Southland's Ben McKenzie Discusses the Value of Partnership in "U-Boat"
This week's episode is a very exciting one for me. For the first time, my character will be patrolling the streets alone, without the help of his partner. It can be a nerve-wracking experience for any cop — much less a rookie — to go it alone. The LAPD always partners up patrol cops, except for the sergeants (who act more as supervisors than first-responders). This is primarily for safety reasons: With two cops working in tandem, each can guard the other's back. If one is incapacitated the other can radio for backup. If one is making a poor decision in a given scenario, the other can often correct that mistake before it proves fatal. John Cooper's tutelage of Ben Sherman, while seemingly harsh, is necessary so that the rookie learns to make decisions that are in the best interest of both partners. Rookies sometimes have a cowboy mentality — I'm gonna do this alone — and this is not only foolish but dangerous.
In "U-Boat", however, I am alone. My character ends up responding to a variety of calls by himself. Two of the calls share something in common: One person is being harassed or humiliated by another person, yet there is little the cops can do about it legally. This one of the most frustrating aspects of being a cop; you can't save everyone. You can't save the wife whose husband beats her if she refuses to press charges. You can't keep the ex-boyfriend from stalking his former girlfriend if you can't prove he is doing so. And you can't keep a father from disciplining his children in cruel ways if he is not technically violating the law.
Many times, even if you could have charges filed, it's difficult to tell whether that would make a situation better or worse. Imagine a situation where you come upon parents neglecting or harassing their children, but not in an extreme manner. Simply because they are bad parents doesn't necessarily mean you should try to remove the children from their home and place them with social services. What's better for the children? Hard to tell. In many situations it's difficult to know what the cops "ought" to do. There is no correct answer.
Cops not only have to deal with epic tragedies, such as murders or rapes. They also have to endure the constant small defeats: not being able to make a poor parent better or an abusive relationship healthier. In many ways, cops are powerless to help the very people they have sworn to protect. I think this is an added benefit to partnering up: you have someone along side you with whom you can commiserate. It's no wonder most partners on the force develop incredibly close bonds — there is only one other person who knows their pain. John Cooper and Ben Sherman may be complete opposites, but their shared experiences mean they will always respect each other, always understand the anger and sadness each carries beneath the surface, and always have each others' back. In this world, that may be the best you can hope for.