Southland: Code Four – A Review

Southland: Code Four

“Most of us go to work every day with a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen. As Detective Bryant will be reminded of today, cops never do.”

I was a cop for a long time and I loved the job. In the early days, I, like rookie Ben Sherman, never really considered the consequences of my actions. After all, the job was exciting—a full-time adrenaline rush. Later, I served in the same capacity as Officer John Cooper, as a field training officer. So I’ve worn both sets of boots. I know what it’s like to see the world from each set of eyes. A rookie feels ten-feet-tall and bullet-proof. Invincible. A training officer feels the weight of the world resting on his shoulders. It’s his job to see to it that the rookie, or boot as they’re commonly called, stays safe while learning to do the same for others. It’s a tough life, and I agree, cops never know what’s going to happen. But they’d better be ready for anything. Because it’s coming. And somehow the actors in this series have seen it. They know, and it shows.

Code Four: Additional assistance is not needed, as indicated by the officer holding up four fingers. The signal that all is well.

– Officer John Cooper and rookie Ben Sherman began the show with a normal conversation between trainer and trainee. Much of the shift is spent (in real life) with the training officer quizzing the new officer about rules, regulations and what-if’s. Between questions, the teacher and student respond to calls, where the boot receives on the job, hands-on training. Such was the case in this episode when Ben let his, “she’s a woman, I must be gentle,” assumptions cause a near disaster.

During a domestic dispute a woman grabbed a hot pan off the stove and tossed its contents on her husband/boyfriend. Cooper had told Ben to turn off the stove, knowing what could happen. But Ben had already slipped into his chivalrous mode. When all was said and done, Ben received a proper butt chewing from his supervisor, again. Cooper said, “You gottta be sure of what you see. Really see. You’re gonna get someone killed. You understand?” Lesson #1. This scene took me back to my days as an FTO and the lessons I taught.

– Sammy is still having a difficult time dealing with his separation from Tammy. The two constantly bicker via cellphone, disrupting every single crime scene that he and Nate attempt to work. The troubles even spilled over to a homicide scene where Sammy let his problems stand in the way of common decency. He was so preoccupied that he’d forgotten to cover the body of a murder victim, resulting in the victim’s wife and brother seeing their loved one lying in the street. This was cruel, but realistic. Cops are human and sometimes their personal troubles find a way to affect the job. Doesn’t make it right, but it happens.

– Ben seems bored, and he’s grown tired of hearing Cooper’s constant instruction. So John lets him be top cop for a day, handling the task of telling a mother that her son has been killed in an accident. Thinking he knows it all, Ben delivers the notification to the wrong mother at the wrong house. Lesson #2, and a second butt chewing.

– Cooper spies a driver in front of their patrol car who’s acting a little “guilty.” That’s his “cop’s 6th sense” talking, which is almost always right. So he initiates a traffic stop. His PC for the stop? The guy’s tires “look” a little bald…Hey, it’s worked for many years. So, during the stop Ben cuffs the guy, leaves him standing beside and fence, and joins Cooper in searching the car. He finds a large bag of pot.

Cooper says, “So where’s your suspect?” knowing the guy has taken off running with his hands cuffed behind his back. Ben takes off on foot to catch the guy while Cooper drives. Lesson #3. Never leave a suspect unattended.

As they say, “been there done that.” Yep, and my favorite expression was, “Experience drives; rookies run.”

Cooper also made the comment that Ben never has a hair out of place. Man, I can’t tell you how much that rings true about some of the guys who’re fresh out of the academy. I remember when…Okay, I’ll stop. But this show is darn realistic!

– Before processing the runner, Ben and John are seen placing their weapons inside a box hanging on the wall. These boxes (lock boxes) are placed in areas where weapons are not permitted—jails, prisons, lockups, etc. Officers place their weapons inside, remove the key, and then conduct their business—processing, interviewing, etc. Once the business is complete, officers may then retrieve their firearms. Great detail.

– Sammy refers to identifying someone from a “six pack.” A six pack is a photo lineup where detectives arrange six mugshot-type images in a folder for viewing by a witness. Six packs are often comprised of actual mugshots.

– Lydia confronts a young man/killer at his home. She has no proof, but lets the kid know she’s watching him. Another great detail. Happens all the time, and often helps to cause the little slimeballs to slip up. You never know. By the way, I was really glad to see her without the new partner. She seemed to be back in control. Josie is an unnecessary distraction that may be doing the show more harm than good.

– John and Ben call it quits for the day and, while leaving the PD, Cooper teases Ben one last time about his rookie mistakes. Ben gets a little steamed and says he’s tired of the hazing. Mistake. Cooper dives in with both feet, bringing on a much-needed reality check.

“Cooper said, “You boots are all the same. Nine months in and you start to believe you know what you’re doing. ”

A pause.

He continues. “You think you were most dangerous when you first got out of the academy? No. No, it’s now. Right now is when you are most likely to get me or someone else killed.”

Another pause.

“So get your s**t tight. In ninety days I’m not going to be here to cover your ass. Whoever draws the short straw and ends up riding with you is going to count on you to keep them alive.”

There’s nothing I can add to that dialog. It’s true. That’s the point where rookies think they’ve learned it all, know it all, and have seen it all. But they’ve only scratched the surface. It’s been said that a cop remains a rookie for the first five years on the job.

And now we’ve gone full circle. It’s time for Sammy to find out why cops never know what’s going to happen when they go to work.

– Sammy and Nate spent the entire episode trying to nail a two-bit gangbanger for murdering a man in front of his kids.

Well, like all good cops, the pair is relentless and Sammy finally chases the guy and arrests him. Mission accomplished.

But, the two are confronted by an angry gang who’s members quickly surround them. Nate and Sammy decide to leave, waving off a police helicopter with the four finger “code four” signal that all is well. But Nate is attacked and badly injured.

Sammy tries to fend off the mob and rescue his partner and friend by drawing his weapon and firing shots into the air and at the attackers.

Back up arrives and takes care of the business at hand while a patrol car rushes Nate to the hospital.

A few moments later Sammy hears a scream from Nate’s wife, and that’s a sound that no cop wants to hear. It’s a signal that a fellow officer has died. Nate’s watch had ended.

This was truly an emotional scene—very realistic—one that’s worthy of an award. It also comes at a particularly tough time for cops and their families. In January of 2011, 14 officers have already been killed in the line of duty. In fact, eleven officers have been shot within the past 24 hours. And that’s the real world, not TV.

So my hat’s off to the actors and writers of Southland for portraying such a gut-wrenching tragedy in a very realistic, yet dignified manner. Also, our thoughts and prayers remain with the officers and their families who’ve experienced the real-life horrors that unfortunately remain part of the job.

Great job, guys. Another excellent episode.

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Registration for the 2011 Writers’ Police Academy is officially open. Register early to reserve your spot. You don’t want to miss this one!

7 replies
  1. dcfowler1
    dcfowler1 says:

    My impressions of last night’s excellent, chaotic episode:

    The patrol guys:

    Boy, do I remember the place Ben is at right now. I was a ‘boot’ once (in a much smaller agency), and do not recall ever doing anything right, ever, according to my FTO. Right now, Ben’s probably in the soul-crushing discouragement phase of probation. Let’s hope he has good reason to feel more confident about his street work soon.

    The scene with Cooper calmly driving past Ben and the suspect (who promptly face-planted) was possibly the funniest thing the show has done.

    The meal break scene with Cooper razzing Ben with the two P2s felt very true to life.


    Boy, those young frat boy D1s were less than useless, and I felt bad for Lydia having to stay on top of them. They clearly needed adult supervision though. Josie looks pretty good in comparison.

    Regarding Gizmo, I have a feeling his mom was more involved in the murder than was revealed in this episode. Stay tuned.

    The Gang unit:

    Absolutely heartbreaking. Sammy’s downward spiral has been painful to watch; then, just as he starts to find some peace and clarity, it all comes down on him.

    The whole penultimate scene felt pretty real. Sammy’s shooting of the banger trying to take Nate’s gun was clearly justified. His warning shots in the air probably were way out of policy (bullets that go up, must come down, sometimes on citizens), but he was in a s****y situation, playing a s****y hand with few options, and firing randomly into the crowd was not an option. The scene also reminded me a lot of a zombie movie, with the hordes converging steadily on Nate and Sammy, with Sammy’s occasional shots causing them to back off slightly but never retreat. Scary.

    And yes, they had the airship orbiting above them, but I don’t recall them letting dispatch know where they were when they left the vehicle. Not smart.

    Finally this scene seemed a bit like an homage to Dennis Hopper’s great movie, “Colors,” with Sean Penn’s Pac Man cradling his P3, Hodges (Robert Duvall) after having been shot by a banger, with the airship illuminating the scene from above.

    Looking at some of the upcoming episode descriptions, it looks like Sammy will be heading out on patrol in the aftermath of Nate’s death. Detectives, in uniform, going on patrol, are not entirely uncommon in the LAPD; this could be done for special assignments or to help beef up an anemic patrol shift for instance. In uniform, D1s wear two stripes above a lozenge; D2s (like Lydia) wear three stripes above a lozenge and D3s (like Sal) wear three stripes over a rocker, with the lozenge in between.

    A random nit: Don’t know the name of the actor who has the small role of John and Ben’s sergeant, but he does a nice job. However, he appears to be acting as their assistant watch commander (in the LAPD, lieutenants are watch commanders.) However, he is wearing rank stripes of a sergeant I; The assistant watch commander should actually be a sergeant II (three stripes and a rocker). A handful of sergeant I’s will be out in the field on each watch overseeing groups of basic car districts (each of which is coordinated by a senior lead officer, or SLO, like John Cooper… although he appears to be acting as a standard field training officer.) In any case, maybe the producers will correct the sergeant’s stripes at some point!

    Anyway, I digressed; Great show, incredible episode. Let’s hope the quality is maintained!


  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Jerry – Thanks for the information. Remember when we used to show mug shots to witnesses one at a time, and then they made us start doing it in the six pack format? Back then they said it was necessary to compare all at once. We’ve made the full circle.

    Ah, the law…the only thing consistent about it is its inconsistency.

  3. Jerry Cooper
    Jerry Cooper says:

    Lee, I read your comments about the detective’s “six Pack” and I was struck with a bit of nostalgia. I would like to have a dollar for every one of those I put together; I could retire — again.

    I don’t know about California, but thanks to Actual Innocence Commissions, the old photo lineups — where the photos are displayed together — are no longer legal in many states. Here in NC, we still use six photos (the suspect, and five fillers), but they have to be shown to the witness one at a time. One photo has to be taken up before you can show the next one. If the witness wants to look at a particular photo again, then we must show all six, and this process can only happen three times. The argument for this consecutive display is that it makes the witness compare a photo against their memory, and not with the other photos. There are other rules in place to go along with this.

    It sure took a lot of fun out of police work when we became civilized.

  4. R. McMahan
    R. McMahan says:

    Very good break down, Lee. Like you said, these guys sure ‘walk the walk’ and come across very realistic.

    Regarding law enforcement deaths, the last two years are telling.
    2009- 117 deaths
    2010- 162 deaths

    The alarming fact is that if 2011 continues at this rate, the thin blue line will lose more than even last year. Prior to 2010, the trend has been a downward decline in officer deaths.

  5. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    Good stuff again. This was a very well-written show. My review is up at my blog.

    There’s discussion over on Facebook about the shooting scene at the end. Sammy was justified in shooting the guy going after Nate’s gun, and I think would have been justified in firing at a couple of the ringleaders of the mob. But he probably would have been smothered at that point. The warning shots are understandable, but I doubt they’re part of LAPD SOP. But Shawn Hatosy is a great, great actor, and so well cast for this part.

    The LEOKA numbers are very interesting. They summarize in a 5-year chunk. I’d be curious to see it broken down to the years.

  6. melanie atkins
    melanie atkins says:

    Fabulous episode. Absolutely gut wrenching at the end. I loved the way they framed it, too, by showing part of the ending first and then circling back to it. Excellent TV…and a great lesson in what cops deal with every single day. Everyone should have to watch this show. Everyone.

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