The LAPD Cops In The Movies: A History Of Corruption

Corrupt LAPD cops in movies are nothing new, but who are the most wayward and wildest LA cops on the big screen to ever pick up a gun and scream, “I’m on the take!”

There has always been something compelling about corrupt cops. We’re led to believe that the boys in blue have sworn an oath to uphold and serve the laws which were established to civilize and protect us, but as history and numerous films have documented, they have failed quite miserably, and often, at their appointed task.

As all good filmmakers know, a cop gone bad is a dangerous, powerful, and engaging character, because not only is his story biblical in the sense that it perfectly mirrors Lucifer’s own, but it is also universally absorbing to see how a character who has the full force of authority packed into a tiny badge uses it for his own personal gratification and quest for god-like status.

The LAPD appears to have been singled out for special attention when it comes to Hollywood’s fascination with cops gone bad, and the “uniformed demons” in the city of angels are always fair game for a good bashing. So without further ado, lay down your gun, grab a doughnut, and join in the fun as we celebrate the vilest, wildest, and most corrupt LAPD cops ever to taint our screens. You’re all under arrest!

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Unlawful Entry: Pete Davis (Ray Liotta)

In Jonathan Kaplan’s 1992 film, Pete Davies is a cop with issues, and those issues are his unhealthy obsession with another man’s (Michael Carr) wife.

After Michael and his wife’s (Karen) yuppie house is broken into, Pete befriends Michael and finds the burglar, but instead of arresting him, he offers Mike his nightstick to teach him a lesson. Knowing a born psychopath when he sees one, Mike declines and warns Pete to stay away from him and his wife and get professional help.

Visibly upset at such cruel rejection, Pete beats the burglar senseless and murders a fellow police officer before planting a huge quantity of cocaine on Mike, which gets him arrested, leaving the way clear for Pete to make a move on Karen. The things an LAPD cop will do for love hey?

Training Day: Alonzo (Denzel Washington)

What do the LAPD call it when a bad cop tires to corrupt a good cop? Training Day! Antoine Fuqua’s 2001 film follows a day in the life of your average corrupt LAPD officer showing a young rookie the ropes.

Alonzo drinks and drives, does drugs, howls like a dog, does deals with drug dealers, and then casually shoots them in the head. He’s one bad dude, but he’s also very friendly and cool too, which is why at first the young rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) kinda likes him.

This all changes however when, Alonzo hands him over to a house full of Mexican gangsters who want to rape him. The LAPD huh! Who can you trust?

LA Confidential: Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell)

The LAPD probably wasn’t always corrupt, but it definitely was in the 1950s, as Curtis Hanson’s film based on James Ellroy’s novel proves. There’s corruption, and then there’s royal corruption as Captain Dudley portrays to great effect.

Dudley is just a simple Irishman given the bothersome job of being a police captain. He reacts in typical LAPD fashion by building a complex web of betrayal and deceit, which allows him to control the city’s drug traffic and convince good cops he’s cleaning up the department and weeding out the bad potatoes.

Ultimately, because of Dudley, a lot of people are violently killed, but the LAPD’s reputation remains largely untarnished. Way to go Captain!

LA Confidential: Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey)

If a character had an aroma, Jack Vincennes’s would be the stench of buckets of designer perfume splashed liberally over a basement of rotting corpses.

Jack’s not really that corrupt by the LAPD’s notoriously low standards, but such is his resigned decadence and world weary charm that you just know Satan’s got a down payment on his soul.

Ironically enough, Jack is a technical advisor for the television cop show Badge of Honor, and he just loves to tip off the press for cash payments. In the end, he tries to redeem himself, but gets shot in the gut by Captain Dudley for his efforts.

Street Kings: Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves)

Keanu Reeves brings the full force of his one-dimensional acting skill to bear on the character of a corrupt cop who believes that, although he breaks and bends the rules, he’s got a heart of gold.

When he’s not busy strutting around slaughtering Korean gangsters and covering it up to save the courts from the extra work-load, our Tom get mighty righteous and fights fire with fire by killing other cops he considers more corrupt than himself. Oh LAPD! what a wicked web you weave.

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(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)