The 25 most memorable TV cops of all time
HBO

The 25 most memorable TV cops of all time

There have been plenty of great law enforcement types gracing our television screens over the decades. Whether talking officers, detectives, sergeants or captains, the fictional list is long and distinguished  for the most part. Or entertaining at the very least.

Here's a look at 25 who stand out, listed alphabetical.

 
1 of 25

"Pepper" Anderson (Police Woman)

"Pepper" Anderson (Police Woman)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

"Police Woman" starred veteran actress Angie Dickinson as the feisty sergeant who doesn't shy away from an intense case. "Pepper" did most of her work undercover, often putting herself in danger. However, during the run of the 1970s staple, she never buckled no matter how rough things got, and she used her wits — and some punch — to outsmart the bad guys in Los Angeles.   

 
2 of 25

Officer Barbrady

Officer Barbrady
ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks

Now, Officer Barbrady is far from competent in his policing of the fictional Colorado town of "South Park" He's overweight and underachieving and provides no real protection to keep his citizens safe. Of course, this is a cartoon and it's all pretty funny. Barbrady (voiced by Trey Parker) is not one of "South Park's" main characters, but for a long time he was the only law enforcement official in town. 

 
3 of 25

Kate Beckett ("Castle")

Kate Beckett ("Castle")
ABC

The New York City homicide detective (Kate Beckett), who ultimately becomes a captain, is quite striking, but her intelligence and strength stand out as her best qualities. Beckett (Stana Katic) dealt with a lot of life adversity, but criminals learn that her past has made that much more of a challenge to cross or outsmart. There might not be a more complete detective in TV history. 

 
4 of 25

Olivia Benson ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit")

Olivia Benson ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit")
NBCUniversal Television Distribution

Much in the same mold of the aforementioned Kate Beckett, Benson (Mariska Hargitay) has plenty going for her. However, she's also a bit jaded from a rough, abusive past with her mother. Benson is quite good at her job, rising through the ranks from detective to captain. She also tends to get emotionally invested in her cases, and through time, her job in SVU wears on her. Yet she has managed to persevere and move on with strength. 

 
5 of 25

Lennie Briscoe ("Law & Order")

Lennie Briscoe ("Law & Order")
NBCUniversal Television Distribution

There are some media critics, and plenty of "Law & Order" fans, who believe Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) is the best TV cop of all time. He might very well be the most beloved. For 12 seasons, Briscoe was a staple on the popular NBC series that has lived on through syndication. Briscoe is old school, reminiscent of the TV detectives from the 1970s. He endured a hard-living past but blossomed into a cool cop who doesn't mind crossing the line to get his perp. He's also appeared in some of the franchise's spinoffs such as "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

 
6 of 25

Frank Columbo ("Columbo")

Frank Columbo ("Columbo")
MCA TV

Talk about old school. Baby Boomers and some Gen Xers likely hold Columbo (and the great Peter Falk) near and dear to their hearts. He's gruff and likes chomping on cigars and wearing a raincoat. Despite his often disheveled appearance, Columbo was a fantastic detective and his deduction of reason seemed impeccable. But why did we never get to meet his wife?

 
7 of 25

Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs ("Miami Vice")

Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs ("Miami Vice")
NBCUniversal Television Distribution

One of the few times we will take liberty with our selections. Consider this a two-fer. Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) just go better together. Not only are they a couple of quality Miami detectives, but they also made the job look cool amid danger, mostly because of their keen fashion sense and facial scruff. Plus the two were not afraid to dive into the underworld of the South Florida drug scene. Also, they had cool undercover aliases: Burnett and Cooper.

 
8 of 25

Phil Esterhaus ("Hill Street Blues")

Phil Esterhaus ("Hill Street Blues")
20th Television

The first of two representatives from Hill Street. Played memorably by the gritty Michael Conrad, Sgt, Esterhaus ran a tight ship but was also likable to fans of this classic cop drama. Of course, we'll never forget his signature line during the morning roll call : "Let's be careful out there." Conrad, who won two Primetime Emmys for the role, passed away from urethral cancer in November 1983, during the fourth season of the show.

 
9 of 25

Joe Friday ("Dragnet")

Joe Friday ("Dragnet")
NBC MCA/Universal Pictures

"Dragnet" has aired over various mediums, but the TV versions from the 1950s and late '60s into 1970 are usually the most notable. And Sgt. Joe Friday is one of the most famous fictional detectives in all of entertainment history. Jack Webb created the series and the character, playing him to much critical acclaim, leaving a legacy that TV detectives tend to be compared to even to this day.

 
10 of 25

Frank Furillo ("Hill Street Blues")

Frank Furillo ("Hill Street Blues")
20th Television

The captain of the the Hill Street precinct, Daniel J. Travanti  won a Golden Globe and received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for playing the straight-laced Furillo. He usually sported a nifty three-piece suit while keeping his department in check. He also was one of the more human characters on the show, especially late in the series' run when he relapsed into alcoholism. 

 
11 of 25

T.J. Hooker ("T.J. Hooker")

T.J. Hooker ("T.J. Hooker")
Columbia Pictures Television/Sony Pictures Television

While William Shatner is no doubt most remembered as Capt.James T. Kirk from "Star Trek," his work as this 1980s cop drama should not go without celebration. The grizzled, veteran Hooker is a mentor to many and knows practically everybody on the street. He's tough but compassionate and really takes aim when people close to him are in trouble. He even teamed up with old "Star Trek" buddy Leonard Nimoy for an episode. 

 
12 of 25

"Theo" Kojak ("Kojak")

"Theo" Kojak ("Kojak")
NBCUniversal Television Distribution

From the bald head to the lollipop, Kojak is one of the most recognizable television characters, regardless of profession. The great Telly Savalas starred as the lively, suave lieutenant who delivered a solid balance between good and bad cop throughout most of the 1970s. Of course, he always seemed to pull both off in grand fashion. "Who loves ya, baby?" 

 
13 of 25

Vic Mackey ("The Shield")

Vic Mackey ("The Shield")
Sony Pictures Television

Keeping with the bald theme, Michael Chiklis' signature role came as the star of this FX hit. Vic was hardly "by the book" but was so much fun to watch. Off duty, he was a pretty respectable family man. On the clock, he was suspect as a detective, doing whatever it took to get the job done — at times on the wrong side of the law. However, it was still pretty easy to root for him and his cause. 

 
14 of 25

Jimmy McNulty ("The Wire")

Jimmy McNulty ("The Wire")
HBO

The Baltimore detective was pretty good at his job on the streets. It's when he's off duty that things were out of control for McNulty (Dominic West). He could not stay married — maybe because he enjoyed too many extracurricular activities in other women's beds — and he also battled alcoholism. Still, West was certainly an intriguing character who had little trouble keeping our attention. 

 
15 of 25

William "Bunk" Moreland ("The Wire")

William "Bunk" Moreland ("The Wire")
HBO

Wendell Pierce is one of the more underrated actors out there (loved him in "Sleepers"). But Pierce is best known for his role as "The Bunk" Moreland, a Baltimore detective who, like pal Jimmy McNulty, is good at his job but also has issues (infidelity and booze) when his tour is done. Bunk, who has a colorful mouth as well, fits in nicely with the collective excellence of "The Wire," which is one of the best dramas in TV history.

 
16 of 25

Frank Pembleton/Raymond Holt ( "Homicide: Life on the Street/Brooklyn Nine-Nine")

Frank Pembleton/Raymond Holt ( "Homicide: Life on the Street/Brooklyn Nine-Nine")
NBCUniversal Television Distribution

OK, here we go with the liberties again. Andre Braugher is one fantastic actor, and two of his most lauded roles were as cops. As Pemberton on "Homicide," he won a Primetime Emmy as the tough but relatively spirited detective in a serious role. However, in his current role as the strict Captain Holt on the "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" he's turned to comedy where the award nominations have kept coming. 

 
17 of 25

Jake Peralta ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine")

Jake Peralta ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine")
NBCUniversal Television Distribution

Staying with "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," Andy Samberg built himself into the star on "Saturday Night Live" and has transitioned well onto sitcom TV. This may end up as the crowning jewel in Samberg's career as the childlike detective Jake Peralta. Also, he's the kind of cop we'd like to be. He takes his work seriously and is successful, but likes to goof off and put himself down. It's one of the most enjoyable characters on TV, and the role earned Samberg a Golden Globe.  

 
18 of 25

Danny Reagan ("Blue Bloods")

Danny Reagan ("Blue Bloods")
CBS Television Distribution

Donnie Wahlberg, unofficial leader of New Kids on the Block, has actually turned into an above-average actor. As the son of the NYPD commissioner, Danny is hardcore and pushes many boundaries in his detective work. He's also managed to endure a lot while being part of a police family and is still dealing with losing his wife to a medical helicopter accident — that appears to have been orchestrated. 

 
19 of 25

Lilly Rush ("Cold Case")

Lilly Rush ("Cold Case")
CBS Television Distribution/Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

Closing cold cases can obviously be tricky and pretty emotional. Rush (Kathryn Morris) seemed to handle it quite well, showing both confidence and compassion. She dealt with her vulnerability at times but also displayed strength that made her the lead detective of the division. "Cold Case" was one creative show, with the flashback storylines and great music. Rush was a big reason for the show's success and longevity (seven seasons).

 
20 of 25

Andy Sipowicz ("NYPD Blue")

Andy Sipowicz ("NYPD Blue")
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY

There are plenty of memorable characters from "Blue," but Detective Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is no doubt at the top of the list. Andy endured plenty during the run of this uber-popular show, including battles with alcoholism and losing a son, a wife and two partners (Jimmy Smits and Ricky Schroder). Franz won four Primetime Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his iconic role.  

 
21 of 25

David Starsky and Richard "Hutch" Hutchinson ("Starsky & Hutch")

David Starsky and Richard "Hutch" Hutchinson ("Starsky & Hutch")
Sony Pictures Television

In line with Crockett and Tubbs, one can't talk about Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) without mentioning Hutch (David Soul). Try to find two cooler street detectives from the 1970s than these two. Leather coats, boots, turtlenecks — and of course, the car. The red Ford Gran Torino with the white famous white stripe is one of the greatest pieces of television iconography of Americana. 

 
22 of 25

Andy Taylor ("The Andy Griffith Show")

Andy Taylor ("The Andy Griffith Show")
CBS Television Distribution

Another beloved character — not just of the law enforcement variety. Andy (Andy Griffith) did not see much serious action as sheriff of small-town Mayberry, although there was the time he had to thwart a homemade moonshine effort by one of the older citizens. And who would try anything in Mayberry with Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) along for some comedic re-enforcement. 

 
23 of 25

Hank Voight ("Chicago P.D.")

Hank Voight ("Chicago P.D.")
NBC

Voight first surfaced on "Chicago Fire," looking to rehabilitate his image as a dirty cop. Apparently reformed, Voight commands the Chicago police's intelligence unit. He can still get a little carried away and some will question his tactics to bring down criminals. However, Voight is loyal, looks out for his team and at the end of the day, he pretty much lives for his job

 
24 of 25

Chief Wiggum ("The Simpsons")

Chief Wiggum ("The Simpsons")
Fox Broadcasting Company

If there's a more incompetent law enforcement official in animated TV history than South Park's Officer Barbrady, Chief Clancy Wiggum (voiced brilliantly by Hank Azaria) might be your man. He's lazy, bad at his job, a poor role model (Ralph Wiggum is his kid after all) and seems more concerned with eating than safety. Yet, like Barbrady, the incompetence is fun to watch within the Springfield universe.

 
25 of 25

Raineesha Williams ("Reno 911!")

Raineesha Williams ("Reno 911!")
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY NETWORK

Niecy Nash does not do much quietly — kind of like Deputy Williams. The fictional officer tends to abuse her authority, which makes it funnier considering she is not that good of an officer to begin with. She has a penchant for mace, and it's questionable if she can even read. Her level of dysfunction on the job and at home makes for one of the more hilarious storylines. 

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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