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Research Papers on Cop Shows or Films

Criminal justice courses or art and film classes may require that research be done on cop shows and/or films. Below you will see a suggestion on how to set up your cop show research paper. You may want to focus on something like the show Law and Order, and view crime and punishment through the prism of this very popular cop show.


Typical things to include in your cop show or film research paper:

  • Analyze a television program or a film that deals with the police in the US as its main theme.
  • Discuss what the film or programs say about the police, crime, law and order and the US criminal justice system.
  • Summarize the plot, theme or themes, main characters and storylines.
  • In your discussion, address some or all of the elements listed below.
  • DESCRIBE how these issues are illustrated in the plots and characters. (NOTE: Write a narrative: do not use a question-and-answer format.)

MAKE reference to readings where they apply.

Cop Shows or Films

Elements to analyze: Common denominators/points of comparison in Cop Shows or Film Research Paper:

  • Setting: Urban, suburban, or rural.
  • The nature of crime: how the problem is posed.
  • The nature of criminals: motives, etc. If applies: To what extent is the theme part of the national dialogue on crime and punishment, law and order?
  • The nature of policing, the nature of the JOB: what cops need to be or to do to accomplish their job. Are cops heroes or is the role more problematic? Discuss lead and secondary characters.
  • How is race or ethnicity coded or dealt with? (Whites, African Americans, Latinos, Muslims or others) in the episodes or films you watched. What views of particular communities (neighborhoods/ghettos) are portrayed?
  • Whose point of view is privileged: cops and law enforcement (including the police hierarchy or brass); the power structure (mayor, federal government, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, etc.); citizens and the community; criminals and the families /communities they come from?
  • How are questions of gender depicted? How are masculinity and femininity posed in characters or story line?
  • Police-community relations: the quality of how cops interact with citizens and the communities they police.
  • Moral/ethical issues dealt with and how?
  • To the extent programs convey a view of crime and law and order, how simplistic or complex are these issues posed? Does the program you are analyzing mirror law and order issues today or in its time frame? How?
  • Are there any cultural themes/pop culture influences or synergy? (For example, the success of Miami Vice was in part due to its use of popular music and the contemporary culture of its time period. Politically, it can also be read as a reflection on the national war on drugs and the cocaine (later crack) epidemic.
  • There are many films and TV programs that focus on police, chose either a contemporary one or an older film or TV program. Do not choose a show like “The Sopranos,” whose focus is mainly on criminals and not the police.

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