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The Police is featured in every Grand Theft Auto game, and thus will often try to arrest or kill the player. Althought they're supposed to help citizens and keep order in the streets, policemen are often (if not always) presented as violent and corrupt who are not afraid to abuse their authorities.
Policemen on foot and police squads will often appear in the streets of the Grand Theft Auto's world, and will spot any player who commit a "major" offense. For instance, crossing a red light (even recklessly) in car won't make policemen pursue the player (even if the protagonist commit an accident), but discharging a firearm in public or near a cop will.
In every Grand Theft Auto game, cops will pursue the player for the following offenses: discharging a firearm, stamping or smashing a police car, killing NPC, setting fire on an area with a Molotov's cocktail or detonating a grenade, exploding vehicles, crushing many pedestrians, stealing a car (or attempting to do so - in the case of some locked vehicles), trespassing some restricted areas (like the Area 69 in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas). Some offenses are specific from a game: for instance, drug dealing in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Also, cops will often appears (almost always as antagonists) on some scripted missions.
When the protagonist is wanted by the laws enforcements, he will earn a wanted level. It is an indicator which appears on the HUD (usually in the top-right corner). The higher is the wanted level, the more the police want the protagonist death, and so the more are the resources mobilized. To stop any pursue, the player must lose his wanted level. In every games, accomplishing a mission will always clear any wanted level, except after the Dam & Blast mission in San Andreas.
In all GTA games from the "3D" era, the wanted level is measured in a six-stars scale. If the player commit any offense in the vinicity of a cop or multiple offenses in a quick succession of time, he will earn either one or two stars (depending on the nature of the offense). If he continues to commit crimes or resist to the police, however, the wanted level will quickly climb. On some missions, the player will also automatically earn some stars, even if he doesn't commit any crime at all. To lose his wanted level, the player must pick up bribes around the map or go into a Pay n' Spray. Players with just a star will lose their wanted level if they "stay low" a minute; however they cannot lose any wanted level if they inside a police vehicle. Also in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, driving fast around the countryside will slowly decrease the wanted level, except if the player commit crimes.
- 1 star: the protagonist is wanted by the police, but not actively. Only policemen who spot him (either on foot or in vehicle) will chase the latter, so if no cop or police car appears in vinicity, this do not pose a threat to the player. However, the risk is higher in zone of great affluence, for instance near police stations. The police will rather try to arrest than killing the player. However in some rare situations, officers on foot will open fire, for instance if the player is inaccessible to them (in a top of a vehicle). Also in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, police officers will open fire and try to kill Carl Johnson if he carries a thrownable weapon, a firegun or a grenade.
- 2 stars: now the police will actively look up for the protagonist. Two police cars which each carry two officers will appears around him, wherever he is located, even if he's in the middle of the country (in GTA: SA only). Officers will this time open fire to the protagonist, no matters if he's armed or not, so the player should be careful to not be low-healthed. Also, if the protagonist is on boat, armed police's boats will spawn on the sea and chase the player.
- 3 stars: if the player commits great crimes in a very quick succession of time or kill several cops, this will eventually lead to a three-stars wanted level. Now officers on foot will spawn anywhere around the player (except in the countryside) and not two but three police cars will chase the protagonist. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, cops are now well-armed as they carry pulp-shotgun which will make short work of the player. Also in Vice City, special undercover agents will take part to the chase. The police will also set roadblocks which are made of police cars if the player drive recklessly in attempt to flee the battlefield. However, those roadblocks can be easiled transpassed; but the player is warned that destroying completely a roadblock lead to a four-stars wanted level or on arer occasions a five-stars one's, which is far more dangerous. Also, a helicopter is dispatched to follow (and sometimes shoot at) the player. Policemen on vehicles will drive at their maximum speed and often try to spin out the player, either on vehicle or on foot.
- 4 stars: if the protagonist has killed more than a dozen of cops or destroyed completely a roadblock, he will earn a four-stars wanted level. Now SWAT teams will take part to the chase and replace most of police cars which were previously chasing the player. Policemen on cars will drive recklessly, while SWAT's Enforcers will try to ram the player.
- 5 and 6 stars: at this stage, no longer police cars will be spawned (however remaining police cars will continuate to take part to the chase, if the player is on vehicle). They'll replacing with FBI's cars (at five-stars) and army vehicles (at six-stars). However, police officers will spawn on foot. Also, if the protagonist is on or near the sea, armed police's boats will continuate to chase him.
Grand Theft Auto IV and its DLC
In Grand Theft Auto IV, the police is far more dangerous than before. They're more lethal, and will often use strategys to caught or kill the player. Instead of appearing anywhere around the player, which is unrealistic, police cars will now appears further, usually in two or three streets further. To lose the cops, the player most exit a red-blue flashing's area on the mini-map and avoid any police officer in the process. However the higher is the wanted level, the bigger is the flashing's area, and greater is the police affluence. The player can also opt to got into a Pay n' Spray. The wanted level is measured on a six-stars scale, like in the previous opus. If the player commit any offense in the vinicity of a cop or multiple offenses in a quick succession of time, he will earn either one or multiples stars (depending on the nature of the offense).
- 1 star: the protagonist got one star if he commits a "little" offense (like breaking a vehicle's window to steal it). Two police cars which each carry two officers will be dispatched. Police officers won't open fire, unless they cannot reach the player. Instead, they'll try to arrest him.
- 2 stars: five police cars will now appear and the cops will now shoot at the player, instead of trying to arrest him. However, unlike the 3D-Universe, no armed boats will appears on the sea.
- 3 stars: shooting at any officer will directly goes into a three-stars wanted level. Many police cars will appear and into the player. Roadblocks are set up in the entrances of the main bridges. Plus, a helicopter is dispatched to chase the player. In wated, armed police's boats will give chase. They're deadlier than their 3D-Universe's counterparts, as they're now two shooters on board of each boat.
- 4 stars: now NOOSE's teams will be dispatched and will fight the player along the police. They're more armed, however they're not so dangerous and thus can be defeated easily, unless they caught the player by surprise. Sometimes, FIB's teams replace the NOOSE one's.
- 5 stars: NOOSE's helicopters replace the police's one. They're faster, more resistant to damages and the two shooters on board are more accurate and deadlier than the previous' one. Also, policemen will now do drive-by if the player flee on vehicle.
- 6 stars: now the police aflluence will be rarer, and more NOOSE's and FIB's teams will be dispatched instead. However, the remaining officers will continue to chase and trying to kill the player. The army won't be dispatched anymore.
In multiplayer, the wanted level's system remains the same, however police officers won't try to arrest the player anymore at one star, due to the lack of a busted animation on online.
Grand Theft Auto V and Online
In Grand Theft Auto V and Online, the wanted level is measured in a five-stars scale (and not a six-stars, like the previous games). To lose the cops, the player most hide from any trooper a certain time, so it's easier to lose cops than in Grand Theft Auto IV and its DLC. Like before, players can also respray their vehicle to lose their wanted level. If the player commit any offense in the vinicity of a cop or multiple offenses in a quick succession of time, he will earn either one or multiples stars (depending on the nature of the offense).
- 1 star: like in GTA IV, two police cars which each carry two officers will be dispatched. Police officers won't open fire, unless they cannot reach the player. Instead, they'll try to arrest him.
- 2 stars: two more police cars will appear. Police officers will now open fire, no matters if the player is armed or not.
- 3 stars: shooting at any police officer or military, even without killing them, will directly earn the player a three-stars wanted level. The police will set up occasional roadblocks, mostly on the highway. On water, boats with deadly riflemen are dispatched. A helicopter is dispatched to follow and shoot at the player.
- 4 and 5 stars: NOOSE's teams will be send in the chase and will replace most of the police forces. Also a second, nay a third police's helicopter will appear.
In every games, cops are presented to be sociopathic, excessively violent, killing the player mercylessly even if he's weaponless, swearing and insulting the protagonist, and often driving recklessly. Aside their violent behaviour, there are many hints of police brutality in the games. For instance, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, several cops can be spotted beating an innocent pedestrian into the Los Santos police's garage (the player is warned that trespassing the area will immediately give him three stars). In addition, they're also incompetent. Police officers will often miss their shots, even in short range. In fact, police officers may be unprofessional and not trained enought, despite their function. Many of them are also corrupt. However, they got a comic relief, which add to their unprofessionalism.
Notable GTA's characters in the police
Many of corrupt cops will give tasks to the protagonist. Almost all of them act as villains or antagonists, and thus are ultimately killed by the player.
Frank Tenpenny is the main antagonist from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. He's a middle-aged corrupt policeman who work alongside his pawns Pulaski and Hernandez (who will be killed by him) in the C.R.A.S.H.. He uses his power to terrorize gang members and do whatever he wants. He blackmails Carl to do several tasks for him and Pulaski. At the end of the game, he killed himself during an accident, in which he crashes his firetruck into Ganton.
Eddie Pulaski is a supporting antagonist from the same game and also a member of the C.R.A.S.H. organization. He works alongside Tenpenny. However, he's not aware that he's nothing more than a pawn to Tenpenny. In High Noon, Pulaski try to kill Carl Johnson but Carl chase and kill him instead.
Francis McReary is one the head of the McReary crime family and a mission giver in Grand Theft Auto IV. He's a corrupt L.C.P.D. Commissioner who act as a "vigilante" and orders the protagonist to kill several drug dealers. In the mission Blood Brothers, he can either be killed or spared. If spared, the player will have access to his special ability, which consist of clearing the wanted level at any times by calling him.
Brian O'Toole is a supporting character in Grand Theft Auto IV. He appears in an ad from the LCPD.
- In any Grand Theft Auto game, if the player try to steal an occupied police car, the car will be locked up and the protagonist will automatically earn a one-star wanted level. Neverthless the officers in board will immediately exit their vehicle, so the player is able to steal it.