Cops as Supporting Characters: Helpers, Villains, and Comedy Reliefs

Taggart and Billy from Beverly Hills Cop

Taggart and Billy from Beverly Hills Cop

Not sure why this topic came to my mind or how I’ll tackle it.  Now, I’m not talking about a story that focuses on a cop, which would be a guard in most fantasy settings.  These are the secondary characters that uphold the law and sometimes get the short end of the cliche stick.  While their hands are tied, the main character can do whatever it takes to finish the adventure.  This is why they remain almost on the sidelines until a door is opened for them to participate.  You probably have more flexibility in fantasy than real world stories since you can alter the laws, but you really don’t see a lot of guards heading out of their jurisdiction and retaining the full air of an officer.  Most times, they slowly become a secondary adventurer who just happens to have been a cop and will occasionally declare something illegal to cause friction.

Thinking about, the supporting cop character tends to fall into these categories:

  1. Legal Contact for Hero–  This is the man or woman that the main hero calls to get some assistance.  Usually information that only the police know or the removal of something that would turn the force on the hero.  These characters show up a few times early on to establish that they exist and are friendly with the protagonist.  Beyond that, they are only around for this one favor and possibly a discussion about having to work with in the laws.  Half the time this turns into a ‘this is why we need vigilantes like you’ and the other half you get ‘I agree with your actions, but will have to arrest you if you are caught’.
  2. Corrupt Minion–  So many villains have that corrupt cop that keeps their people out of jail or is giving them information.  They come in two flavors too.  One is the blatant dirty cop that everyone ‘knows’ is on the take, but is still employed for some bizarre reason.  The other is the friendly, helpful one that turns out to be a villain the whole time.  I understand that corrupt cops are a thing and they make certain scenarios so much easier to maintain.  Still, there isn’t much a variety in this one.
  3. Hunter of the Protagonist–  Not a villain or a hero, but the one who believes the protagonist is the antagonist.  In a way, this character tends to be right since they are doing their job.  If the story focused on them then we would believe that they are the real hero even when they learn the truth and help their enemy.  This is a hard character to use if he or she isn’t put to at least high ranking supporting cast.  Having them repeatedly turn up for a chase scene doesn’t flush them out as characters.  One of the reasons I got into Tommy Lee Jones’ character in ‘The Fugitive’ was that you saw him running his operation instead of simply turning up.
  4. Comic Relief– This one speaks for itself.  The cop who is either with the hero or chasing them, but they are bad at their job.  Unobservant, stubborn, arrogant, clumsy, and the list of possible attributes keeps going.  Sometimes they miraculously come through for the good guys at the end, but not always.  This type is really only there to break tension and get some laughs because the story would continue much the same way without them.
  5. Joining the Group– Not the main hero, but enough happens that this cop goes ‘rogue’ enough to be a major player in the adventure.  This is what I mentioned before and it takes a lot to find that balance between his/her old and new life.  Personally, I think they should see themselves as the figure to keep the others from going too far over the line.  The reason for this is because when the adventure is done, they will most likely want to return to the force.  If not in their original position then as someone to improve the system.  So I’d go for an idealist type.

Those are all that I can think of, but my experience with these character types are rather limited.  Lord Highrider from Family of the Tri-Rune might be it.  So, feel free to add your two cents in on the Supporting Cop Character.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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21 Responses to Cops as Supporting Characters: Helpers, Villains, and Comedy Reliefs

  1. PorterGirl says:

    Cops do make brilliant supporting characters! I think I like them more in that role than as main characters.

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  2. This is a brilliant post. These guys show up in fiction, but nobody ever breaks it down. Interesting and helpful.

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  3. I like these and can fit my cop into the fifth one. I have to agree with Craig, I don’t think anyone has broken the roles of cops down in such a way before. Good job.

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  4. MishaBurnett says:

    Cobb Russwin in The Book Of Lost Doors is a mix of 1,2, and 5, I think. His overall loyalty is to the justice system and that remains fairly constant. But he also realizes that by covering up the existence of supernatural creatures he is saving lives–other cops are just not able to handle the kinds of things that he knows are out there.

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  5. L. Marie says:

    This is a great topic! Thanks for the categories. I have a character who fits number 3. He’s just doing his job. But he’s my third protagonist, so I follow his point of view. Would love to do number 4 at some point.

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  6. I think of the woman officer in the Harry Dresden series, who started out being a behind-the-scenes helper (your scenario #1) but saw so much that she was drawn into Harry’s world. Eventually, she was no longer able to function as an officer and more or less had to join the adventurers (scenario #5).

    However, in my first novel, The Magister’s Mask, my MC Shenza was a sorceress investigating crimes and she had lots of different relationships with her version of police. One was that she didn’t get along at all with the chief of police and he was always trying to make her look bad. The other was her sidekick, a character I hadn’t planned to have in my story at all. Juss was the Watson to her Holmes, more or less.

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