barney Miller, of course. No, not Hill Street Blues, Dragnet or even Adam 12. The reaction I got was always the same. The person asking would sort of stare at me, then mumble, “Oh, really? Hmmm. How interesting.” Then they’d leave, which is usually what I wanted them to do anyway.

Barney Miller was about the daily routine of a small detective unit in the NYPD. It aired from 1975 to 1982, and all the cops suffered the fashion faux pas of the day, which of course made it more realistic, since detectives I knew were generally about 5 years behind whatever was fashionable.

The show’s small group, from Sgt. Fish’s old-school, world-weary, “I’m almost going to retire” take on life, to Capt. Barney Miller’s constant efforts to keep his guys in line and deal with the daily grind of running a unit, struck a real-life chord to most cops who watched. Hell, they lived it. Finally, someone on TV got it right. Cops knew Barney Miller in real life; they knew “Fish” and “Wojo” and Sgt. Nick Yemana, the wisecracking Japanese-American and his unique ability to make bad coffee without fail. Inspector Frank Luger was Barney’s boss, completely out of touch with the realities of the daily grind, and was always underfoot attempting to tell Barney how to run things. We knew ‘em all.

The show was shot almost always in the semi-squalid detective office and Barney’s adjoining office. There was only one shooting I can recall by one of the detectives, and it was dealt with sanely and with the kind of real-world response we’re all familiar with. The show was mostly about getting to work on time, trouble with the wife, Fish’s poor health, trying to find a parking place, upper management’s unrealistic demands, Barney’s attempts to keep sanity alive and what it took to make sure a diverse group of personalities got along, and do good police work at the same time.

And the important thing about the show? They laughed. They played tricks on each other, made fun of each other’s race, religion, work ethic, clothes and anything else that came up. They had fun, and that fun kept them together and kept the team playing. They knew they could rely on each other — and Barney. And it works in the real world too.

You know these cops, even though they have different names, in your own agency. And if you’re not laughing, and poking fun, and taking it in the spirit it’s dished out, then you’re doing something wrong … terribly wrong. And if you don’t believe me, find Barney Miller reruns on the Internet and you’ll see I’m right. We seem to be losing the all-important humor side of what we do.
We need to get it back.

We’d like to hear what you have to say about all this (and Barney Miller), so drop us a note at editor@nullamericancopmagazine.com — and maybe what you learned from it?
By Roy Huntington

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  1. Marc Sultan Det. NYPD Ret. says:

    Roy.
    You hit the nail on the head. I came on in 1969 and Barney Miller was and is a popular show with my fellow cops. Every squad I was in had the same characters, only the names were different. I agree that it was the most factual show on TV. In the old buildings the Squad room all looked the same (as in the show).
    A sense of humor was needed to offset the daily crime scenes we were called to. Only another cop would understand this and our unusal sense of humor.

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