Buddy Cop Flicks and Their Firearms

During the last 40 years, the buddy cop movie has been one of the most popular types of movies made in Hollywood. How accurate are the portrayals of the firearms in these films, though? Do real police officers actually carry the same weapons and use them the same way as shown in the movies? Let's examine some familiar uses of firearms in cop movies to find out what Hollywood gets wrong—and when, if ever, it gets it right.

What Hollywood Gets Wrong

Buddy cop films are great entertainment, but, sadly, they usually aren't very realistic in the portrayals of police and their firearms.

Mistaking Concealment for Cover. Concealment hides you, making it difficult to see you, but it does not protect you, and it will not stop bullets. Cover will protect you. A patrol car door is not cover, and bullets will go through them. Hollywood movies regularly have actors hiding from bullets behind things that would get them killed in real shootouts.

Shooting the Gun Out of the Bad Guy's Hand. Police do not aim for the legs, hands, or attempt to injure but not kill. It's hard enough to hit what you are aiming at in a gun fight, so police are taught to aim for center mass. That way, if you miss, you have a better chance of still hitting the bad guy somewhere. They are trained to stop the threat, period.

Silencers Aren't Quiet. They aren't silencers, they are noise suppressors. For a typical fire arm, a silencer will reduce the sound of the gunshot to approximately the sound level of a police siren. That's a far cry from the whisper quiet sound Hollywood uses. Which brings up the next issue.

Guns Are Loud. In a lot of the movies, the good guys will fire off some shots, and then listen intently for movement from the bad guys. Without ear protection, after a few shots, the good guy isn't going to be hearing much excpet for the ringing in his ears.

Pointing the Firearm and Racking the Slide. Police are trained to carry their firearm chambered. If someone points a chambered firearm and racks the slide, they'd be ejecting an unfired round. If the gun weren't already chambered, why would the cop point a basically unloaded gun at the criminal? Hollywood does it for the sound effect.

Flipping Off the Safety. Often in Hollywood, the cop will aim at the bad guy and then manually switch off the safety. The fact is, Glocks—as well as many other models of firearms used by the police—don't have external safeties that can be manually flipped on or off. This leads to the next thing Hollywood gets wrong.

Finger on the Trigger. This has been a common criticism of police movies, but it still shows up in cop movies these days. Police are taught not to put their finger on the trigger until ready to fire—even though experts believe up to 20% of them will put their finger on the trigger in stressful situations despite their training. This is especially important when using firearms like Glocks that don't have an external safety. Real life incidents demonstrate what happens when training isn't followed. In 2014, a New York City rookie cop prepared to forcibly enter an apartment, improperly putting his finger on the trigger. As he tensed to push open the door, the extra pressure caused his finger to pull the trigger. The bullet ricocheted down a stairwell, striking and killing an innocent resident. Unfortunately, accidental discharge is not that rare.

Commandeering a Car. This is a popular scene in cop movies. The hero runs out into the street in front of a car, usually waving his gun, and demands he be allowed to take it over. Long time officers say that never happens. As they point out, it makes for good movies, but the liability issues would be enormous. They also point out that waving a gun around, or running after a suspect with a drawn gun, leads to accidental discharges, so it is not a standard practice.

When Hollywood Gets It Right

When the question is asked of policemen, "What's the most realistic cop movie made?", one film that is continually brought up is End of Watch. The two stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, embedded with the Los Angeles police department for a five-month ride-along to get accustomed to how the police act and react. The man the movie was based on, Captain Jamie Fitzsimons, a former LAPD patrol officer in the Newton Division of L.A. where the film is set, went through the script line-by-line with the director, David Ayer, to ensure the details were accurate. From the dialogue between the two partners, to the way they exit the squad car, this movie is given kudos for its realism.

In a 2012 review, Roger Ebert called "End of Watch" a "virtuoso performance," and one of the finest police films made in years.