Southland: Bats and Hats

We hold cops to a higher standard because we give them a gun and a badge. The only trouble with that is they’re recruited from the human race.

Other than The Big Bang Theory and reruns of the Andy Griffith Show, there are few TV shows that receive my full, unwavering attention and devotion. SouthLand, however, is at the top of my favorites list, and it hit that spot for several reasons—it’s a true, honest-to-goodness depiction of what it’s like to be a cop, and the actors, cast, crew, writers, producers, and directors see to it that proper research is conducted and woven into their well-written scripts, actions, and dialog. And, most importantly, the actors deeply care for their fans and it shows.

The season opener, Bats and Hats (slang for cops in full riot gear, equipped with helmets and batons), delves into the personal disputes often faced by police officers. Yes, in addition to the possibility of gunfire, stabbings, and puking drunks, cops also have personal issues that can, and do, cause clashes with their professional partners—a second definition of “bats and hats.”

SouthLand is quite adept at weaving subplots and hidden meaning into each and every scene. And last night’s episode was a prime example.

– Lydia is a new mother who’s also a cop to the core. Her job has always been her entire world. It’s her friend and mental/emotional lover. Police work is always there for her, no matter what. It’s her rock. Her cornerstone. And it’s where she turns when there’s no other avenue of escape, including when the baby cries incessantly, allowing her very little sleep and more than a fair share of exhaustion. So, to go to work and return to a situation where she’s the boss who calls the shots, well, it’s a breath of fresh air for her.

However, Lydia’s an extremely private person, and when clear signs of motherhood show up (leaking breast milk), she temporarily exhibits embarrassment and vulnerability. Since her partner, Ruben, is the one who brought the situation to her attention, well, that made the trouble even more embarrassing. Still, her tough side springs back and she’s able to do whatever it takes to get a male rape victim to admit what happened to him. And, believe me, that’s an extremely delicate situation, considering the skyrocketing state of denial in cases of this nature. Lydia, though, handled it just as a real cop would have done in a similar situation. Again, though, it’s the true-to-life back-story that makes this scenario shine. Cops are people too, and they must deal with their personal issues while helping the public meander and duck and dodge through theirs.

Cooper has his hands full with a new rookie who really doesn’t give a rat’s derriere about being a cop. He’s a military vet who couldn’t find a job paying better than the LAPD offered. So he’s there for the paycheck, nothing more. As a former FTO (field training officer), I’ve seen similar situations time and time again. Those who go into police work for the wrong reasons—money, benefits, to wear a cool uniform and play with cool toys, to attract members of the opposite sex, nothing better to do, etc., rarely make it past the rookie stage. Your heart absolutely has to be in the job for it to work out. Former LAPD officer/author Kathy Bennett summed it up nicely, just yesterday, when discussing cop-killer Christopher Dorner. Bennett said, “Being a police officer is not for the faint of heart—some people, no matter how good their intentions, are not cut out to be cops.”

Cooper’s personal hats-and-bats situation also included dealing with an unsatisfied, arguing life partner who’s tired of being left alone while Cooper works a police officer’s demanding schedule. He wants more, but, as a committed police officer, Cooper doesn’t have much more to give. Like Lydia, Cooper is in it deep. The job is his life and his life is the job. It’s what he knows and he knows is well, which is why the new trainee’s attitude toward police work is already wearing on Cooper’s fragile nerve endings.

Sammy and Ben are an unlikely pair of police officer partners from the start. Sammy, of course, has mellowed a bit since his rogue-ish days. However, he has his ex to deal with, and she’s making his personal life a hell on earth. She’s trying to gain sole custody of their child, who by the way is a redhead. Neither Sammy nor Tammi have red hair, so maybe Ben had a point. The child may not be Sammi’s after all. Where Tammi’s concerned, who knows?

Sammy’s not at all happy with Ben, who’d just received a medal for bravery/heroism. Sammy’s not upset about the award, though. Instead, it’s that Ben is letting it stand in the way of common sense and the job. Like when Ben callously takes a personal phone call while standing in the middle of a gruesome homicide scene, where a traumatized elderly woman, a witness and also a victim of the crime, is within earshot of the conversation.

Shawn Hatosy as Sammy

Sammy chastises Ben about his actions, and, of course, Ben becomes defensive—their hats and bats moment. Oh, yeah, when Sammy goes back to see to it that the woman is okay and winds up scrubbing away the blood from the crime scene…you better believe that sort of thing happens all the time. Cops generally have huge, compassionate hearts, and truly care about people, especially the elderly, children, and those who cannot fend for themselves. Shawn Hatosy played a wonderful part in this episode.

Dewey is back this year, and he’s still the ever obnoxious “drunk-uncle-at-a-wedding-type” cop who gets on everyone’s nerves at times. He’s an old school cop who’s forgotten more about the job than the new recruits (boots) will probably ever hope to know. He’s tough as nails, and when the lead and fists start flying, he’s the first one to wade into the fight. He’s also a cop who’ll have your back no matter what. Dewey is obnoxious, sure, but he’d take a bullet for a fellow cop. But, to the new guy—Cooper’s boot—he’s hats and bats all day long.

So there you have it…everyone’s “hats and bats” moments. Now for the police work.

– Ben receives a medal for bravery, which brings several pats on the back. There’s also a bit of jealousy. Believe me, that happens. Some simply cannot bear to see another officer receive medals/awards, thinking that they deserve them more, for things they’d done that had gone unrecognized. It happens.

– At a pre-shift briefing, the sergeant tells of a fatal shooting(s) of an unarmed suspect(s). The teen reached for something in his waistband and the officers fired, fatally wounding the kid. Unfortunately, this happens, and here’s why. Officers have only mere seconds/milliseconds to make the decision whether to shoot or not. Doesn’t always make it justifiable. I’m merely offering the reason(s).

Basically, the split second shoot/don’t shoot decision-making boils down to what the officer perceives at the time—does he have a weapon, why is he running from me, what has he done to make him run, is he wanted, is he getting ready to shoot me, will he take a hostage if he pulls a gun from his waistband, I searched a guy just yesterday who had a 9mm tucked into his waistband, a fleeing felon shot and killed my partner just last year, people are shooting cops nearly every day, cops are shot and killed nearly every week. Imagine having to process all this and more, in a second or less. So this, as usual, was realistic.

– Sammy and Ben find themselves at fight where the two naked suspects are covered in blood. First of all, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than to arrest or struggle with a naked person of either sex. But it happens more often than you’d think. Clothing provides something for officers to grab. Bare flesh does not. And bloody or sweaty flesh is extremely difficult to grasp. So…what IS available to grab when the suspect is nude? Don’t even think it. Not in a million years. If ever there was a time for pepper spray, Tasers, or a long tree branch, this is it…

Michael Cudlitz as John Cooper

– Cooper’s boot/trainee elected to switch to wearing short sleeve uniform shirts before he’d received permission to do so, an obvious show of disrespect to his training officer and to the department. Tradition around the country is—the move to short sleeves isn’t done until the training officer allows it.

By the way, most departments set specific dates when to begin wearing long or short-sleeve uniform shirts, and it doesn’t matter if spring comes early bringing 90 degree temps, or an early winter blows in with temperatures dipping to the freezing mark. If the change date hasn’t rolled around, officers must continue to wear long sleeves and neckties (neckties always accompany long sleeves). Same thing in reverse.

– The scene in the store where the shopkeeper and his partner were testing out the stopping power of a Kevlar vest was actually realistic. You absolutely would not believe the truly stupid things people do, and, of course, police are often called to the scenes. I’ve left many calls shaking my head at the degree of stupidity I’d just witnessed. For example, the man having sex with a live pig comes to mind, with the female’s fellow oinkers looking on… No shame in that game.

– Sammy and Ben roll up on a gang shooting in progress, only to learn that Internal Affairs had staged the scene to test the integrity of undercover officers involved in the scenario. Sammy loses his cool, and takes his disdain for the situation straight to the IA detective in charge of the operation. Can’t say that I blame him. No cop likes the set-ups conducted by IA that are designed to catch officers doing something wrong or illegal. However, sometimes those things are necessary. I know, because I worked IA investigations. Not a pleasant assignment, but it was truly an eye-opener at times.

– Lydia’s handling of the male rape victim—she lied to him to get him to admit the truth—was truly believable. That’s how it happens in real life, folks. Cops sometimes have to lie to get to the truth.

Finally, we see Ben celebrating in a parking lot with strippers and a few of his rowdy buddies. Of course, alcohol was involved. Suddenly, one of the strippers stands on a car hood and begins firing a weapon into the air. Ben’s new buddy hits the woman with a blast from a Taser and then urges Ben to leave before responding officers discover that he, the medal-winning officer/LAPD’s newest poster boy, is caught up in a scandal. Ben walks away into the night, his reputation once again kept unblemished.

Roll the credits…

Much like the realism found between the covers of Joseph Wambaugh’s books, what you see on SouthLand is pretty much a decent depiction of the life of police officers. I’m not saying that every officer lives a life identical to these fictional characters. Not at all. What I am saying is, well, most of us have sort of been there and done that. So, if you really want to know what it’s like to wear a gun and badge, I urge you to watch SouthLand.

And, as always, my hat’s off to the cast and crew of SouthLand for taking the time to “learn it the right way.”