Apr 26 2012

13 Reasons the Police Might Oppose a Superhero

If you’d like to use the police as an antagonist but aren’t quite sure why they might oppose the superhero, here are some  possibilities.


1. The superhero is investigating sensitive cases.

  • The hero might be challenging cases that have already been “solved.” If the superhero can show that the police & district attorney have convicted/arrested the wrong person, it will make the police look bad, could open up them to lawsuits, and could jeopardize careers.  Also, the police will probably be skeptical about whether the superhero knows more about the case than the police investigation was able to find. What if the superhero is wrong?  If a superhero even looks into the case, that could create unwanted media attention for the police and prosecutors.
  • Major politicians (e.g. the mayor) might pressure the police if the superhero is tackling politically sensitive cases (for example, if the suspect is a politician or major donor or if the case is highly publicized).
  • The case is likely to implicate police officers or otherwise make the police look bad. For example, anything involving police brutality, corruption, police misconduct (e.g. why did the police drop the case against Lex Luthor? Did the mayor put them up to it?), etc.


2. The superhero refuses police commands (which will especially irritate police if the case ends badly). For example, if the superhero tried breaking into a hostage situation while the police were still trying to negotiate a surrender, that would make the police livid (particularly if any hostages then got injured or killed). If the superhero does something that causes the police to get heavy media and/or political criticism, the police might throw the superhero under the bus to protect themselves. “We had this case completely under control until Captain Doomsday showed up!”  (The superhero would probably disagree with that claim–if it looked like the police had the situation under control, the superhero probably wouldn’t have charged in).

2.1. The superhero is too rough. If the hero has a history of gratuitously injuring criminals, getting bystanders/hostages injured, and causing serious property damage, the police might think they’d do a better job on their own.


3. The superhero (intentionally or accidentally) sabotaged a police investigation. For example, if a superhero breaks-and-enters into a supervillain’s home, that might compromise evidence that the police needed. Additionally, if the supervillain found out about the breaking-and-entering, the police might be upset because the villain will be more cautious moving forward. That will make the investigation more challenging.


4. The superheroes are federal agents.  Federal agents and cops sometimes clash over issues of conflicting cases, media attention/budget, office politics, pride, career ambitions, jurisdictional battles, etc. Just one of many things that might go wrong would be the New York police arresting a critical SHIELD informant. Yeah, SHIELD can probably get him out of jail, but it would be challenging to do so without compromising the informant. (If John Doe has been arrested for a serious crime but gets quickly released, his associates might assume that he was released because he offered to help the police). If the informant thinks that his associates suspect him, he will probably be a lot more reluctant to help and/or may disappear altogether.

4.1. The superheroes are soldiers. In addition to the previous issues for cops vs. federal agents, there are also unique legal restrictions related to military involvement in civilian law enforcement (e.g. the Posse Comitatus Act in the United States).


5. The superhero’s motives are hard to understand and/or not purely heroic.  If Superman kills a criminal, the police would probably be more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt because he has always been so careful and because his motives are demonstrably benign. In contrast, if the Punisher kills a criminal, the police will probably assume it was an assassination (even if it wasn’t).  Superheroes with unclear intentions, such as Rorschach or superheroes new to the scene, might also attract additional police scrutiny.


6. The superhero is very secretive and/or paranoid. For example, does the superhero wear a mask? The police might be suspicious because usually the people that fear openness the most are up to no good–wearing a mask at least raises that possibility. The police might also get suspicious if the superhero refuses to share helpful information. (Superheroes might decide not to share information with the police to avoid jeopardizing the superheroes’ sources, keep a corrupt cop from tipping off the villain, and/or avoid giving the police more opportunity to do something which interferes with the superheroes’ investigation).



7. The superhero committed a crime against the police. Breaking and entering is one thing, but breaking and entering into a police lockup to steal and/or destroy evidence would probably make the police very surly.


8. The hero’s superpowers are hard to control and/or unsettling. For example, telepaths might be more alarming than a superstrong hero would be, especially to a police officer or agent with something to hide (e.g. any criminal past or any major governmental secrets). If your only power is to induce insanity or create category 5 hurricanes, don’t expect many invitations to police potlucks.


9. The superhero’s relationship with the villain and/or government is complicated. For example, the police might wonder about whether Xavier is really on their side, because Xavier is opposed to the mutant cure which most nonmutants feel is the most humane way to fight Magneto. (Also, I think most cops would regard Wolverine’s cop-stabbing as a pretty big deal).


10. The police are backing a rival superhero or group of superheroes (e.g. the Ultimen rather than the Justice League). 


11. The police have false and/or misleading evidence implicating the superhero in a crime.  Maybe the police have security footage of a superhero shooting at someone off-camera, but don’t have footage of the victim drawing a gun or otherwise provoking the shooting. Alternately, maybe the superhero has been framed and the evidence is fake or maliciously edited.


12. The superhero is dismissive of the police and/or carelessly antagonizes them. Granted, most superheroes ask the police to do unglorious work like crowd control at some point, but being an ass about it might make the police less likely to cooperate.  Mishandling a situation could create dramatic obstacles for the character to overcome. (Just please don’t do a “You police officers are the real heroes” speech).


13. The police feel that the superhero is unnecessarily endangering children. It’d probably be somewhat easier for police to look the other way if it’s just adults putting themselves in harm’s way rather than, say, a 10 year old and a 12 year old.  The police might interfere with the team, particularly if one of the kids gets seriously hurt.



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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “13 Reasons the Police Might Oppose a Superhero”

  1. Chrison 21 Aug 2018 at 11:55 am

    I’m currently writing a novel about a group of government agents tasked with containing magical beings/artifacts. At this point, they are investigating a crash caused by a spontaneous rain of frogs. In this universe, everyone knows that magic exists, and are more or less accepting of the agency’s role in containing it (though not always of its methods). I’m wondering what potential conflicts might arise at the crash site between the agents and responders. I don’t want to invent an obstacle for my protagonists, but I also don’t want to make it easy on them. I’m having trouble conceptualizing how the interaction might go. Thoughts?

  2. B. Macon 22 Aug 2018 at 9:16 pm

    “I’m wondering what potential conflicts might arise at the crash site between the agents and responders.” I have zero relevant experience. Here goes!

    Assuming the responders are non-extraordinary people and the agents are probably more acquainted with the extraordinary (or possibly working with magic and/or artifacts themselves), maybe the mood among responders turns sour towards the extraordinary. Pulling bodies out of a frog-infested crash site has to be bad for morale — these guys didn’t sign up for Biblical plagues, and not to put too fine a point on it, there’s going to be smashed and/or charred frogs EVERYWHERE and it’s going to be disgusting, the sort of disaster that you remember 20 years later on days where you’ve had too much to drink. Then you have federal agents show up, probably take command of the crash site, and almost certainly they’re NOT getting waist-deep in frog muck looking for any survivors. They’re NOT trying to provide aid to survivors that might be coming out in really bad shape and maybe unlikely to survive the day. (Let’s assume that the investigators are not trained for recovering people from complex wreck sites).

    I would imagine that the mood is going to be tense, particularly for responders. Chaotic scene, hundreds of people running around, everybody’s thrown up several times… I think ANYBODY that’s in there not 100% focused on finding/saving survivors is going to be at best a distraction to responders that are. In contrast, SHIELD types might be more focused on quickly finding evidence (thinking that that the faster they have studied what happened here, the faster they’ll be able to figure out who/what/where is next).

    I would imagine that specialized responders have some sort of relevant experience in MUNDANE events. However, there are a lot of magical unknowns that might be worrisome because none of the ordinary guys have any clues there. E.g. are the frogs poisonous? Is it even safe to be in the area looking for survivors? Anything along the lines of magical toxicity or radiation or air contamination that can cause long-term health problems? Is there going to be any sort of interference between the frog-infested site and whatever extraordinary equipment/artifacts/people the government agents have brought with them? Let’s imagine you’re like a field leader of a small group of responders. First, your guys have never been in a situation this stressful before. Federal officers are telling you one thing about the magical conditions, and maybe they don’t think there’ll be an issue, but 1) each magical event is probably somewhat unique, so they might be not 100% sure about this one and 2) the people telling you it’s safe are the least at risk if they’re wrong.

    Also, very likely the people that sign up for an agency like SHIELD have seen a lot of extraordinary things. Depending on character personality, they might not outwardly show many signs that this is an extraordinarily difficult day for them. (And, also, their task is considerably less gruesome — they’re probably just looking for evidence). To first responders that are probably struggling to keep it together, they may come off looking uncommonly dickish.

    Some ideas for potential interactions between responders and investigators:
    –Maybe investigators inadvertently interfere with rescue operations while trying to preserve the crime scene and/or gather evidence?
    –Responder leaders (either senior, like an incident commander, or junior like a team lead) probably have questions about magical conditions in the area, described above.
    –Investigators may attempt to talk to responders about rescue operations. E.g. attempting to console a responder visibly shaken up by a near-rescue that turned into a fatality. You could be the nicest SHIELD agent in the world, but I doubt there is anything you could say in that situation that would go over well. (“**** you and **** magic”).

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