Photographs by Devin Yalkin
Detective Elliot Stabler walks into an empty interrogation room with purpose. He’ll soon be questioning a perp who beat murder and rape charges 14 years ago, and he can’t afford a repeat, so he gives himself the edge. He cranks the thermostat up 20 degrees; he removes the screw from a chair, giving it a wobble; he swivels the light bulbs slightly out of place so the lighting flickers. With these tweaks, a confession is nigh. Yes, this is coercive, but it’s okay—he’s one of the good guys.
Before months of protests against police brutality renewed scrutiny of law enforcement, many Americans might have seen the Law & Order: SVU detective’s coercion as noble. Now the tide is turning, and taking cop shows with it. In June, Cops, the documentary ride-along show that took viewers to the front lines of the wars on