How much influence does television have on people and their perception of real police work? As a child, I thought that most people saw television shows purely as entertainment. Today’s television shows seem to influence how we think about politics, sexuality, fashion, food, smoking, drinking and other issues. If advice is needed, should we listen to a wealthy bubble living television star, or someone who leads a life similar to ours?

For family type entertainment, several shows like “Father Knows Best” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” were aired in the 1950s and 1960s. I used to think that these programs depicted ordinary families, but in hindsight, I see them as fantasy families. When a person’s mood called for something more exciting, they might watch “Superman,”“The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,” “Sea Hunt” or “Wagon Train.” As a child, I often wanted to fly, explore the ocean depths, or gallop on a horse, but reality always brought me back to playing with my toys.

Television shows like “Highway Patrol,” “Dragnet” and “Adam-12” also aired in the 1950s and 1960s and were more alluring to me. “Dragnet” may have been the most influential police show ever introduced. It is said to have shared the reality, vulnerability and bravery that police officers faced in those days.

Are today’s television police shows showing actual police work where brave men and women put their lives on the line every day? Or, are they showing actors portraying sheltered bullies? It probably depends on the particular program and the viewer’s perception. My wife and I watch several police television programs each week, and we find them very entertaining. We also find them partly unrealistic. I am appalled at the unethical, immoral and illegal things that I often see actors represent as normal police activity. We love the action and suspense, but we are frightened at the possibility that viewers who watch these technically inaccurate programs might perceive the writer’s vivid imagination as reality.

When a program that was said to be a documentary and reality police television show hit the air in the late 1980s, I was frequently mesmerized. But, one day it struck me nastier than dropping a raw egg on the floor, I never opened the back door of my police car to argue with a suspect.

I admit that I never talked to a police officer who had been featured on one of those shows. But I always wondered if the show’s technical adviser played a role in the officer’s action. Frankly, some of the police behavior that I see on many of these shows frazzles my nerves.

I frequently get verbally upset when television police officers do things that are contrary to law. They search residences without a warrant, illegally slam people against the wall, and it’s not uncommon for them to continually question suspects after they’ve asked for a lawyer. My logical wife brings me back to reality by reminding me that they are just acting from a script. If I wanted to create a show about police that portrays the dishonest and the deceitful, it might be called “Callous Crime and Corruption.” There is an adage in the news saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” On television shows, it could be, “If it’s shady, it shows.”

People who spend a fair amount of time watching television often watch television shows that are strange and grim. To many, it is an adrenaline rush that’s habit-forming. One group of people feel a social isolation and watch television to fantasize a closest friend relationship with their favorite actor. The other group of people prefer talking to one another face-to-face.

There are people who see television as derogatory, and many use terms like “Idiot box.” If I disliked television, I might call it the “Halfwit hamper.” People who are the most satisfied with their lives spend less time watching television. Research shows us that there is a direct relationship to obesity and heart disease and the amount of time a person watches television.

Some people say that there’s a close relation between television violence and actual violence. Others say that there is a decreasing crime rate and that it has nothing to do with television violence. Reality exists, but perception is often a mental illusion. Just because a person perceives something to be true, it doesn’t mean that it is. Does television change people’s perception of police work reality? You be the judge; is television a dream, or is it a drudge?

Charlie Sewell is a retired Powder Springs police chief. Email him at retiredchiefsewell@gmail.com.

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