Cops routinely find themselves under water. The best manage to keep their heads above the surface. But even for a strong swimmer like Ben Sherman the undertow can be tricky.
Ben finds himself in a situation where he’s surrounded by a large group of unruly young people. There’s bumping and shoving and name-calling. Things begin to get out of hand. He’s pushed by a young woman who he immediately places under arrest. Then, suddenly, another woman slaps Ben directly in his rookie face. What’d he do? How’d he react? Well, we had to wait until later in the episode to find out, but I, for one, knew exactly what he’d do. Yep. Been there, done that…sort of.
It’s an eye-opening moment for a young police officer when he’s assaulted for the first time. Sure, he trains and trains and trains for that moment, but nothing could prepare him for the shock that comes with being on the receiving end of a hearty face-slap, a punch, or a big ‘ol cheek-splattering wad of gooey saliva.
I remember that day, my “first time” and remember it well. I’d been on the streets, still very much a rookie, for approximately six months when I arrested a very petite young woman for a drug offense. She looked quite timid and sweet. Her hair was silky and she had eyes like a doe deer. Her hands were tiny. Her voice, soft like velvet. And her cheeks were rosy, like those of a China doll. And I recall thinking that, stupidly, I’d remove the cuffs while I questioned her. After all, what could that frail woman do to a big guy like me. Well, let me tell you, that sweet little doe-eyed %&^*$ slapped me into next week the second the cuffs came off. There was no pain, just a lot of really bright, white light and a ton of shock, surprise, and hope that no one saw her do it. Then came the swearing and spitting. Lots of spitting. She was doing the spitting but it was I who was doing the most cussing.
But it doesn’t end there. After that first shocking moment comes the next sweet little woman, or innocent liitle boy, a drug user down on his luck who robs a store to feed his kids and his habit, a poor elderly lady who shoplifts so she can eat, a drug crazed man who assaults his own parents, hungry kids, starving animals, guns, knives, a little girl…raped, murder after murder after murder. Mutilated bodies. Crying children…and yes, you soon find yourself underwater, struggling to keep your head above the surface.
There’s a new tough-as-nails captain this week, a captain who comes across during his welcome-to-my-shift-speech as wanting to kick ass first and take names later. But his ideas are sound ideas. They’re just plain good, old-fashioned police work—get out of your cars and walk, meet and talk to the people in your assigned areas, squeeze your snitches for information. Being proactive is what it’s all about. Don’t sit back and wait for crimes to happen. Stop them before they start.
The captain also passes out McDonald’s job applications to everyone, stating something like, “Each time you screw up fill out a line on your application.” He’s telling his troops that after a few goofs they’ll be needing new jobs because he won’t put up with many mistakes.
Lydia is called to work a hit and run case where all the team has to go on is a severed hand that’s still attached to a very expensive purse. After tracking down the suspect’s car, Detective Adams makes a gruesome discovery—body parts, including the head of the deceased, embedded among the radiator, water pump, and other mechanical parts located beneath the SUV.
Turns out the driver, a well-to-do citizen, had been driving drunk and claimed he thought he’d hit a coyote. He was promptly arrested and placed inside a patrol car where he immediately began to cry, the normal display of remorse that comes with a suspect’s realization that jail is in the immediate future. Funny how that remorse normally doesn’t appear until the cuffs go on.
Sammy and Ben decide to take the Captain’s advice and shake down a hooker for information, using a crack pipe they found in her purse as leverage to prompt her into cooperating. She gives up a little information and they allow her to go on her way.
I’m nearly convinced that these guys were cops in previous lives because the attention to detail in this show is incredible. Yes, that’s it’s done on the streets. It’s a day-in-day-out process of trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. And you do it by talking to people. Squeezing the snitches for information. and, as Lydia’s new partner will soon find out, by telling a few lies to get the information you need.
Lydia and Ruben, her new partner, are investigating a murder, an investigation that led them to home of the suspect’s grandmother, played by Marla Gibbs (Sorry, but I cannot see Ms. Gibbs without expecting to see George Jefferson come strutting around a corner. She’s a fine actor but she’ll always be Florence Johnston to me. But she looks fantastic, especially since she now 80). Hey, weren’t those two on 227? And wasn’t Adams’ character’s name Brenda on that show? A nice injection of humor, since “Brenda” was the name this little old lady kept calling Detective Adams.
Ruben appears a little shocked to learn that detectives sometimes must present a bit of false information when working a case. Still, he finds himself in a position where he might have to pull the trigger on the murder suspect, another unfortunate and unpleasant aspect of the job.
But Lydia solves that problem in a hurry by tackling the guy, an action that sends them both into a swimming pool (you see the ongoing theme, right?).
Ben appears to be a little on edge in this episode. Things just aren’t going his way. And that bit of bad luck continues when he chases a bad guy into a back yard where the thug swings a baseball bat, trying to hit a home run with Ben’s head. This scene is a familiar one to all street cops—a suspect hides inside a house, the homeowners and everyone inside tells the officers they haven’t seen the guy and they don’t know him. Then the guy pops up and runs. It’s like hearing a politician tell a lie…happens every single day.
Cooper and Tang (Lucy Liu is a great addition to this show, by the way) find themselves on the receiving end of the “odd” situations this week. We all have them, too. You know, the “Elvis-is-hiding-behind-the-cheesecake-in-my-refrigerator” type of calls.
1. The new partners roll up on a flaming pedestrian who’d ignited while smoking meth and watching porn in the back room of an “adult” store.
2. They roll up on a nude guy jogging along the sidewalk. Tang tells the guy it’s illegal to do that in the city, but it’s okay to run naked on the freeway. So he thanks her and heads onto an on-ramp. Tang turns to Cooper and says, “He’s CHP’s problem now.”
This scene may have seemed a bit silly to non-cops, but “back in the day,” and I’m not saying it’s right, I know of a few times when officers transported “unwanted problem people” to the next county and simply dropped them off.
3. A guys steps in front of Cooper and Tang’s patrol car and shouts, “I’m not going back to jail.” When Cooper steps out of the car the man tackles him. Tang jumps to Coop’s aid and begins to wail on the guy using her ASP (expandable baton). But it has no effect on the wild man.
Backup arrives (Dewey) and promptly deploys his Taser. The three of them finally subdue and cuff the guy.
Another realistic scene. I can’t tell you how many times cops are placed in this position, fighting to gain control of very strong and powerful people. And it sometimes takes two or three or more officers to subdue a combative suspect.
– Ben and Sammy respond to a call where an elderly woman fired a shot at her neighbor. When the officers approach the front door Ben thinks he sees a weapon and yells, “Gun!” and the two beat a hasty retreat to the safety of their patrol car. The woman fires a couple of rounds through the window and a standoff begins.
Captain Rucker arrives and he’s there with a plan. He pretends to be a preacher and approaches the door holding a Bible over his head, quoting scripture. But she’s not buying it, so Ben grabs the woman’s cat and offers to give it to her in exchange for her gun. She pretends to agree and lays down her rifle, but pulls out a secondary handgun. The captain promptly gives her a blast from his shotgun, terminating the threat who, by the way, was wearing body armor.
Several years ago, I was faced with a similar situation. I was at home watching TV when I suddenly heard shouting outside. I opened the front door and saw three patrol cars, lights flashing, and five or six uniformed officers crouching down behind them. Now, my across-the-street neighbors were elderly. Very nice people. So I was a bit puzzled until I saw the man on their front porch who was aiming a revolver at the man who lived there. A closer look told me that the suspect was actually the homeowner’s son, a guy I knew to have a pretty bad drug problem. Later I learned that the son had come by and asked for money, and when his parents refused he pulled the gun and began making threats.
Well, I knew the son, had encounters with him in the past (a few minor arrests, etc.) so I walked over to patrol officers to see what I could do to help out. By the way, I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and no shoes. I was in for the night. Comfortable.
Anyway, I called out to the guy. He promptly told me to F-off. And that really didn’t set well with me. Neither did the look of terror on the old couple’s faces. So I did a dumb thing. I walked up to the porch and headed straight for the suspect. He started to turn toward me but, before he even realized what I was doing, I, well, let’s just say only a second passed before I had the gun and he was lying on the porch floor. After it was over I realized what a totally stupid thing I’d done. Hell, I didn’t even have a gun with me.
The point I’m trying to make with this anecdotal babble is that the things you see on Southland, no matter how “out there” they seem to you, are quite real. This stuff happens in real life. While you’re at work or at home sleeping, cops are doing what you see on this show.
And that, my friends, brings us back to Ben and the young woman who slapped him. Well, Ben, feeling overwhelmed by the crowd that was closing in on him and, because the woman had landed a blow to his cheek and to his ego and, because he’d never experienced this before, well, he punched the woman squarely in her face. Right on the snoot with a closed fist.
The scene was captured on video, of course, and Ben is called into the captain’s office to explain his actions, and Sammy defends him.
Outside, Ben thanks Sammy for sticking up for him. Sammy, the experienced cop, says, “You always have your partner’s back…” Ben smiles. But Sammy then completes his statement. “…even when he’s wrong. You kinda lost your cool. We don’t fire back because we’re mad, we fire back to save lives.”
What a powerful and very true statement. Saving lives is the name of the game, no matter how hard you have to paddle to keep your head above water.
Yes, Ben has filled in the first line of his McDonald’s application. But we all do. We’re human.
* This is the best darn cop show to ever hit a TV screen. And all I can say is, “You go Cheo Coker. You write one fine police story.” The same goes for the all the writers. And my hat’s off to the crew and directors as well. And a big nod to the actors who go above and beyond to show their audience a side to police work that’s not usually seen…the truth.