Though they make up one of the most popular genres in all of television and film, the cop/police procedural and the greater crime drama have faced much backlash, especially post-2020. Many shows including Chicago P.D., Blue Bloods and more have been critiqued as copaganda in glorifying police as well as continuing to portray a society where a strong police presence is needed. The shows have also been critiqued for the way they portray people of color–in both fictional perpetrators and victims. And even the “ripped from the headlines” angles that the Law & Order shows utilize can’t keep them away from the criticisms that these series face.
Shadow and Act spoke to several franchise stars including Law & Order: SVU‘s Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Organized Crime‘s Christopher Meloni and Danielle Mone Truitt and Law & Order‘s Jeffrey Donovan and Camryn Manheim about what their thoughts were in regards to how the police procedural can keep relevant as people are looking at policing and the criminal justice system with a different lens.
"One of the things that we're doing constantly is figuring out the new interview techniques and interview tactics," said Hargitay.
“What is the best strategy to help a survivor recall the events? Historically, they would interview in a very linear way, which was not the way [to go].”
The SVU veteran also said they’v met with Black Lives Matter organizations and other groups to educate themselves and says she believes “all the healing lies in listening.”
“So the idea of bringing obviously de-escalation into all law enforcement, which is something that is actively happening, but [also] that constant education and the constant reexamining of what we’re doing. How can we do better? How can we be more effective? How can we listen and get the best out of people? [We need to] get curious about somebody who doesn’t see it the same way and say, ‘Hold on, help me understand.’ I mean, I’m trying to teach this to my 10-year old children.’ That’s where the healing is going to take place.”
"It's one of the cornerstones of what they're trying to do with our storytelling," said Meloni. "So I know that we're touching on it right now.
“If you’re going to have a format that’s as large as this, which is a nationally televised show that is known, you might as well engage the topics that are at hand and maybe help the issue.”
Meloni’s OC co-star, Truitt, spoke from the perspective of not only playing a cop, but a Black and queer cop on the show.
“There’s been a shift because of what we’ve seen with Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and everyone else that there’s not a glorification of police officers doing things to people that they shouldn’t be doing,” she said. “I think that our show has a really awesome opportunity to show both sides that the people that are in law enforcement, they are human as well. They’re trying to figure out the best way to fight crime and there are a lot of good cops in this world and unfortunately, the bad cops can rock the whole bunch. I think it brings hope back to people’s minds and hearts that there are people out there that care and that want to make our communities a better place.”
Still, the actress says it is important to continue to show these issues on the series.
“When a cop is seen doing something that is out of line, they have to be held accountable for that,” she continued. “We’re not glossing over that. The misuse of police force is a huge, important thing to me as an individual. So playing law enforcement, it’s always something where I’m like, ‘Ooh, how are they going to write my character? What’s my character’s viewpoint of this going to be?’ And I’m very grateful to have Ilene Chaiken as our showrunner, because the way that she’s written Bell, the things that Bell cares about, the things that are important to Bell are also important to me. So it’s easier for me to play that role.”
Manheim, who plays Lt. Kate Dixon, says that folks now realize that the police department doesn't need to do a lot of things they're tasked with.
“The police department is now asked to do things that are out of their realm of expertise, many things that should be in the hands of social workers,” she said. “Homelessness, mental illness, addiction, disputes between partners…these should be in the hands of professionals. That’s not what police are trained for. And I think that’s why it’s getting very, very messy and hopefully, we will able to do some good with our show to try to get people the right attention that they need.
We want to get it right. It’s really important to us. And we have a lot of professionals who are guiding us through it. So we don’t glorify the police department and we don’t do it wrong because we don’t want to add to the problem.”
“They’re [the writers] going to make it as topical, but also as fair of both sides as they can, and it’s really not for us, the artist, to judge it,” said Donovan, who plays Det. Frank Cosgrove. “We just portray it. We put it out there and it’s really up to you, the viewer. You decide what we’re trying to go after because you are going to bring your history [and] bring your journey to watching it in that moment. It’s less about what I think about this [but] really about what do you guys think about what we’re doing? Hopefully, it strikes accordingly as a conversation to be had in your living room because that’s the amazing power of television.”
Law & Order Thursdays begin this week with L&O’s return at 8 p.m., SVU at 9 p.m. and Organized Crime at 10 p.m.