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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. Even though they're supposed to help citizens and keep order in the streets, policemen are often (if not always) presented as violent, corrupt and overzealous 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 commits a "major" offense. For instance, crossing a red light (even recklessly) in car won't make policemen pursue the player (even if the protagonist commits 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 an NPC, setting fire on an area with a Molotov cocktails, detonating a grenade, exploding vehicles, crushing many pedestrians, stealing a car (or attempting to do so - in the case of some locked vehicles) or 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 appear (almost always as antagonists) on some scripted missions.
When the protagonist is wanted by law enforcement, 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 dead, and so the more are the resources mobilized. To stop any pursuit, 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 commits any offense in the vicinity 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 arrest, 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 one star will lose their wanted level if they "stay low" for a minute; however they cannot lose any wanted level if they're 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 vicinity, this does not pose a threat to the player. However, the risk is higher in a 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 weapon, a fire gun 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 matter if he's armed or not, so the player should be careful to not be low on health. Also, if the protagonist is on a 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-shotguns 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 drives recklessly in attempt to flee the battlefield. However, these roadblocks can be easily passed; but the player is warned that completely destroying a roadblock will lead to a four-star wanted level or on occasions a five-star one's, which is far more dangerous. Also, a helicopter is dispatched to follow (and sometimes shoot at) the player. Policemen in 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 completely destroyed a roadblock, he will earn a four-star wanted level. Now SWAT teams will take part in the chase and replace most of police cars which were previously chasing the player. Policemen in cars will drive recklessly, while SWAT Enforcers will try to ram the player.
- 5 and 6 stars: at this stage, no police cars will be spawned anymore (however remaining police cars will continue to take part in the chase, if the player is in a vehicle). They'll be replaced with FBI's cars (at five-stars) and tanks (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 continue to chase him.
Grand Theft Auto IV and DLC
In Grand Theft Auto IV, the police is far more dangerous than before. They're more lethal, and will often use strategies to catch or kill the player. Instead of appearing anywhere around the player, which is unrealistic, police cars will now appear further, usually in two or three streets further. To lose the cops, the player must exit a red-blue flashing's area on the mini-map and avoid any police officer in the process. However if the wanted level is higher, the bigger the flashing area, and greater the police affluence. The player can also opt to get 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 vicinity 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 gets 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 appear in the sea.
- 3 stars: shooting at any officer will directly go into a three-star wanted level. Many police cars will appear and chase after the player. Roadblocks are set up in the entrances of the main bridges. Plus, a helicopter is dispatched to chase the player. In water, 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 catch 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 ones. Also, policemen will now do drive-by if the player flees in a vehicle.
- 6 stars: now the police affluence will be rarer, and more NOOSE's and FIB's teams will be dispatched instead. However, the remaining officers will continue to chase and try 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 online.
Grand Theft Auto V and Online
In Grand Theft Auto V and Online, the wanted level is measured in a five-star scale (and not six-stars, like the previous games). To lose the cops, the player must hide from any trooper in a certain time, so it is 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 commits any offense in the vicinity 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 matter 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-star 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 sent in the chase and will replace most of the police forces. Also a second, nay a third police's helicopter will appear.
In every game, cops are presented to be excessively violent sociopaths, killing the player mercilessly even if he's weaponless, swearing and insulting the protagonist, and often driving recklessly. Aside their violent behavior, 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 enough, despite their function. Many of them are also corrupt. However, they got a comic relief, which adds to their lack of professionalism.
Notable GTA characters in the police force
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 works 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 tries 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 is a corrupt L.C.P.D. Commissioner who acts 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 consists 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.
Leon McAffrey was a corrupt police officer from the LCPD. He was involved in selling inside stories to Ned Burner and helping various gangs. The LCPD launched an investigation over the matter. They discovered McAffrey as discovered the culprit and placed him under arrest.
Ray Machowski is another corrupt police officer from the LCPD. He was originally straight but was influenced by McAffrey. He began to work with the Yakuza. McAffrey threatened to turn evidence against him. Machowski employed Claude to kill McAffrey. Later, Claude helped Machowski escape Liberty City.
Alderney State Police
The Alderney State Police (ASP) is the police force in the state of Alderney near Liberty City. There are a total of three police stations in Alderney. Compared to the Liberty City Police Department, the Alderney State Police seem to have more security over highways. If the player is arrested by them, he will be forced to follow a process. His weapons will be taken, he will lose some cash, then he will be released at the nearest police station.
Liberty City Police Department
The Liberty City Police Department (LCPD) is the main law enforcement of Liberty City prior to Grand Theft Auto IV. They are dedicated to arresting criminals and tracking organized syndicates. Despite the LCPD's dedication, they appear to be under funded. The city's mayor, Miles O'Donovan, provides them with little resources. Some LCPD officers are even corrupt. Despite the setbacks, the LCPD still functions.
Liberty City Police Department (HD)
The Liberty City Police Department (HD) is the LCPD in Grand Theft Auto IV and beyond. They are well funded and consist of police 40,000 officers. They are more aggressive in pursuing criminals. Police helicopters patrol areas on a regular basis. Some police officers can been seen writing tickets. Occasionally, an officer will chase a criminal and then put him into a police car. The officer then drives the criminal to a police a station. If the player is attacked by someone, a nearby officer is willing to stop the assailant. He will attempt to arrest or shoot the assailant. Afterward, the officer will resume his normal duty. The player is still affected by law enforcement.
There are six new divisions:
- Highway Patrol Division
- Aviation Unit
- Organized Crime Control Bureau
- Anti-Crime Unit
- Harbor Unit
- College Patrol Unit
There is a system of ranks:
- Police Commissioner
- Deputy Commissioner
- Deputy Commissioner for Public Affairs
- Narcotics Agent
- Chief of Department
- Bureau Chief
- Assistant Chief
- Deputy Chief
- Police Spokesman
- Deputy Inspector
Los Santos County Sheriff
The Los Santos County Sheriff's Department (LSSD) is the county law enforcement operating in Los Santos, San Andreas. The LSSD also seem to have jurisdiction to operate in Blaine County. The department is structured as a hierarchy based on ranks.
- Under Sheriff
- Assistant Sheriff
- Division Chief
- Area Commander
- Deputy Sheriff (Bonus II)
- Deputy Sheriff (Bonus I)
- Deputy Sheriff
Los Santos Police Department
The Los Santos Police Department (LSPD) is the police force in the city of Los Santos. They use brutal methods to take care of crime. Their methods include shooting a person to death if he resists arrest, shooting stopped vehicles, and arresting someone without reason. The LSPD is well funded and has more than enough equipment to deal with criminals. According to their badge, the Los Santos Police Department was established in 1889.
North Yankton State Patrol
The North Yankton State Patrol (NYSP) polices the state of North Yankton. There is little information about aside from the fact they won the Trooper of the Year award in 1951.
The Rural Police (RP) patrol the rural and desert areas of San Andreas. Their cowboy hats distinguish themselves from inner city police forces. Every rural officer is armed with a 9mm pistol and nightsticks. The officers may use pump action shotguns in extreme situations. The Rural Police drive modified Land Rovers. The vehicle is designed to travel off road in rural areas.
San Andreas Coast Guard
The San Andreas Coast Guard (SACG) patrol the maritime in San Andreas. Boats scout large areas of water. They can be identified by markings of the San Andreas police. Each boat is operated by a single officer. If the player attacks one of the boats, he will automatically receive a 2 star wanted level. If the player destroys a boat, he will receive a 3 star wanted level.
San Andreas Highway Patrol
The San Andreas Highway Patrol (SAHP) monitors highways and freeways throughout San Andreas. Officers drive custom motor bikes. They check for anyone speeding through roads. If they find someone speeding, they will chase the person and shoot them. If they catch someone speeding, they will pursue them while shooting at them. Ironically, the Highway Patrol never chase the player if he speeds. They will become hostile if the player has a wanted level.
San Andreas Park Rangers
The San Andreas Park Rangers (SAPR) monitor the environmental areas of Blaine County in San Andreas. At night, units drive SUV's with search lights to patrol the areas. Park rangers are equipped with pistols, bullet proof vests, radios, handcuffs, and possibly bear mace or pepper spray. The park rangers are treated as law enforcement. Assaulting them, stealing their vehicles, or killing them will result in a wanted level. Also, they won't hesitate to fight back.
San Andreas Police Department
The San Andreas Police Department (SAPD) is the main law enforcement servicing San Andreas. They cover every law agency in the city except for government of military. The San Andreas Police Department consist of seven divisions:
- Las Venturas Police Department (LVPD)
- Los Santos Police Department (LSPD)
- Rural Police (RP)
- San Andreas Coast Guard (SACG)
- San Andreas Highway Patrol (SAHP)
- San Fierro Police Department (SFPD)
- Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT)
San Fierro Police Department
The San Fierro Police Department (SFPD) services the city of San Fierro. The SFPD is a branch of the San Andreas Police Department. The officers are friendlier than other forms of law enforcement. They encourage criminals to give up instead of using threats. When pursuing the player, an officer will say shout "The police are your friends, please stop!" Despite their passive attitude, they still use deadly force like other police departments.
Vice City Police Department
The Vice City Police Department (VCPD) is the law enforcement in Vice City. Officers carry a nightstick and a pistol. Most officers travel in police vehicles. The rest patrol the streets of Vice City on foot. If an officer sees the player commit a street crime, he will use his night stick to stop the player. If the wanted level exceeds 1 star, the police become more aggressive. Whenever the player is arrested, he is sent to the nearest police prescient. All of his weapons will be lost along with a small amount of cash. He will then be released back onto the street.
The Vice Squad are an elite branch of the Vice City Police Department. They appear when the player reaches a 3 star wanted level. The members work in pairs and they drive Ferraris which can easily outrun the player. They carry Micro SMG Uzis instead of standard pistols. The Vice Squad has the only cops who drop money. They are also they only cops dressed in casual clothes.
- GTA's cops can be considered as the true Bigger Bads of the franchise, as they always interfere in the player's plans and often pose great threats for the players.
- The cops of GTA V are reputed to be the most aggressive of the franchise.
- 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. Nevertheless the officers in board will immediately exit their vehicle, so the player is able to steal it.
- Some police departments are based on actual police departments from the United States:
- The LCPD is based on the New York Police Department (NYPD)
- The VCPD is based on the Miami Police Department (MPD)
- The LSPD is based on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
- VCPD officers are implied to be incompetent. For example, one officer will say "You make me run and I get all sweaty".
- In general, every officers from Grand Theft Auto are implied to be incompetent, except perhaps the GTA V/Online one's.
- RP officers have southern accents.
- GTA V is the first game to feature female police officers.
- SFPD officers are hinted as being homosexuals. One cue is their line ""Wrestle me, honey!"
- The Vice Squad is an allusion to the 1980's TV show Miami Vice.