In this video essay I reveal the inner workings of the LAPD’s Hollywood office (the Entertainment Trademark Unit), in particular how they worked on ABC’s The Rookie. I analyse how the show dilutes and trivialises sexism and racism in the LAPD, police brutality and excessive force, violation of civil rights, predictive policing and rogue cops and LAPD corruption, including the Rampart scandal. I also detail how The Rookie has boosted police recruitment, and how its star Nathan Fillion has admitted it is copaganda for the LAPD.
Be warned, there is some video footage of police brutality that some viewers may find is motivation for disbanding the LAPD entirely because the alternative literally can’t be any worse than this shit.
ABC’s The Rookie tells the story of John Nolan, a divorced contractor in his 40s who moves to Los Angeles to become a cop.
It’s a funny show, but what you probably don’t know is that the LAPD effectively co-produced The Rookie.
The Rookie stars Nathan Fillion as Nolan, the oldest rookie in the LAPD, along with his two classmates from the police academy, Lucy Chen and Jackson West.
It also features their three training officers – Talia Bishop, who is gruff but loveable, Angela Lopez who is gruff but loveable and Tim Bradford, who is gruff but loveable .
Then there’s the watch commander, Sergeant Gray, who is gruff but loveable.
The LAPD’s Hollywood Office
Little known to anyone outside of the police and the entertainment industry, the LAPD has a dedicated office for dealing with Hollywood. It is officially called the Entertainment Trademark Unit, because in 2006 the LAPD copyrighted themselves, registering their badge, uniforms, logo and even their motto and acronym as trademarks. This prevents people from using their name and logo unless they sign a contract controlling how they can use them, and what they can say about the police. Over the last two years I have obtained hundreds of pages of documents detailing how this all works.
If you want to film a documentary or reality show about the LAPD and need their cooperation, you have to sign a Trademark License Agreement, so you can show these ‘trademarked materials’ on screen. The contract says that you cannot:
demean, disparage, disgrace, or cast in an unfavorable light, the City of Los Angeles or any of its employees or departments’. Any footage showing the police cannot be used to depict:
‘a violation of Police Department policy/procedure’ or ‘any unlawful, immoral, racist, or reckless act’
By the police, including:
‘unlawful battery, assault, beating or shooting, planting of evidence, racist comments, hate crimes and reckless driving’
The LAPD reserve the right to review all the footage and reject any that they deem unsuitable, and the rejected footage:
‘shall not be distributed, displayed, or placed in the stream of commerce in any manner’
There are other restrictions too, such as when What the Fit with Kevin Hart wanted an LAPD officer to train him how to be a bodyguard the LAPD rejected the request, because officers aren’t allowed to appear in uniform.
When the youtube series Weird City wanted to film the LAPD memorial wall they were told they weren’t allowed to film the wall or the memorial garden. The producers agreed to a different filming location but when they turned up the police cited the Location Manager because he hadn’t got the proper permits from FilmLA.
Similarly, the Police Training Academy is actually on private land, owned by the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club. So if you want to film how LAPD officers are trained to shoot you, you can’t get permission from the LAPD themselves, because it isn’t their property.
The LAPD and The Rookie
When it comes to fictional shows like The Rookie, they cannot show any of the registered trademarks. This didn’t stop the LAPD from having a significant influence on the show. Fillion and others have spoken about being trained by police technical advisors.
But this only scratches the surface of the LAPD’s involvement. Police documents show that they worked on season 1 of The Rookie and signed a location agreement allowing the producers to film at police headquarters.
The man Fillion is talking about (here) is Bill Norcross, who is much more than a trainer for the cast. He is the man the entire show is based on, and early scripts were inspired by conversations he had with a screenwriter he knew from college. Norcross now serves as a script consultant on The Rookie, an on-set technical advisor, and is a credited Executive Producer on the series – all while working for the LAPD.
Norcross even appears in an episode, leading a police raid.
On top of this the series director and one of its stars – Eric Winter – went on multiple ride-alongs with the LAPD. This helped provide ideas for storylines, as well as input on Winter’s character.
However, the LAPD database of interactions with Hollywood doesn’t mention these ride-alongs, and they claim to not be able to find any documents about Winter’s relationship with the LAPD.
Both seasons of The Rookie include storylines about their involvement in Hollywood. In season one Nolan and Bishop take a film director on a ride-along.
In season two Jackson West becomes a technical advisor on a TV cop show, but neither of these episodes mentions the LAPD’s Hollywood office, making the police-Hollywood relationship seem like an occasional, piecemeal affair.
So, given all their influence on the series, how does The Rookie portray the LAPD, and what does it say about the scandals and issues that have plagued the department for decades?
Sexism and Racism in the LAPD
The LAPD has been accused of being a white supremacist organisation, where non-whites and women are sidelined, profiled, targeted, harassed and even killed. But The Rookie has been praised for the racial and gender mix of its main cast, and portrays the police department’s sexism and racism as a thing of the past.
While the show does foreground female characters, they aren’t treated with the same respect as the men, either on screen or in real life. The female captain is shown largely deferring to her subordinate, Gray, before being killed by neo-Nazis.
Meanwhile, Afton Williamson who plays Talia Bishop was initially enthusiastic about the role but left the show after just one season.
She said that she had been sexually harassed by a recurring guest star, Demetrius Grosse and subject to racist bullying which escalated into sexual assault by the head of the hair department, Sallie Ciganovich. Williamson reported this to the showrunner but nothing was done until she quit the show and went public. The show then hired an outside law firm to investigate, who found no evidence of wrongdoing. But Grosse did not return for season 2, and Ciganovich was also replaced for the second season.
However, Bishop’s replacement as Nolan’s training officer, Nyla Harper, reveals halfway through season 2 that she was raped by her handler while working undercover. This is never referred to again, and Harper shows no signs of the trauma, flashbacks or anxiety attacks typically suffered by rape victims.
So why did the producers write in this backstory? Was it a tacit admission that Williamson’s allegations are true, or some sort of coded apology? Or was it a tokenistic attempt to prove how woke they are, and rehab their image?
When it comes to racism, The Rookie did a similar job of laundering the LAPD’s reputation. The only explicit racism expressed by any officer in the show is part of a test Bradford puts Chen through during the pilot episode.
At the same time, neo Nazis are referred to throughout the show, and even try to assassinate Nolan in one episode, before another racist group try to launch a biological terror attack on LAX. While racists are portrayed as the bad guys, the notion of LAPD officers being racist is avoided completely.
Excessive Force and Civil Rights
Early on in season one, Nolan shoots and kills a robbery suspect but this is properly investigated, and the story focuses on Nolan’s trauma and sense of guilt.
Similarly, in season 2 Nolan’s new training officer, Harper, is chasing someone when he falls off a roof, and Nolan suspects that Harper threw him off. But it quickly emerges that the man jumped off the building to try to escape, exonerating Harper completely.
The only time a cop on The Rookie is accused of excessive force is when Lopez apprehends a man for stealing a lawyer’s briefcase, and the lawyer gets into an argument with her.
But it turns out that this is all part of a flirtatious game between the two, who then start dating and even move in together. At the end of season one, during the bio-terrorist plot, Lopez tells her boyfriend what’s going on and he threatens to inform the public.
Lopez arrests him to prevent him from talking to anyone, but at the end of the episode he apologises and admits he was in the wrong.
The pair even end up getting engaged in season 2, putting to bed any notion that Lopez is morally corrupt and enjoys committing violence against criminal suspects.
This ‘predictive policing’ has been widely criticised, both for perpetuating racial profiling and for being an ineffective waste of resources. These big data schemes often target people because they’ve been previously targeted by the police.
As with all the other controversies it touches, The Rookie made light of the widespread concerns about predictive policing. In season two Jackson West – the sort of young black man who is routinely targeted by the LAPD – is accidentally exposed to drugs while on duty, and spends the rest of the episode high as a kite, rambling incoherent thoughts. But in several scenes he starts explaining ideas he has for predicting crime.
Along with trivialising the practice of predictive policing, this episode makes it look like the idea is just a drug-induced futuristic fantasy, as though the LAPD aren’t currently doing this, when they are.
While some predictive schemes have been scrapped due to public pressure, budget problems and an Inspector General’s report casting doubt on whether predictive policing even works, the LAPD continue to use big data.
Rogue Cops and Rampart
While The Rookie does portray a handful of rogue cops stealing drug money and committing other crimes, they are always lone individuals who are uncovered by the LAPD, emphasising how good the department is at rooting out the bad apples in their ranks.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Perhaps the worst case of rogue cops in LAPD history is the Rampart scandal.
In the 1990s it emerged that dozens of officers involved in the Rampart division’s anti-gang unit were little more than criminals with badges, guilty of unprovoked beatings and shootings, planting evidence to frame innocent people, stealing drugs and selling them, bank robberies and perjury.
But it did have a significant impact on popular culture, inspiring films, TV shows and video games including Training Day in 2001, The Shield in 2002, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the movies Cellular, Direct Action and Crash in 2004, and Dirty in 2005.
The LAPD founded their Hollywood office at the start of 2006, seemingly in response to this flurry of Rampart-inspired pop culture. Indeed, The Shield was so closely based on the Rampart scandal that it was originally called Rampart, before objections from the LAPD caused the producers to change the title.
In The Rookie the Rampart scandal is mentioned only once, and again it downplays the seriousness and severity of the real events. In season one Chen threatens a man who is abusing his dog, telling him ‘I will make you my personal project’. The man later turns out to be a murderer, and at the end of her shift Chen is called in by the captain for a telling off.
In reality, the Rampart scandal involved far more than verbal threats, and included covering up murders and running local drugs gangs. This playing down of the scandal is part of a consistent theme in The Rookie where the characters repeatedly emphasise how righteous and incorruptible the department is, in stark contrast to the facts on the ground.
The Rookie: Copaganda?
So, is The Rookie a piece of copaganda, co-produced by the LAPD as a PR effort to help cover up their corrupt, violent, and racist behaviour?
The show has certainly helped encourage LAPD recruitment, as Fillion has mentioned in multiple interviews.
But it is much more than mere recruitment propaganda – Fillion has admitted that they are deliberately trying to portray the LAPD positively, despite being aware of their corrupt, immoral and criminal behaviour.
Given the popularity of The Rookie it is highly likely that it will be recommissioned for a third season, so while we can expect more amusing character drama, we can also expect it to continue avoiding digging into the dark side of the LAPD.