LA Police Detective = Lieutenant?

I’ve been binge-watching cop shows lately and I notice that in the ones set in Los Angeles, a huge number of homicide detectives are lieutenants (including most of the squad in Closer/Major Case), whereas in New York and Baltimore, lieutenants tend to be management. Does “lieutenant” just mean something different in LA? Do they hand out fancy titles in lieu of a cash raise?

It’s on a department basis but, in general, large PDs are divided into broad divisions. Among the most visible, patrol or street cops is one and detectives or investigators is another. Others include admin which handles things like HR, media affairs and internal investigations, smaller details like mounted units, boat patrol, academy instructors, technology specialists, evidence handling, event planning, dignitary protection. Each of these divisions have assorted ranks so there are detective sergeants and patrol lietenants. Officers can move among divisions so a detective sergeant that passes the lietenant exam may need to move back to patrol to fill a vacancy in order to accept the promotion.

Routine promotions are formalized in labor contracts.

Whether higher ranks routinely beat the pavement is very much department specific and often depends on the nature of the crime. A very high profile crime or event gets more force assigned. Very large events like Presidential visits or parades will have all hands on deck.

The Closer/Major case are both about the Major Crimes Squad, so it really does not depict a normal situation. They handle cases that will involve more interaction with media, outside organizations, politicians, etc.

Barney Miller’s squad room had both detective sergeants and detective lieutenants. Right?

No, they were mostly sergeants, save for Barney, who was a captain. I believe Wojo was an officer at first, then later passed his sergeant’s exam. There was a Lt. Scanlon, who was from Internal Affairs, but he was from outside of the squad. Leavitt was a sometime detective, borrowed from the uniformed patrol, but he was promoted to sergeant in the final episode.

I don’t know if there is anywhere that has a set up like in “The Closer.” It’s supposed to be an elite unit. Rank in police departments is not supposed to mean elite. It means management. Generally a lieutenant with run several squads that are directly supervised by sergeants. Or they will have an administrative position with some need for authority. They won’t be worker bees on a detective squad.

In Law&Order: SVU, Olivia Benson was a Detective before she was a Sergent.

She is now a Leutenant, running the Squad as an administrative position.

Because of its size the NYPD tends to be different than other departments. It is not like Barney Miller. Brooklyn 99 is closer but not quite.

In the NYPD you start off as a police officer. Not everyone assigned to plain clothes is a detective. In the NYPD it is a rank not just an assignment. After 18 months in a detective assignment they are given their gold shield and the rank of Detective 3rd grade. After being in the position they can get promoted to Detective 2nd grade. Both of those ranks get over what police officers make and less than sergeants. The most senior detectives can be made Detective 1st grade. They get paid a little less than lieutenants.* None of those positions are supervisory.

All eligible patrol officers and detectives can enter the promotion process. Once promoted to sergeant you can be assigned where needed. Detectives are supervised by sergeants and lieutenants. In most cases that’s all they are, supervisors. The detectives have the responsibility to run their cases.

There are two other designations to make things less clear. Sergeant SDS (stands for supervisor detective squad) and Lieutenant CDS (commander detective squad). These are generally assigned to more specialized units and are only a percentage of the total number of supervisors. Most likely the supervisor of the Barney Miller squad would be a regular sergeant.

The NYPD is structured much like the military to avoid too large a span of control. It wouldn’t make sense to have a room full of equally ranked sergeants. If Barney Miller were real the day shift detectives would be detectives 2nd and 3rd grade with maybe one or two 1st grade supervised by one sergeant. That sergeant would be supervised by a lieutenant who would have several other sergeants reporting to him. Captain Miller wouldn’t be hidden in the back with the detectives. He would be running the precinct with several lieutenants under him.

That’s overly simplified. Things get muddied up because there can be specialty units based at precincts with their own chain of command that is outside of normal structure of the precinct.

I’ll try and make this as universal as possible. Police departments don’t promote people because they are good at their job and they want them to get more money while doing that job. They promote people because a supervisory position opened up and it needs to be filled. It makes no sense for a sergeant or lieutenant to be just one of the boys or to be a lone wolf hunting down bad guys. Why would you pay someone sergeants pay to be just a detective? They are supervisors and will be spending most of their days on boring management crap.
Note: not every department is like the NYPD when it comes to detectives. In my department it is not a promotion it is a lateral move. Not only did I not make more money, I made a lot less because the schedule kept me from working side jobs.

Disclaimer: I haven’t watch the show since season 1 or 2

I’m not saying its 100% impossible but 99% likely she would be moved to different units to supervise. Very likely in a different precinct.

LA Police Detective = Lieutenant?

The most famous LAPD detective of all was a sergeant. Joe Friday.

(Fun Fact: At one point Jack Webb “promoted” Friday to lieutenant, then discovered LAPD detective lieutenants were supervisors, and retconned Friday back to sergeant with no explanation.)

I think Lt Colombo was the most famous LA detective.

Then again, Brenda was a deputy chief. Yeah, I don’t think “The Closer” was a documentary:)

I didn’t realize The Closer described such an atypical (for LA, anyway) arrangement.

Supervisors supervise. I think that’s pretty universal throughout all professions.

You mean like how on Star Trek, eventually all the main characters became captains while keeping the same jobs? Captain Kirk, Captain Spock, Captain Scott, Captain Sulu …

No that’s totally real. Its in Star Fleet regulations.

As mentioned, it varies with the police departments involved, I suppose the way it’s presented in media it derives from a combined assumption that “detective” is a distinct career track up the scale and that to make it easier for the layman viewer to understand who is senior or more experienced it’s easier to present it as if there’s a 1:1 grade/rank equivalency like in the military. It probably doesn’t help the latter perception the way US police departments use the paramilitary titles (after all, an infantry sergeant or captain is still an infantryman; a pilot LT, Squadron XO Major and Wing Commander Colonel are all pilots).

Some police agencies (esp. state troopers) will retain the paramilitary ranks all the way to Colonel, some like NYPD/LAPD drop them after Captain and go to tiers of Inspectors and Chiefs but still with a paramilitary insignia when in uniform (e.g. Assistant Chief = 2 stars) (to this day I’m still amused by four-star Sherriffs in Emptyholler County).

They did actually explain why she was a deputy chief - according to the show, she could either join the LAPD as a police officer or as a deputy chief or higher. And that part is realistic in my experience - many government entities ( including police departments) have two entry points for professional staff. You can enter at the lowest professional rank ( police officer, , sanitation worker, caseworker ) - or you can come in at some higher, management-level rank. But you can’t enter at the in-between ranks as a sergeant or lieutenant or sanitation supervisor no matter how much experience you may have in another jurisdiction.

O/T nitpick: Spock and Sulu both became starship commanders. Spock was in command of the Enterprise under Admiral Kirk when it was a cadet training vessel. He accepted the position of science officer once again when Kirk was demoted and put in charge of the Enterprise-A. Sulu was given command of the U. S. S. Excelsior (on which a young Vulcan officer named Tuvok first served).