‘These Are Their Stories,’ but Some Police Officers Say, ‘Not This Time’
|The gritty characters on “Law & Order” are forever linked with their real-world muses in criminal justice: What helps one helps the other.|
On television, the ripped-from-the-headlines scripts usually guide viewers’ emotions toward one conclusion: The police and prosecutors are forces for good. On the city’s streets, a special unit of the Police Department keeps order for the show’s production crews, once the producers get a permit to film. And municipal retirees can find work feeding the small screen a steady stream of technical advisers.
But a recent episode has at least one sector of the Police Department upset with the show.
In the episode broadcast on Feb. 13 on NBC, a fictional auxiliary officer named Nik Rodchenko fired a bullet into a crowd of protesters, killing a woman. The character was prosecuted and convicted of second-degree murder and attempted murder. The episode has set off a bitter protest from the ranks of the city’s 4,500 authentic auxiliaries.
It was not enough of a salve that the fictional officer was a rogue who carried a gun on duty. (Real-life auxiliary officers, while they do carry nightsticks, are not issued firearms.)
Rather, in perhaps the cruelest blow to a group that has long worked to defend its reputation, the auxiliary officer’s character was dubbed a “wannabe” police officer and not a “real cop.”
“That’s the part that gets us,” said Auxiliary Police Officer Michael R. Stewart, who is assigned to the 13th Precinct in Manhattan and is on the board of the New York State Association of Auxiliary Police.
“I guess that it’s O.K. for cops to do that, once in a while, because they are family, and family picks on each other,” Officer Stewart said of the not-a-real-officer slur. “But for NBC to do it publicly, and on such a large scale, we feel it’s a slap in the face for the hard work we do.”
As a result of last week’s show, titled “Illegal,” the state association is leading a drive to collect signatures on a petition to demand that NBC develop and broadcast an episode of “Law & Order” that portrays auxiliary police officers in a more positive light. As of Wednesday afternoon, 143 people had signed it.
“This is indeed a slap in the face to all auxiliary officers nationwide and to the two N.Y.C. officers that died in the line of duty in 2007,” Lt. Andy Roberts, an auxiliary officer in the 34th Precinct, wrote on the petition, which is posted on the Internet at www.petitiononline.com.
“Do your homework before making such a bad show,” he added.
Several of the signers made note of the killings in March of two unarmed auxiliary officers, Nicholas T. Pekearo, 28, and Yevgeniy Marshalik, 19, who were shot while chasing a gunman in Greenwich Village.
Officer Stewart, who knew both men, said he was a fan of “Law & Order.”
“We were surprised as well,” he said. “Normally, they are fairly positive.”
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said the “Law & Order” plot “certainly was a departure from reality.” The department has made no official complaint about the episode.
Audrey Davis, a spokeswoman for the show, defended the episode, saying that “ ‘Law & Order’ is fiction.”
“These are not real stories,” she said. “We are not saying an auxiliary cop, in real life, shot someone.”
Ms. Davis said “there are always complaints” about the show, but she could not recall any lodged by law enforcement professionals about the portrayal of police officers or prosecutors. As for the petition asking for a new episode about auxiliary officers, Ms. Davis said she doubted that there would be one.
In New York, auxiliary officers are volunteers who are trained to listen to reports of crime on their radios and then call for help. They have fewer legal powers than sworn police officers.
“We just want to do the right thing for the city,” Officer Stewart said. “That’s all we’ve ever wanted.”