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Top 25 TV Star Cops of All Time

Law enforcement officers have a tough job. They work on our behalf, keeping our cities safe. We should be grateful to the heroic men and women of law enforcement — men and women who sometimes sacrifice their health and even their lives to keep us safe.

Sometimes, we learn a bit about law enforcement from TV. While TV shows can never be totally accurate, and while the shows sometimes glamorize the often gritty (and occasionally mundane) world of law enforcement, they are still interesting and can provide us with some measure of insight. If you are interested in watching some great cop shows, you can follow some of the top TV cops. Here are 25 of the greatest TV cops, past and present:

Male TV Cops

These men of law enforcement have given us some great TV episodes, rousing adventures, and sometimes funny situations. Here are some of the most well-known and beloved male TV cops.

  1. Lt. Frank Pembleton: Raised by Jesuits, he is sometimes referred to as “God’s Favorite Cop.” Pembleton, a character in the show Homicide: Life on the Streets, is intelligent and something of a firebrand. You can count on him to follow his moral code, even though he is hard on himself. Pembleton is complex and deep, and does his best to protect others.
  2. Horatio Caine: With his trademark glasses and sense of compassion, Caine, a character in CSI: Miami, works hard to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice. Indeed, he killed his own father — who murdered his mother. Caine will stop at nothing to see justice done, especially when the most helpless of victims are involved.
  3. Sgt. Joe Friday: Few TV cops are as awesome as Friday, the cool cop leading the cast of the popular show Dragnet. Sgt. Joe Friday does his police detective work the old-fashioned wasy: pounding the pavement and knocking on doors.
  4. Sonny Crockett: Miami Vice was the epitome of a cool cop TV show, and Don Johnson playing Sonny Crockettwas the epitome of a suave cop. Laid back, but dedicated to catching criminals, Crockett made law enforcement look good.
  5. Sgt. Mick BelkerHill Street Blues introduced plenty of archetypal TV cops that influenced TV law enforcement portrayals for years to come. Mick Belkerwas one of those: rough around the edges, but totally dedicated to busting the bad guys.
  6. Lennie Briscoe: One of the most beloved TV cops of all time, Lennie Briscoewas a character on Law & Order. One of the reasons he was so loved was because he was so human. A bit dysfunctional and cynical, Briscoe was nonetheless a good cop and a loyal friend, doing his best to keep the streets of New York City safe.
  7. Andy Sipowicz: Hot-tempered cop in NYPD Blue, Sipowicz has his share of demons. Sipowicz is a recovering alcoholic, and can be a real bully sometimes. He struggles with prejudice, and sometimes behaves in bigoted ways. But underneath is a man with a heart of gold and a loyal friend, as well as a cop dedicated to doing his job.
  8. Jimmy McNulty: Even though Jimmy McNulty shows contempt for the chain of command, and has an arrogance disliked by his coworkers, he’s a dedicated cop who likes to get things done — especially when it comes to drug busts. A deeply flawed character in the HBO series The Wire, McNulty is interesting to watch, and always full of surprise.
  9. Lt. Columbo: Many people consider Lt. Columbo, on the show Columbo, as one of the best TV cops of all time. This detective is smart and sometimes sassy. Watching him unravel the clues to figure out “whodunit” is one of the greatest entertainments.
  10. Starsky and Hutch: You have to put these two together. Epitomizing the “buddy cop” show, Starsky and Hutch provided hours of entertainment and adventure. These cops had each other’s backs as they busted the bad guys and did it while looking cool.
  11. Steve McGarrett: One of the coolest cops ever was Steve McGarrett, a character in Hawaii Five-O. The former Navy officer always had a cool car, and was distinctive in his sharp suit. And now, we get to see him again in a new version of the show.
  12. Lt. Theo Kojak: Theo Kojack, the Greek policeman with a temper, is a well known as the title character in the show Kojack. Bald really is beautiful when it’s Kojack.
  13. Ponch: Everyone loves Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, the hot-blooded Latino cop on CHiPS. Always a charming adventure.

Female TV Cops

Often tough and capable, these female cops show us another side. You can relive great TV episodes, and follow along as they crack cases and put wrong-doers behind bars. Here are some of the best female TV cops.

  1. Mary Beth Lacey: Dedicated cop and working mother, Lacey is a consummate professional on the show Cagney & Lacey. Offers great insights into police procedural and good detective work.
  2. Olivia Benson: This detective is smart and sassy. And it makes sense that she is well-known as a character on Law & Order: SVU. She is compassionate and interested in helping victims, as well as getting to the bottom of crimes.
  3. Brenda Johnson: Deputy Chief of the LAPD, Brenda Johnson, is a tough former CIA agent. She has shaken things up with the LAPD on The Closer. Determined and capable, she works hard and earns respect.
  4. “Pepper” Anderson: Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson is the main character of the show Policewoman. Anderson was known for going undercover. She did a great job and managed to land plenty of criminals behind bars.
  5. Nicole Scott: This tough FBI agent is a character on the American-Canadian TV show Missing. She frequently has altercations with superiors, but she gets the job done.
  6. Stacy Sheridan: Rookie cop with a great deal of determination, Sheridan often goes undercover to catch the bad guys in the show T.J. Hooker.
  7. Grace Hanadarko: The show Saving Grace features detective Grace Hanadarko, an Oklahoma City cop who has serious flaws. Hanadarko is deeply flawed: promiscuous and alcoholic. But she is passionate in her work.
  8. Julie Barnes: Crime fighting is cool and groovy on the show The Mod Squad, and Julie Barnes is the epitome of groovy. This former delinquent goes undercover to help solve crimes and make the world a little safer.
  9. Samantha Spade: Sam Spade is a special agent in the FBI, working on missing persons cases in the show Without a Trace. Willing to do what it takes, Spade’s trouble past makes her ideal for empathizing with children in difficult situations.
  10. Lilly Rush: Very little phases Lilly Rush, one of the very few homicide detectives on Philadelphia’s police force. She is no-nonsense, and she works hard to try to bring justice to those who are victims often forgotten in Cold Case.
  11. Anita Van Buren: She may be mainly a desk jockey, but Anita Van Buren, on Law & Order, knows how to take action when needed. Making tough decisions, in a no-nonsense way, Van Buren helps to keep officers on the straight and narrow.
  12. Mary Shannon: During the show In Plain Sight, Mary Shannon helps keep track of federal witness. She is smart and sexy, and resourceful. As a U.S. Marshall, she has her hands full, but does her job well.