Who Do You Root for When You Watch the TV Show COPS?


My friend Tim Groseclose passed along this interesting passage from the book Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard. The premise of the book is that the author, having just graduated from college, sets out to see if — starting with the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and $25 — he can build that into a furnished apartment, a working car, and $2,500 in savings within a year without using any of his contacts or mentioning his college degree.

This is how Shepard describes the experience of watching COPS with the folks in his homeless shelter:

But we didn’t watch TV’s original reality show like I used to when I was a kid. Growing up, I used to love watching that show so that I could see what idiots there were around the nation and find satisfaction in the fact that no matter how crazy I thought I was, I was more stable than those people.

Nope. We watched it in a completely different light. We cheered for the suspected criminal the whole way through. It didn’t matter who was on the other end. We always cheered for the guy the cops were after. Guys would be huddled around the TV set hollering, “Go mother f—–r! S–t. Go! Hop that fence! Go! Go! Ah. Ah. Ah, damn, they got ‘im. Again. They got ‘im again. He shoulda hopped that fence like I said. Damn. They always get ‘im.”

And they would always give the criminal the benefit of the doubt. After a long chase, the cops would dig in the suspected criminal’s pockets and find some illicit drug or whatever, and the guys at the shelter would look around at each other and murmur, “S–t, that’s bulls–t. You know that’s bulls–t. They planted that on him. He ain’t have that on him before. They put it there so their stupid TV show can get ratings.”

And they were serious, too. Every night we would watch, every night we would pull for the criminal, and every night he would be dragged away in handcuffs.

James V

Some folks like rooting for the underdog, esepcially if they are the underdog.


Again, people in this situation (shelter/on COPS) are there for a reason...


You know, I don't take those kind of accusations (reality being bent for reality TV) lightly anymore.

Esquire did a feature a couple of years ago, called Tonight on Dateline, This Man Will Die. It was a scathing portrayal of the news magazine/reality show, and how that show's drive to create a good story lead to one man's suicide.


I don't watch Cops at all, because watchng jackbooted thugs hassle and kidnap people for possessing unpopular molecules is not my idea of a good time.


his books sounds pretty interesting. i had thought about doing the same thing when i read about that nickle and dimed book.

UNC '80

I bet they rooted for Michigan State last night.

Cody Forsberg

That's funny, because generally when I'm watching shows like this, I root the other way (my brother is going into law enforcement). It certainly is interesting to hear some of the logic behind this apparent reversal, though.

Ethan Stanislawski

Bill Hicks's routine on COPS on Rant on E-minor was incredible, and probably the only opinion I've heard of COPS that reflected both sides of the argument. After spending a time talking about how fascinated he is with how stupid the "bovine Americans" arrested on COPS are (and how he can't understand the battered women syndrome), later on he says that the point of COPS is "to let you know that state power will win and will bust your house down any time they want" (He would later go on to suggest the show "IRS Bust"). Michael Moore had a similar argument in Bowling For Columbine, which brought in a racial component to the COPS debate.


I don't root for either. I find recording public officials doing their jobs for entertainment values disheartening. We need to hold police officers to a higher standard and this show doesn't help.

C. Larity

I root for the camera man.


It's a product of the poverty subculture. Something for nothing by any means necessary, including trafficking in those molecules that "P" thinks are so great in order to live off the mark-up.

I root for the cops every single time.

vic bravo

Speaking of racial components: the best thing about that Adam Shepherd book is that although he doesn't 'mention his college degree' on his quest, he also doesn't need to mention the fact that he's white.

I wonder how a similar experiment would have turned out with a different person as the subject. Hmm.....

Tariq F

Agree with Vic Bravo's post above - I just read a lot on Shepherd's book out of curiousity and find his experiment inherently flawed.

Firstly, as Vic mentions, he is white and thus his experience may not be relevant to the experience of a black homeless person.

Secondly, and more importantly, he doesn't state his college education but a quick video of him on the Amazon site for his book (see link in blog post above) reveals him to not just be white but more importantly well-spoken, articulate and frankly harmless looking. His belief that by just not mentioning his college degree he makes that advantage disappear presupposes the theory that a college education is only useful for its signaling effect to potential employers (a "stamp") rather than actually conferring practical skills and advantages. (This criticism is - much more aptly - made of business schools, and the dean of Stanford's MBA program had done interesting research on it.)

After watching his video I imagined him entering my office and interviewing for a job. While he would call himself "homeless" and seem to be in that situation, his demeanor would ooze education, confidence, articulateness and reliability - the kind that the average homeless person doesn't have. Hence his ability to pull himself out of the gutter is probably not indicative of the chances for others.



tell 'em to root for the AIG execs- happier ending that way

SC Sarah

The book is his response to Nickeled and Dimed, and it is quite well done for a novice author. I really enjoyed it, as it was very apolitical and focused on his goal to go from homeless to having a place of his own, a job, and a car. Basic goals that are hard to attain for a typical homeless person. He was fair in his assessment of his fellow homeless folks, the "system" and the employment opportunities available to people in this situation. I recall the COPS story and thought that it makes perfect sense to people who see the police as their adversaries. Homeless people don't feel protected by the police, they feel hassled by them.


I took my Dad to the Calgary stampede. We watched the cutting horses and he cheered for the cows. He cheered very loudly at that. Too funny!


I root for Legalization of Currently Illegal Drugs!

C. Larity

The opinions of the homeless are entirely predictable. Since cops get many complaints from citizens to get the homeless out of their sight, cops need to find ways to legally remove the homeless from city streets. Thus, the homeless in this story probably have a long history of being hassled or even falsely accused by the police.

The actual mistrust of the homeless should be directed towards the citizens who complain about them, rather than the cops who are only doing what the complaining public asks of them.


"Cops" should be retitled "Let's Hassle Poor People".


Though I agree that regardless of his degree, articulation always helps increase sucess in an interview, and since I am individual who lives sucessfully without a 'degree' i still strive to learn something new everyday and push to be more articulate, granted most college students and college grads I've met in the past few years have a deplorable grasp of the English language. I personally wouldn't hire somebody who does have a college degree and absolutely poor articulation, but I would higher a somebody without a degree and with articulation, so yes, prejudice exists on the perception of intelligence. It does validate that it can be done, with a willingness to strive forward, lacking a degree makes me work harder to achieve the same financial equity as those with one, but I also do something they don't, I also continue to educate myself either through night classes or self taught courses. As for the COPS, why root for anybody, it's corperate sponsered propaganda for police, they will never show them getting away, it would undermind the whole show/system. The ones that got away are shown as sketches on 'America's Most Wanted'