32 of the Worst Dirty Cops in Entertainment

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Over the course of cinema history, screenwriters, producers, and directors have seeded and sprouted subgenres as they root for original ways to tell stories.

One example of this evolution was the supplanting of traditional Westerns by anti-Westerns like Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” (1992) and Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” (2015). Notably, these films avoid romanticizing the period. They feature Black actors in key roles, strive for more accurate depictions of Native Americans, and portray the harsher realities faced by women at the time.

Another genre that has changed considerably over the years is the cop movie. It used to be taboo to depict law enforcement officers as straight-up villains. Even the comical portrayal of inept and buffoonish “Keystone Kops” in early Hollywood films elicited condemnation from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which helped put the kibosh on depicting law enforcement agents as crooks and murderers. 

Today, there is no such informal injunction. Police behaving badly has become a common theme on screens big and small. 

To compile a list of 32 of the worst dirty cops in entertainment, 24/7 Tempo referenced sources including IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, and such entertainment sites as Screen Rant and Playlist, and TV Guide. Using editorial discretion, we chose tainted members of law enforcement based on their infamy in the most popular motion pictures and television shows – the bribes they took, the drugs they confiscated, the conspiracies with criminals, the cover-ups, and the strong-arming of suspects, most notably those of color. (These are the police departments that kill the most people.)

These bad cops tend to share similar tropes. Often, they have mob ties, like Det. Vin Makazian from “The Sopranos,” played by John Heard, deftly portraying the pathos of a broken man, or Nelson Van Alden, the sinister Prohibition-era revenue agent who becomes a mob enforcer in “Boardwalk Empire,” brilliantly interpreted by Michael Shannon.

There are also the law enforcers who steal from drug dealers, like DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman, in a deeply disturbing role) in “Léon: The Professional” or Detective Alonzo Harris in “Training Day” – Denzel Washington’s debut portraying a villain, which won him an Academy Award in 2002. 

Often, they’re part of a larger police mafia, as in “Serpico” or “Prince of the City.” Other times they’re lone wolves hiding their crooked and violent habits behind badges, like Harvey Keitel in “Bad Lieutenant” or Matthew McConaughey in “Killer Joe.” (Read about the worst corruption scandal in every state.)

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