Case Number 04247: Small Claims Court


Fox // 1996 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge George Hatch (Retired) // April 15th, 2004

The Charge

"Dangerous take-downs, high-speed pursuits, adrenaline-charged confrontations...Gritty, graphic, raw and real!" -- DVD cover claims

The Case

With its loyal following and uniformly high seasonal ratings, Fox channel's Cops has just entered its 14th season, having garnered four Emmy Award nominations along the way. Cops: Caught in the Act, one of three recently released DVD compilations, however, doesn't offer a clue as to the real reason for the show's consistent prime time and syndicated popularity. Filmed on location in big cities and small towns across the country, each episode provides a behind-the-scenes look at how criminal activity is handled on-the-spot using dashboard cameras and, more importantly, the verité footage shot by those stalwart but anonymous Steadicam operators who literally put the viewer in the back seat as they follow the cops responding to potentially dangerous situations. Drunken brawls, domestic violence, and prostitution stings can be considered fairly tame stuff compared to high-speed chases and crack house raids that frequently end in explosive confrontations and deadly shootouts. Saddled with state-of-the-art but cumbersome equipment, and putting their own lives on the line, these dedicated cameramen somehow manage to stay just a few feet behind even the most athletic young cops as they race down alleyways, rip through thick shrubbery, and hop fences capturing the raw, often shocking images that provide a vicarious thrill ride for armchair wannabes and voyeuristic couch potatoes. Their contribution to the show's success is immeasurable; unfortunately, you don't get to see much of it here.

The segments in Caught in the Act are so mundane they could be part of the local nightly news, and most focus on what happened after an incident so there's a lot more talk than action. It's all pretty boring and a poor representation of what has earned this show its well-deserved, and sometimes notorious reputation.

The opening Mardi Gras piece is presented exactly as it was shown on television with bleeped language and one shot of optically censored breasts. Brief fistfights are quickly thwarted, rowdiness is subdued, and the most "startling" scene involves a close-up of an extremely bloody hand. But the two dozen police (half on horseback) who provide crowd control for thousands of revelers in a four-block radius are quite impressive, and they make the cops in an upcoming New York City subway sting look ridiculous since it takes almost the same amount of men to capture one subterranean thief. This arrest is quick, but the planning and follow-up pad out a very long eight minutes.

Fort Worth, Texas, Lee County, Florida, and Kansas City, Missouri have possibly the most inept and foolhardy perps you've ever encountered with two bumbling cigarette thieves caught on a convenience store surveillance camera, and two other would-be dragsters completely unaware that a police car is right behind them at the red light. They are also the friendliest and most unabashedly contrite with "Aww, shucks!" apologies and lame excuses offered up in lieu of the belligerent, head-banging lunatic behavior regulars of the series have come to expect.

The Harris County, Texas segment gets my vote as best simply for the element of surprise while a female officer is questioning a pulled-over truck driver for a minor violation. We're watching through the windshield of her patrol car when a loud crash sends the video cam cart-wheeling. A drunk driver failed to see her bright flashing lights, sideswiped her vehicle, and plowed into the back of the truck. No severe injuries, but kudos to the cameraman for his quick thinking and ability to continue recording the incident within seconds. The stoned driver, of course, staggers through and fails the prolonged sobriety test.

The one extra on Caught in the Act is 15 minutes of "never-before-seen bonus [bogus?] footage that's definitely too hot for TV!" -- misleading to say the least as one of these scenes (a parrot attack! yikes!) is featured in the opening credits of a slew of episodes currently in syndication. After a more portentous than unusual warning about graphic adult subject matter, we're back to the Mardi Gras with "Miss-Demeanors." Don't blink if you want to see nine pairs of genuine naked breasts, because they're flashed and gone in 60 seconds. A sergeant advises his squad "that anything exposed from the waist down, male or female, is automatic jail time," then cut to some cops hauling off a guy for dropping his pants and mooning them. Next we're into "Serving the Blankety-blank Public" where you'll hear dozens of obscene and inflammatory cuss words crammed into seven otherwise pointless minutes. The last and oddest entry is "Pet Peeves" and, in addition to the aforementioned parrot attack, I swear I've seen the giant rattlesnake, the baby alligator and the black birds flying down the chimney before. And just why are these scenes "considered too hot for TV"? They wouldn't even make the cut on Animal Precinct.

According to, there were several VHS tapes of Cops previously released by several different companies. One with the same title reviewed here, Caught in the Act, was released in 1996 by E-RealBiz along with In Hot Pursuit, while Cops: Too Hot for TV came from of Real Entertainment; and Best of Cops: Uncensored arrived courtesy of Mvp Home Entertainment in 1997. Details on the content are scarce, but there appears to have been some retooling and repackaging after possible rights issues were resolved. The bottom line is this material is at least seven years old.

Cops: Caught in the Act is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the original TV aspect ratio. As expected, the color quality of the transfer varies with location, but those cameramen, genuinely true professionals, know how to make maximum use of available light and their own spot attachment. The sound is 2-channel Dolby according to the display my DVD player and is generally crisp and clear. I did have to use the subtitles occasionally to clarify some police lingo that was new to me. (I didn't know, for instance, that the sideswiping was referred to as "being involved in a fleet.")

If someone you know has been living in a cave -- or in solitary confinement -- for the past 13 years and you want to introduce them to this pioneering reality series, it would be a crime offer this DVD as evidence. Suggest instead a double-barreled entry of the TV show on the weekend. Even with commercials they pack the unexpected punch of a Saturday-night special.

Review content copyright © 2004 George Hatch; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 20

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English

Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* "15 minutes of never-before-seen bonus footage that's definitely too hot for TV!"

* IMDb

* Official Site