The “Chicago” franchise, comprising of the television shows “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Med,” and most recently, “Chicago Justice,” seeks to commend the different public service institutions in the city of Chicago. Though this is a great premise, two of the series in particular fall flat.
Though the praise for the city’s police officers is clear in “Chicago P.D.,” the focus on police officers who believe that “the ends justify the means” undercuts that positive message. Especially in an age where police brutality is so common and becoming a widely discussed social issue, it seems a bit tone-deaf to celebrate officers who continually break the law, infringe upon the rights of the accused, and use excessively violent tactics. And of course, no one ever faces any real consequences because they catch the “bad guy” in the end.
I was truly excited for the second episode of “Chicago Justice,” which focused on an investigation into a police brutality case, because it seemed like it might actually present real consequences to the malpractices of the officers in “Chicago P.D.” However, as the episode wore on, it became clear that Officer Kevin Atwater (who was accused of using excessive force that resulted in the death of a detainee) had the special protection of friends within the system that was meant to investigate him. Even when it seemed like we were going to get a fair trial, witnesses were discredited as being “biased against police” and the prosecutor was shamed for trying to ruin the reputation of a police officer. And of course, in the end, he was never guilty in the first place, because police misconduct never happens in Chicago.
It turns out that it was actually a criminal held in the same cell who was truly guilty of killing the detainee. And this black and white depiction of “good vs. evil,” “justice being served” completely overshadowed the fact that the accused officer himself admitted to using a bit too much force when making his arrest. Even if he wasn’t the ultimate cause of that man’s death, isn’t there something to be said about using unnecessary force? Defending his actions, his Sergeant claimed: “If Kev killed that son of a bitch, that son of a bitch needed killing.” It’s a terrifying reality that police officers are given the power to decide who is allowed to live or die based on heat-of-the-moment decisions, or even worse, bias-fueled malice. And that power is justified on this show.
If people are upset that there is an air of mistrust surrounding the police due to recently publicized occurrences of police brutality and misconduct, these shows certainly aren’t helping. Why not create a show that celebrates police officers who actually uphold the law instead of breaking it? Why not create an on-screen world where police officers are actually punished when they break the rules? Shows like that would be doing the police department some justice, because people would be more inclined to associate them with honest practices and trust them to uphold the law rather than abuse it.
Comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, suggestions on how shows can improve their portrayals of the criminal justice system, or examples of shows that you think are really successful in their portrayals.