Show Mobile Navigation
Movies and TV |

10 Best Police Shows Ever Aired

by Patricia West
fact checked by Rachel Jones

There’s something oddly comforting about watching your favorite TV “cops” bring in a perp for questioning. But not all police dramas are of the same caliber. Grab your popcorn and prepare for a lineup of the ten best police shows ever aired. From gripping mysteries to heart-pounding action, these series have handcuffed our attention and thrown away the key. Whether you’re a detective drama aficionado or love a good ol’ cop chase, we’ve got your back.

Related: Top 10 TV Shows That Wasted Great Concepts

10 Cops

Bad News Barricade, Show 3528, Cops TV Show

Cops is the OG of police reality shows, the granddaddy of them all. If there’s one show that’s made us feel like we’re riding shotgun with law enforcement, it’s this one. With its trademark gritty camera work and raw look at crime-fighting, Cops has been a staple on our screens since the late ’80s.

Picture sirens blaring, lights flashing, and officers chasing down perps like they’re in a marathon. That’s the adrenaline-pumping essence of Cops. From drug busts to domestic disputes, you name it, they’ve covered it. And let’s not forget the unforgettable theme song, “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

The show didn’t rely on Hollywood glamor. It was all about real-life action. Viewers got a front-row seat to the everyday challenges faced by law enforcement officers across America.

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying Cops’ impact on the genre. So here’s to Cops for keeping us entertained and giving us a glimpse into the wild world of law enforcement.

9 Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn 99 musical moments I sing to myself every day | Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Next, let’s look at the straight-up chaotic world of the 99th precinct with Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It has a bunch of quirky detectives, a deadpan captain, and enough shenanigans to fill the Hudson River.

You’ve got Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, the brilliant detective who’s basically a man-child with a badge. Then there’s Captain Holt, played by Andre Braugher, whose stoic demeanor and deadpan delivery could crack granite. The dynamic duo of detectives Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) bring the girl power. Finally, Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) flexes both his muscles and his dad jokes.

What makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine shine brighter than a perp caught in a spotlight? Its ability to balance humor with heart. From tackling serious issues like racial profiling and LGBTQ+ representation to delivering gut-busting one-liners faster than you can say “noice,” this show hits all the right notes.

In a TV landscape of crime dramas, Brooklyn Nine-Nine stands out like a unicorn in a sea of donkeys. It’s the cop show we never knew we needed but can’t imagine living without. Nine-Nine!

8 Bones

Bones 1×22 – Brennan identifies her mother’s remains

If there’s one seriously underrated cop show, it’s Bones. For those who haven’t tuned in, you’ve been missing out on one heck of a forensic ride. This show has sass, science, and a whole lot of crime solving.

At the heart of Bones is the fiery duo—Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), the forensic anthropologist with a penchant for logic, and FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), whose crime-solving skills are as sharp as his cheeky socks. The show balances gruesome crime scenes and witty banter.

The supporting cast is absolutely charming, with Angela’s artistic flair, Hodgins’s conspiracy theories, and Sweets’ psychological insights. The show’s success lies in the bone-chilling mysteries and the camaraderie among this ride-or-die team.

Spanning 12 seasons, Bones has its fair share of standout episodes, from the emotionally charged to the downright bizarre. Whether delving into the complexities of forensic anthropology or exploring interpersonal relationships, Bones remains a must-watch.

7 Justified

Justified – Official Series Trailer | Timothy Olyphant | FX

Justified—the show that made cowboy hats cool again and gave us a lawman with a drawl so smooth it could charm the bullets out of a gunfight.

Timothy Olyphant, as Raylan Givens, is the epitome of effortless badassery. With his Stetson hat and quick trigger finger, he’s like a modern-day gunslinger roaming the hills of Kentucky. And boy, does he make it look good.

The genius of Justified lies not just in its gunfights and showdowns but in its rich storytelling and colorful characters. From the cunning Boyd Crowder (played by Walton Goggins) to the sassy Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), every character adds layers to the twisted tale of crime and justice in Harlan County.

In a TV landscape crowded with cop dramas, Justified stands tall as a modern classic. It’s got gunfights, it’s got drama, and most importantly, it’s got swagger—just like Raylan Givens himself.

6 Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect 1×01 Price to Pay Part 1

Prime Suspect explores the gritty world of crime solving with one of the most iconic police dramas ever aired. Helen Mirren, the epitome of talent and class, steps into the shoes of Detective Jane Tennison. And Ms. Mirren is giving us the performance of a lifetime.

A masterclass in storytelling, Prime Suspect was a concoction of suspense, drama, and a dash of British charm. Set in the bustling streets of London, the show didn’t shy away from the nitty-gritty of police work. Instead, it thrust viewers into the heart of investigations, where Tennison’s sharp wit and determination cut through the chaos.

No glorified heroes or exaggerated villains here. Prime Suspect was a standout for its realism, with flawed characters navigating the murky waters of crime and justice. And let’s not forget the ensemble cast that brought this world to life. From the seasoned detectives to the truly cunning suspects, this one will keep you on the edge of your sofa.

With each episode, Prime Suspect capitalized on the intrigue, revealing the complexities of the human psyche. So here’s to Prime Suspect, a timeless classic that continues to hold audiences hostage.

5 Law & Order

High School Girls With a Vendetta | Law & Order SVU

Law & Order is the show that’s practically a staple in every TV detective’s diet. You know you’re in for some serious crime solving when that iconic “dun dun” kicks in.

Picture New York City, a melting pot of crime, drama, and questionable takeout choices. Law & Order captured the gritty essence of the Big Apple like no other. With its “ripped from the headlines” approach, you never knew if you were watching fiction or a twisted version of yesterday’s news.

Let’s talk about the ensemble cast that made us believe in justice. From the cool-headed detectives like Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) to the no-nonsense district attorneys like Jack McCoy (played by Sam Waterston), they were the pair that kept us glued to our screens. And after several years of no original Law & Order episodes, they are back with a whole new cast and more crimes to solve.

Law & Order didn’t just stop at one show—it spawned a whole universe of crime-solving goodness. We’re talking about the spinoffs, baby.

  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU): If the original Law & Order was good, SVU was a complete rollercoaster ride of intensity. Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson? An absolute force of nature. They tackle the toughest cases, from heinous assaults to crimes against the most vulnerable.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Think Sherlock Holmes meets the mean streets of NYC. With detectives like Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Eames (Kathryn Erbe), you knew you were in for some mind-bending sleuthing.
  • Law & Order: Trial by Jury: A legal drama that took us into courtroom battles like never before.
  • Law & Order: Organized Crime: Welcome to the newest member of the Law & Order family. SVU’s Elliot Stabler returns to the Big Apple to work with another group of detectives and badass tech analysts to cleanse New York of organized crime.

So, if you need a good TV binge, do yourself a favor and revisit the mean streets of Law & Order. Just don’t blame us if you start hearing that “dun dun” in your sleep!

4 Castle

Castle 8×01 “XY” Gun Fight at the The Precinct Season 8 Episode 1

Castle, the crime-comedy gem that graced our screens from 2009 to 2016, is a quirky blend of mystery, humor, and chemistry. Starring Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a bestselling mystery novelist turned amateur detective, and Stana Katic as Detective Kate Beckett, this show mastered the art of whodunit with a side of playful banter.

The premise alone is enough to pique anyone’s interest—a writer shadowing a detective for inspiration, only to find himself knee-deep in real-life crime-solving escapades. Fillion’s Castle brings charm and wit to crime scenes, often leaving us in stitches with his quips and unfiltered observations.

The chemistry between Castle and Beckett became the show’s heartbeat, teasing fans with a slow-burning romance that kept us hooked. The clever writing and engaging plot twists gave a fresh take to the typical procedural format.

From its clever nods to classic mystery novels to the delightful ensemble cast, including Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever, every episode was a journey through the streets of New York with our favorite unlikely team. In police shows, Castle is a refreshing cocktail of crime, comedy, and undeniable charm.

3 Luther

Luther – Season 1 Trailer

Luther, the gritty British crime drama, effortlessly secures its spot among the ten best police shows ever aired, and here’s why. The show’s lead, Idris Elba, brings DCI John Luther to life with a brooding intensity that’s impossible to ignore. Picture a brilliant but tormented detective navigating the dark underbelly of London’s criminal landscape.

The chemistry between Elba and Ruth Wilson, who plays Alice Morgan, adds a delicious complexity to the series. Luther’s cat-and-mouse game with Alice is nothing short of electrifying, blurring the lines between right and wrong.

The show doesn’t just rely on the charisma of its leads. The writing is top-notch. Each episode offers a wave of suspense, with Luther facing morally unclear situations that test the limits of conventional policing. The genius of Luther lies in its ability to keep you guessing, questioning, and craving more.

So, if you have yet to experience the adrenaline rush of Luther, buckle up. It’s a crime thriller that’s an immersive journey into the labyrinth of justice, with a side of Elba’s charm.

2 Blue Bloods

Danny’s New Home: 8×1 Reagan Family Dinner Scene

Blue Bloods is much more than just another police procedural. It’s a family drama wrapped in a crime-solving package. With his iconic mustache, Tom Selleck leads the charge as Frank Reagan, the patriarch of the Reagan clan, whose dinner table discussions are as heated as the cases they crack. This show seamlessly merges the thrilling world of law enforcement with the heartwarming dynamics of a close-knit family.

The Reagan family’s dedication to justice spans generations, with Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan, and Will Estes rounding out the talented cast. Each family dinner is like a masterclass in acting, not just because of the delicious-looking Sunday roast. The chemistry between the cast members elevates Blue Bloods from just solving crimes to navigating the complexities of morality and duty.

Blue Bloods’ unique focus on the relationships between its characters makes it more than just a crime-solving adventure. The show delves into the moral dilemmas law enforcement officers face, adding depth and authenticity. With gripping storylines, Blue Bloods is a captivating journey through the crime-ridden streets of New York City, seasoned with family values and a side of Selleck charm.

1 Criminal Minds

Criminal Minds – JJ’s fight scene – Season 7 Finale

Criminal Minds, the crime drama that’s equally gripping and mind-bending, deserves the number one spot in the lineup of the ten best police shows. Led by the brilliant minds at the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), this show takes the crime-solving game to a new level.

Imagine a team of elite profilers, each with their unique quirks and genius-level insights, coming together to solve the most twisted and diabolical criminal cases. Matthew Gray Gubler, as Dr. Spencer Reid, steals the show with his intelligence and socially awkward charisma. The cast chemistry is so tight it’s like watching a crime-solving symphony.

Criminal Minds fearlessly explores the darkest corners of criminal psychology. The show isn’t afraid to delve into the twisted minds of serial killers, giving viewers a thrilling yet spine-chilling experience. From the unforgettable “Reid moments” to the heart-stopping season finales, every episode keeps you clicking “Yes” on the “Are You Still Watching?” screen.

Just when you think you’ve figured it out, Criminal Minds delivers a twist that leaves you questioning everything. It’s a masterclass in suspenseful storytelling that earns its well-deserved spot among the best police shows in TV history.

fact checked by Rachel Jones