NYPD Blue vs. Homicide - Life on the Streets

I really enjoy both of these shows, but one thing has always puzzled me. Not so much about the shows themselves as how exactly the detectives work in different cities.

In New York, it seems like detectives aren’t assigned to different squads, Homicide, Vice etc, but to different precincts. They work all kinds of different cases, kidnapping, murder, drug cases etc. But, they stay within their precincts.

In Baltimore, detectives are assigned to a squad and work all over the city.

Now my question is, why is the PDs arranged differently in different cities? Is it only New York that’s divided into precincts rather than squads? Just curious.

As far as I know, every US city is devided into police precincts. A precinct is a geographical area.

Within each precinct are a number of departments, or squads. Any cop can arrest a person guilty of a crime. Regardless of whether or not the crime fits into their department.

NYPD Blue is about a homocide squad. They may wind up arresting people for dealing drugs, or whatever other crimes they may be commiting, but it only happens when they run across them in a homocide investigation.

I’ve never seen Life on the Streets, but your impression of it makes me belive it focuses on a wider variety of crimes.

If someone is selling crack all over the city, all the precincts will know about it and hopefully all of the vice squads in all of the precincts will be working together to gain information to arrest the suspect.

Anyway, after making a short story long, a precinct is a locality and a squad is a specialized department of the prcinct.

Not sure about Baltimore, but in NYC, there are both precinct detective squads (like the one on NYPD blue) and specialized squads which ususally cover either a borough or part of a borough (either Brooklyn or Brooklyn North,for example},such as Homicide, Vice,Warrants and various drug or gun focused units.

Actually, Gatsby flipped it around. NYPD Blue is about a detective squad which investigates any crime that requires it within their precinct. So whether there’s a crime scene which needs investigation, or someone comes in asking for help, these detectives will handle the initial investigation. If it’s determined that the crime falls under the purview of one of the specialized squads that doreen mentioned (most often Major Case/Homicide, Organized Crime, Street Gang, Sexual Assault…), then some other detective from that squad will be called in to assist / take charge.

This has happened a few times on Blue, and is usually characterized by some outside detective taking over the workspace of our lovable characters, and Andy calling them some variation of a ‘hump’. The decision to call in one of these specialized detectives is usually a delicate one, because one detective will often be wary of giving up a possible arrest to another. Because these specialized squads deal only with certain kinds of cases, they usually deal with crimes occurring in a larger geographic space than regular detectives, be that across several precincts, or an entire city.

Homicide: Life on the Streets deals with one of these specialized detective squads. They’re often referred to within the show as ‘the elite’ of detectives, which gives you an idea why Andy on NYPD Blue enjoys dissing them. This is a squad, in that they not only belong to a specialized group, but have their own central office space which they work out of (as opposed to the roving Special Case squads portrayed on Blue). Unlike Blue, you rarely see detectives from the other squads on Homicide, because our characters are only called in to deal with their kinds of cases. But some of the characters who joined the cast later in the show’s run (like Falzone, Kellerman and Stivers) were pulled from other detective squads- it’s sort of a status (if not a paycheck) promotion to get moved to Homicide.

As to why different cities do things differently, I think that’s just the prerogative of any operation that falls under the jurisdiction of municipal, and not state or federal law. FBI branches, for instance, I think are basically run the same everywhere in the country.

Precinct = georaphic segment of the city which the police department serves, usually numbered

Squad = specific ‘team’ of detectives dealing with a certain kind of police work (including general detective work)

My hubby is one of Baltimore’s finest. Here, the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) is divided, geographically, into Districts. They are Northern, Southern, North Eastern, Central, etc. There is one central Homicide department that works the entire city.

The reason NYPD has precincts and BCPD has districts is because NYC is much bigger than lil’ old Baltimore. NYC is too big to have just an Eastern District so they have several precincts within a district (I assume).

I think jdl has it right.
If you like these types of stories, read the 85th Precinct novels by Ed McBain or the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connolly. Both series are excellent reads and almost always delve into the differences and enmity between the groups of dectectives.

Just weighing in with further corroboration. jdl, I think, has it correct. My reference is True Blue, which is about “NYPD Blue” executive producer/consultant Bill Clark’s police career before getting involved in the TV show. He and the co-writer (another “Blue” producer) mention several times that the squad Clark was on was called “Major Crimes” (or some variant thereof), and that he worked within a specific precinct. They also say that they’ve somewhat fictionalized the “15th precinct” for the TV show, making it far bigger and more inclusive than an actual precinct. They did this to expand their dramatic possibilities; they didn’t want to restrict themselves only to Park Avenue or Midtown or Hell’s Kitchen or whatever.

I’ve also read the book by David Simon that inspired “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” It’s a faaaaaabulous read; if you’re interested in the topic, I highly recommend it. It’s nonfiction, and further corroborates jdl’s description of the Baltimore homicide squad as an elite, specialized group of detectives that works murders all over the city. It also helps to underline just how hard that show’s producers worked to keep the policework accurate.

Oh, and one more thing:

You’re missing out. Best damn cop show ever to air on American television, even better than “Hill Street Blues” (IMHO). I like “NYPD Blue” a lot, but “Homicide” leaves it in the dust. Luckily for you, it’s running in syndication on CourtTV. The storylines are very complex and stretch over multiple seasons, so a new viewer will have to watch at least half a dozen episodes to start getting a feel for it (probably why it never did well ratings-wise), but it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Thanks guys!

I think I have it figured out now. And Fleetwood, I read and watch anything that involves crime. It borders on compulsive behavior, but hey, it makes me happy.

I would add that the LAPD has a similar setup to New York. The smaller groups are divisions, but there are also special gropus of detectives like Robbery/Homicide or Vice.

LAPD, despite covering such a large area, has only 18 divisions, including the infamous Foothill (known for the Rodney Hill incident) and Rampart (framing experts) Divisions.

Miles Corwin’s “The Killing Season” is an excellent look at a few months in the life of two homicide detectives working out of a division in South Central L.A.

I’ll just second Cervaise’s recommendation to read Simon’s ‘Homicide’. It’s a great read (and TV Homicide fans’ will recognize some cases portrayed in the early TV episodes).

From the book, I gather that the detective squads such as Homicide in Baltimore are centralized (Baltimore being much smaller tha NYC). Baltimore (and I don’t have any actual stats, but I suspect they’re similar) probably has the same per capita murder rate as any major East Coast city. Baltimore’s smaller size allows a single unit to cover the whole city, whereas in NYC, (no stats again, but has at least 10-fold the population) is too large to centralize, given the higher volume of homicide due to higher population.

Simon tells of a homicide detective that could nail a suspect’s home neighborhood to within a few blocks by his accent alone. In a city with the population of New York, this might be extraordinary. In Bawlmer, this guy is really good at his job.

Not to make this a GD, but NYPD Blue just made me roll me eyes (I found it predictable and not that smart); Homicide was the best drama on TV until the last couple seasons.

Damn Falsone.