Ethics And The New TV Season, Part 2: “Blue Bloods”


I promise, I’m not going to devote whole posts to every one of the nearly thirty ethics-focused TV shows starting new seasons this month. “Blue Bloods,” however, as the longest running such show and a drama whose very premise is an ethics problem (we call Tom Selleck’s baby “The Conflict of Interest Family” around the ProEthics office)–and it is a multiple winner of the Ethics Alarms Award for best ethics TV series— has earned a post of its own.

Last night was the premiere of “Blue Bloods,” and to its  credit, the show that celebrates our men and women in blue did not duck the issue of police shootings and the national controversy over law enforcement. The episode, titled “The Greater Good,” had NYC Police Chief Frank Reagan’s oldest son, hot-headed police detective Danny (played by Donnie Wahlberg) facing a grand jury because he had shot and killed an unarmed man. Meanwhile, the wife of a fallen officer and Frank Reagan colleague and friend urged Selleck’s character to find a way to flunk her son out of the police academy, because she didn’t want her boy to end up hated and dead, like his father.

Unfortunately, the show’s writers managed to avoid all of the real issues involved in police shootings that have people getting hurt and killed in the Charlotte riots, pro football players grandstanding, and the races parting like the Red Sea as Barack Obama stands  looking on, apparently content.

Danny, you see, shot an unarmed suspect who…

…was white

…an admitted serial killer

tortured his female victims, over 20 of them

…was insane

…had kidnapped Danny’s college-student niece and announced that he would kill her

was goading the detective into firing as part of his vendetta against him

had his hands behind his back intentionally behaving as if he had a weapon, grinning all the while like the eeevil homicidal maniac he was

refused to drop the imaginary weapon when ordered to do so, and

suddenly whipped his hands out from behind his back, prompting Danny to fire.

This is called “loading the dice.” Good cop series hero shoots mad-dog killer who wants him to shoot: even “Dirty Harry” didn’t have the plot rigged that shamelessly. It would have been much more helpful (and dramatically interesting) if the story was something like the third and mostly ignored officer-involved shooting this month, the death of Tyre King, a 13-year-old African American boy who apparently drew a toy gun out of his waistband when stopped by police.

From NBC News:

Police in Columbus, Ohio, were investigating how a 13-year-old boy wanted for questioning Wednesday night in an armed robbery ended up fatally shot by an officer.

The child — later identified by Columbus police as Tyre King — had “pulled a gun from his waistband” when officers attempted to take him and another male into custody, the Columbus Division of Police said in a statement. As the encounter unfolded, an officer shot King “multiple times.”

The weapon recovered from the scene was determined to be a BB gun with an attached laser sight, Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said at a news conference Thursday morning. She showed a replica image of that BB gun.

“Our officers carry a gun that looks practically identical to this weapon,” said Jacobs, adding, “It turns out not to be a firearm, but as you can see, it looks like a firearm that can kill you.”

Police were first called to a report of a group of people — including one armed with a gun — demanding money at 7:42 p.m. ET.

“This man just had a gun on this white dude on the street!” a caller told a 911 dispatcher, according to audio released by police. The caller said the armed robber was a “black boy in a hoodie” and “the guys just took off running,” according to the audio.

A person on the call identified as the victim of the robbery said the alleged holdup was over $10. He said he was unhurt. He said the gun looked like a Ruger 1911-style handgun, according to the audio.

Officers arriving at the scene saw three people matching the suspects’ descriptions around a block away. However, when they attempted to speak with them, two of the males ran away, police said in a statement.

“Officers followed the males to the alley … and attempted to take them into custody when one suspect pulled a gun from his waistband,” police added. “One officer shot and struck the suspect multiple times.”

I’d like to see Danny and the Reagans deal with that one.

The second ethical dilemma presented in the episode was just plain badly conceived, and I’m surprised that Selleck or someone didn’t junk it before production. We had to watch the usually ethically and morally wise police commissioner wrestle with the supposedly difficult decision of whether to secretly and unjustly derail the career ambitions of a qualified aspiring police officer because the young man’s mother asked him to do it for a full hour, when the ethical course was obvious, should have been obvious to Frank based on his conduct and statements in the previous six seasons, and his former police chief father (played by Len Cariou, the original Sweeney Todd) gave him the right answer to this phony “dilemma” before the second commercial break. “It’s not your decision to make,” Pop said.


Frank finally did the right thing (and faced the wrath of the mother, played by Lori Laughlin of “Full House” infamy), but left ethically astute viewers wondering about his mental state. If that was a tough call for the Commish, it’s going to be a long season.

Blue Bloods usually deserves praise for raising the ethics issues it does.  Even last night’s slanted exploration of police shootings is more coherent and productive than protesting the National Anthem at football games.

But talk about a low bar! That is a #22 rationalization: “It’s not the worst thing.” Police shootings and the race and law enforcement issues it raises are a crucial social, legal and ethical issue. If a TV show can’t do a better job of raising the issues than this, it probably shouldn’t raise them at all.

7 thoughts on “Ethics And The New TV Season, Part 2: “Blue Bloods”

  1. I’m trying to turn a new leaf and not raise every tangential ethics issue that occurs to me while I’m writing about a primary issue, so I left out this one> As Danny was railing to his sister the DA about why he should be under investigated for “shooting a scumbag”, he asked. “Explain to me why a murdering scumbag should have the same rights that I have!” (or words to that effect.) I’m guessing many of the show’s viewers don’t know the answer to that question, and Erin, a LAWYER, or somebody had an obligation to answer the question, which isn’t a hard one.

    • I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and guess, from my non-lawyer background “Because the Constitution says so”. I do realize that “Innocent until proven guilty” is NOT in the Constitution, but many, if not all, states have codified it statutorily, and it is, in my mind, the ethical approach to a defendant. That sais, “suicide by cop” is a choice some people make, and I’m not real sure we can ever do anything about it.

  2. Blue Bloods is not one of my favorite shows, I watch it because my husband enjoys it and it’s only fair since he watches programs I love and he tolerates. I do have to admit that the show does not worry about covering “hot topics” and current real news regarding the police department, district attorney’s office and lawyers. The writers also address complex family issues that arise when family members sometimes work on opposite sides of an issue. It is not uncommon for a Reagan to shoot someone that must be treated by the ER nurse married to a Reagan or be prosecuted by the DA office, also a Reagan. This is what makes the Sunday dinner conversations so interesting.

  3. I am a fan of the show and Tom Selleck, and assume I am part of the demographic that has made this a Top Ten show for many years. However, I agree that this premiere episode fell far short of the high water mark set by previous seasons. Perhaps I was foolish in the belief that the show didn’t pander to its demographic, but this particular episode was shamelessly obvious in the stacked view of police shootings, and nonsensically idiotic in the portrayal of old Frank laboring over a decision that would have been a no-decision in previous years.


    LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors are declining to criminally charge eight Los Angeles police officers who injured two innocent women after mistakenly riddling their pickup truck with more than 100 bullets during a manhunt for cop-turned-killer Christopher Dorner, according to a report released Wednesday.

    The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said there was insufficient evidence to prove the officers acted unreasonably when they shot up the truck on Feb. 7, 2013, according to the report, dated Friday.(Jan 22 2016)

  5. But on the other hand…

    To win a conviction on the involuntary manslaughter charge, prosecutors needed to prove that Servin acted recklessly — without regard for the risks.

    Citing case law, Porter said the charge was inappropriate: “The act of intentionally firing a gun at some person or persons on the street is an act that is so dangerous it is beyond reckless; it is intentional and the crime, if there be any, is first-degree murder.”

    Servin couldn’t be convicted of first-degree murder because he was charged with involuntary manslaughter. And he couldn’t be convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Porter said, because there was no evidence of reckless behavior.

  6. Why do consultants to Police shows do everything they can to make Police Officers look unprofessional? After serving more than 30 years in Law Enforcement this is a pet peeve. They make the actors wear uniforms that aren’t pressed and look like the uniform was slept in. Also they never salute correctly when a superior officer comes in. And the proper announcement is “Attention” not “ten hut”. If you are going to do technical advising do it right. Make the Officers look and act professional!

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