Saturday Matinee 2016 17: The First 48 (Reality Series, 2004-present)

The first 48This unscripted reality show, on the A&E Television Network, has been commercially successful. It follows homicide investigators through their work, from, usually, their ride to the scene to the delivery of a fat packet of evidence and a suspect in custody. The episode ends, usually, with a look at the suspect’s face as he’s booked, while a screen crawl tells you of the disposition of his court case as of air time: he “is charged with capital murder” or he “was convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to 25 years,” for example.

This show is not like other cop shows, which is why we’ve written it up before (10 Things about Murderers we Learned from “The First 48”, 7 April 2014): the murderers aren’t the improbable collection of CEOs and scientists and CIA officers that comprise the rogues’ gallery of scripted shows, but real murderers committing real crimes against real victims. They do these for real, not Hollywood, reasons: from sheer loss of temper, to prevent being named in another crime, to make sure a robbery victim can’t seek revenge, to seek revenge for a robbery (this last comes up surprisingly often).

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The impact of homicide on victims’ families seldom gets aired on other TV shows. The dead guy is only one victim. Almost every victim leaves heartbroken survivors behind.

Moreover, you know the show’s on target because it’s been taking flak from Black [Criminals’] Lives Matter and other pro-crime lobbies. The principal thing driving this appears to be the show’s detectives’ one error: in one of the 538 homicide investigations shown so far, the perp arrested at show’s end appears to have been cleared when another suspect was identified as the murderer, an unfortunate result that seems to be about par for the criminal justice course (0.2% false positive rate). That’s unfortunate (especially for the poor bastard who spent two years in the can for not being the guy that killed his two roommates) but it’s hard to see how a system designed and operated by humans could be much more reliable. It doesn’t justify the crime lobbies’ call for an end to the show.

Ironically, despite these groups’ loathing for the show, it’s one of the few shows that actually shows some sympathy to the perps and their families, even though a truly innocent victim is rare enough the detectives often express surprise when this turns out to be the case. The detectives frequently comment to the effect that the perp’s life is as lost, as doomed, as their victims’ are: the most frequent outcome of a murder one conviction is life in prison. Yet the human concern for both victims’ and perps’ families comes through again and again.

Acting and Production

There’s no “acting” in terms of Film Actors Guild members or formalized thespian conduct, although one gets the sense that the homicide bullpen in the show is a slightly desaturated version of the real thing. The sort of black humor and blunt judgment that real detectives apply somewhat callously when among their kin has no place here, so what you get is a real but constrained version of the homicide investigator.

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Graphic pictures of dead bodies are rare in the show; crime scene images are usually fuzzed out. This shot is from season one.

In other words, you will see — very authentic — displays of sympathy for the victims, and even, sometimes, for the usually youthful, impulsive perpetrators, whose lives are almost as forfeit as the people they kill: a “good” outcome is a dozen or more years in prison on a manslaughter conviction. You won’t see anyone express the opinion that the victim had it coming, even in cases where the victim clearly engaged in behavior that was instrumental in his or her own death. “We’re the murder police, not the drug police,” is a mantra these cops often use to put witnesses, themselves often from a marginal underworld demimonde, at ease.

You will see lots of… to be brutally frank… worthless 16-, and 20-, and 25-year-olds, with dead eyes and devoid of human empathy, sharks’ souls in boy-men’s bodies. What you won’t see is the cops being brutally frank about them, as they are among their own kind.

Not every case is neatly closed in the 44 minutes of show that are available (most shows double up, cutting back and forth between two investigations in two different cities, so one crime often gets 22 minutes or less). Despite the title of the show, they sometimes show the high points of a case that takes weeks or months to solve. And some cases never close, and end with a plaintive request for information.

Never mind the gun, a real homicide investigator better be handy with a phone (and phone records) and a computer

Never mind the gun, a real homicide investigator had better be handy with a phone (and phone records) and a computer. And be a good interviewer, able to elicit what he needs from people who often have something to hide.

After you’ve watched a number of them, you learn to recognize the cadences, to predict what the narrator will say next and his exact timing and tone (“…a man lies in the road…” (three beats) “…dead”), and to make informed speculation about which phone calls were actually shot in real time and which ones are reenacted (a technique the producers admit using).

All the crimes are alike, in that The First 48 crews only embed with major metropolitan departments (rural and suburban murders are often very interesting, but they’re just too rare; one nearby New Hampshire town had its first-in-recorded history a couple of years ago). And all the crimes are different, in that different individual lives have been ended. Some of the criminals are cold-blooded and calculating, but more are impulsive and foolhardy.

Accuracy and Weapons

The show has been criticized, as we’ve said, by criminal lobbies, but it’s hard to get worked up about that. Most non-criminals welcome that as a feature, not a bug.

Unlike scripted-show “cops,” these cops do their work without gunplay. We’re always a little surprised when one draws his or her firearm during a warrant service (many of the criminals are picked up by well-armed and -organized fugitive task forces, and it’s rare for one to resist, when the cops come to the building where he is). Even chases are rare, about as rare as the case where the perp’s lawyer brings him right into the building.

We hope he's just checking to see if the batteries in his EOTEch are still good. Otherwise, something's missing.

We hope he’s just checking to see if the batteries in his EOTEch are still good. Otherwise, something’s missing. (This is a typical, pre-apprehension, fugitive task force prepares for the pickup scene).

The guns of the criminals are interesting, and it might be interesting to do a statistical breakdown on them. They are most often service-caliber handguns, often a mid-priced Glock, Ruger or Taurus and sometimes a cheap Hi-Point or Jennings, etc. It’s never been something on the curio or relic list, in the hundred-plus shows we’ve watched. Occasionally a long gun is used: an AK is the most common long gun, followed by AR, followed by shotgun.

Why so many cops? Overwhelming force often persuades an armed and dangerous criminal to give up without gunplay. Real detectives try not to charge in alone, unlike their detective-show peers.

Why so many cops? Overwhelming force often persuades an armed and dangerous criminal to give up without gunplay. Real detectives try not to charge in alone, unlike their detective-show peers.

True to the crime stats, most of the murders are gun murders, although a significant minority involve an edged weapon or tool, or a blunt instrument. We have not watched all 316 plus episodes and the 538 or so homicide investigations that they represent, yet, but have yet to see a case in which they bothered to trace the gun, or where the source of the perp’s gun mattered. In a good nine out of ten cases, the perp was a prohibited person from prior criminal activity (and in a good zero point nine of the remaining one of ten, he would have been a prohibited person due to drug use). They did, however, use toolmark ballistics in occasional cases.

The bottom line

The First 48 is a rare, if depressing, look at what murder really is in America in the 21st Century: a phenomenon of underclass impulsivity, narcissism, and greed. It shows its impact on real people and shows the frontline combatants against it, as real people. Just as the criminals are not Hollywood criminal mastermind characters, the detectives are not Hollywood detectives: bundle-of-neuroses, physically beautiful actors faking being cops. They’re real people doing real cop work, over the years in Detroit and Miami and Tulsa and New Orleans:.

This is the show to watch if you want to see the real coal face of crimefighting in America. You are, however, cautioned to control any desire or tendency to binge watch this one. It can’t be good for your soul to expose yourself to too many of those dead-eyed criminals, and we wonder sometimes how the cops hold it all together.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD (a DVD was made with 7 investigations from the first two seasons. It is the only DVD available):

http://www.amazon.com/First-48-Investigatn-Dion-Graham/dp/B000IB0DDU/

Amazon does have some episodes for streaming, but at $2 a pop in the USA:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+first+48

(But wait, see below).

  • The First 48 Home Page at A&E

http://www.aetv.com/shows/the-first-48/

United States cable-TV viewers can watch episodes here for free. Of course, we couldn’t get it to work (we’ve been watching back numbers on A&E).

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0423652/

  • IMFDB page (n/a):
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (No Score):

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the-first-48

  • Wikipedia  page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_First_48

  • History vs. Hollywood Page. (n/a).

Notes

none

33 thoughts on “Saturday Matinee 2016 17: The First 48 (Reality Series, 2004-present)

  1. staghounds

    I’m adding two words and stealing your description-

    “A phenomenon of underclass boredom, pointlessness, impulsivity, narcissism, and greed” describes almost every murder and violent crime I’ve ever seen in 20+ years of it.

  2. Greg

    That show is a an eye opener and can be depressing at times. Finally quit watching. Interesting how most of the murders profiled involve blacks, people who know it other, gangs, etc, but some I saw that were random and completely senseless, especially those committed against tourists and visitors to a city, were particularly sad. It sure left me with a new respect for homicide cops, a few of who look like someone’s grandmother.

  3. Tom Stone

    I ran across quite a few of those dead eyed criminals over the years I lived and managed property in East Oakland.
    As to the senselesness of most murders, yup.
    My good friend Jim Ormond was murdered by a career criminal who had only been out of San Quentin a matter of days, he was caught quickly.
    The take? $250.
    Of the other killings I was close to when they happened ( within 75 meters, heard the shots and in one case saw the perp standing over the victim) only one made any sense at all, a battle over drug turf.
    One was over change from a bag of potato chips.
    Life in the big city.
    I think I’ll take a walk down to the river and drop a line in, trout season opened yesterday!

  4. looserounds.com

    In my experience, of you want to see those same dead eyed shit birds outside a career in law enforcement, a few years work at the local city pawn shop will expose you to the same people getting investigated or locked up.

    Around here at least. every murder leads back to 3 causes. A woman. booze and drugs. and usually the first two go back to drugs when dug a little deeper into

  5. Kirk

    This is why the current administration’s mania to “mainstream” inner-city people and culture to outlying suburbs and heretofore peaceful communities ain’t gonna end well. As more people get exposed to the day-to-day pathologies of the people being forced on them, the empathy and sympathy for their plights are going to evaporate. Followed shortly after by the people demonstrating those pathologies having Really Bad Things ™ happen to them, absent the benefit of the courts. It may be lynch mobs, it may be casual murders in their beds, but whatever happens, this vast project to clean out the reservoirs of urban dysfunction and move them into communities where they aren’t going to be the majority isn’t going to end well. Ferguson only happened because of concentration; disperse the various criminal elements widely enough, and they’re going to motivate a bunch of people who previously couldn’t care less. There’s gonna be more racism, more hate, and a lot more killing coming down the pike. I suspect that in about seventy years, or so, there are going to be these breathless exposes talking about how all these “hidden racist killings” took place in the aftermath of this effort, and how it was all a right-wing conspiracy. What it is going to be, however, is the natural outgrowth of these leftist “community activists” and their labors. Expect a couple of decades worth of social disruption, because the average person ain’t gonna put up with the sort of Section 8 bullshit once the government forces it on their community. So long as “white flight” was possible, so was a relatively peaceful state. Intermingle the social underclasses in neighborhoods where whitey fled, and make it clear they can’t be left behind? Yeah…

    Gonna get ugly, and get ugly fast. You think we’ve got race problems now? Just wait until you see what happens when the urban cancer centers are forcibly spread out. You’d almost think it was a plot to eliminate black America, and then blame the result of the whole mess on a “right wing conspiracy”.

    1. redc1c4

      i live in an upscale part of Lost Angels, #Failifornia, and in the 13 years we’ve been living our house, the crime rate has risen right along with the percentage of hip-hop/thug life/Dindu Nuffins living here…

      add in the protected species of “homeless” (should be mental patients & bums) and we’re already well on the way to fulfilling your vision.

      except, of course, for the fact that most of my neighbors are leftard fools who voted for Obola twice, and now lean towards Bernie, judging by the bumper stickers, but who will cheerfully vote for Shrillery in November.

      we’re just leading the way to your glorious future.

      1. redc1c4

        PS: it should go without saying that the vast majority of my neighbors are anti-gun, to the point of “no one should own one” and government confiscation, and more then a few get unhinged when someone mentions shooting sports or self-defense. when Resident Evil mentions that she likes to shoot, they get the vapors.

        when things come unglued, they’re going under without a chance of survival.

        1. Kirk

          You’re mistaken in what you think is going to happen. Just like the most dangerous man in the room to frighten is the inveterate craven coward, who will likely kill you without provocation just for scaring him, the people you’re talking about are going to be the leading edge of the pogroms, when they come. They’re going to flip their attitudes on a dime–And, when it’s all over, they’ll seek to blame someone else, like people resembling you and I. It’ll be a lot like the French, after WWII–Everyone will have been members of the “secret Resistance”, and decry the “collaborators”. Meanwhile, the reality will have been that these shitheels were the ones with the ropes and torches. Want to know how your neighbors will react? Look at how many Frenchmen collaborated and assisted the Nazi project to exterminate the Jews. Then, look at the ones who actually did something to help the Jews, count them, and the understanding of how post-WWII France has turned into what it has, as far as anti-Semitism goes. The North African and Arab immigrants aren’t solely to blame, and the French Jews are fools for ever having trusted the French in the first damn place. I mean, the handwriting has been on the wall at least as far back as Dreyfus, has it not?

          I’ve watched these people for most of my life. Let them get a hint of reality, and the ensuing over-reaction is going to blow your mind. Generations ago, these same assholes were the ones on the leading edge of the lynch mobs, killing young black men for daring to “look at the white wimmens”. That’s how this shit works; the blacks of America are fools for taking these assholes at their words, and trusting them.

          Black America is pretty much fucked, at this point, to tell the truth. I would estimate that between Margaret Sanger’s little project, and the flood of black-hating Hispanics we’re letting in, they’re going to be lucky to be more than about 5-7.5% of the population by the end of the century. And, they’re going to be “oppressed” like they’ve never imagined, with Hispanic gang-bangers hunting them for sport, in “transitional” communities. White America is going to be on the sidelines for most of the worst of it, and probably oblivious to what’s going on in those “transitional” communities, just like they are right now in a lot of California.

          Truth be told, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this whole racial mixing plan that the geniuses at HUD came up with doesn’t have a Sanger-esque motivation behind it: Get the blacks out where they’re isolated and alone, easy targets when the criminal elements among them piss off the new neighbors. They certainly aren’t interested in helping blacks, or helping the forces of racial amity. I think they’re trying to build permanent clients, as the policy will likely become for them to go after the people who were living quite peacefully in those communities, as the misconduct of the black criminal class works its magic. Permanent employment for the victim advocates, you see…

          I’m thinking Shakespeare had it wrong–His line “First, let’s kill the lawyers…” should have been “First, let’s kill all the social justice warriors…”. Because these damn fools are stoking the fires that are going to result in a paroxysm of violence and race hate that you can’t even begin to imagine. I’m thinking the KKK is likely to get a third chance at the bat, and that the reason for it is going to be rooted in this bullshit they’re trying to pull.

          And, I’m sitting here, watching it get started, and wishing they could all get it in the nape of the neck. Fucking assholes, the lot of them, from the BLM crowd to the KKK–They all deserve each other, and the jackasses at HUD. The rest of us, including most of the minorities I served alongside in the Army? We don’t deserve any of this BS, or need it.

          1. John M.

            Racial mixing benefits the Progressive Elite because it atomizes people, forcing dependence on the state. Social capital like family and community cohesion are anathema to the Progressive Elite because they reduce dependence on the state.

            It’d all be going according to plan if there were a plan other than “find order, replace it with chaos, repeat.”

            -John M.

        2. BAP45

          Move inland. Looots of shooting enthusiasts across the county line. Good friends with the owner of the only 1000 yard range for some miles. Honestly kind of bummed he made it public.

      2. Hognose Post author

        I liked California a lot better as a trendsetter when the trends it was setting were hot rods and candy apple red paint.

        1. Kirk

          You and me both. You look at California now, and it is… Hard to believe they once had it as good as they did.

          Someone is going to do a history of it all, one day, and the problem they’re going to have doing it is trying to come up with a coherent narrative describing all the interlocking stupidity that went into the crash and burn. To a degree, I think the fault is that California is too damn big, and too damn different. You could make three states from that place, and have ground left over. All the interlocking special interests have basically rendered the place ungovernable.

          1. BAP45

            It really is a shame. Most of the state is really normal. But we have the LA and SF areas that drag the rest of the state down with it.

        2. archy

          ***I liked California a lot better as a trendsetter when the trends it was setting were hot rods and candy apple red paint.***

          Throw in surfing and bikini surfgurls, and I concur.

      3. morokko

        If Bernie S. is really a communist as Your media claim him to be, his election and subsequent rise of Peoples Republic of Amerikka could do wonders to public safety. Liberal application of riot baton in everyday interactions between police and citizens, interrogating with the help of cold water and car batteries, and nice mix of reeducation quarries and old fashioned public hanging could really work some magic. Say what you will, but ordinary criminals were not the terror of common people, when comrade Josif Vissarionovich was in charge. And press did not complain either. Crime rates would actually fall, not only due to antisocial element being summarily executed, but also because there would be nothing to steal from citizenry anymore.

        1. Raoul Duke

          Totalitarian criminals hate competition from the street-level ones.

  6. Steve from Downtown Canada

    I’ve watched the show so long I’ve seen cops come into their homicide units, leave, come back and retire. Det. Dwayne Thompson in Dallas is God when he gets ornery.

  7. Keith

    Grew up with parents who were both local LEO’s so seen it all before. Glad this shows real cops doing real police work.

  8. Brad

    I presume the clearance rate on The First 48 is 100%, otherwise it would be pretty frustrating to watch. Apparently the recent Chicago murder clearance rate is 26%.

    1. Hognose Post author

      It’s high, but not 100%. Without doing the math I’d guess that about 90% are closed with all suspects in custody, a few more have multiple perps with not all in the jug, a few have the doer known but out of reach (in Mexico / Africa / Dead).

      You can always get the current clearance rate in Chi-town from http://heyjackass.com/

  9. BAP45

    That comment on not binge watching is really true. Me and my wife went a little nuts on it for a year or two and now we just can’t. Great show though. Just moderation for sure.

  10. SemperFido

    Had some business to take care of inside a condo community recently. Everyone inside the gated community was Hispanic. While I was sitting in my car waiting for the security guy I had to talk to I watched kids playing in the streets, neighbors talking to each other. The place was clean, quiet, safe and respectful. Shockingly different from other such pre-fab neighborhoods I have been in where it was all black or even a mix of black and white trash. No garbage strewn around, no over loud music. It reminded me of how neighborhoods had been back in the 50’s and 60’s.
    Made me sad for what this country used to be, and hopeful for what it might become.

  11. Raoul Duke

    This show is the 100%, real-deal, no-bullshit way things actually work.

    I’ve not investigated a homicide, but I’ve assisted investigators that do that. It’s slow, tedious, sometimes maddening work to find, arrest, and convict murderers.

    One thing the show can’t portray, for legal reasons, is the fact that a lot of “unsolved” murders have a suspect or suspects that the investigators know in their hearts, are guilty, but they just can’t put enough evidence together to make a case.

    Oh, and the level of gallows humor and cynicism is seriously toned down in the show. Most average people would be shocked and maybe a bit offended at the things cops can find funny on The Job.

    1. archy

      ***This show is the 100%, real-deal, no-bullshit way things actually work.***

      I know and have worked with [1998-2001] several of the homicide unit Investigators from one top-20 pismire urban area frequently covered on First 48 and can tell you that you are right on the money. Other than noting how much of their time is frequently spent in court and on depositions/discovery, which in our case was lots of, other places may vary.

  12. Docduracoat

    I am always amazed when I watch this show that no one ever hires a lawyer.
    As a law abiding citizen, with nothing to hide, I would still want a lawyer with me when I talk to the police about a murder.
    There is no upside to talking to the police without a lawyer present.
    No one can afford to pay for a few hours of his time to have a lawyer in the interview room?

    1. Hognose Post author

      Some of these guys clearly think they’re going to outsmart the cops. And one of the cops’ most effective techniques is to say, “This is your one chance to tell your story.” Everybody wants to tell his story!

      I have a friend who gave up an investigator job because of the emotional toll it took on him to pretend to sympathize with “pervos and hardened prestoopniks” to elicit their confessions. Another buddy does a very similar thing with something approaching glee, perhaps because he has no actual sympathy for them whatsoever; he doesn’t even recognize criminals as fellow human beings.

      1. staghounds

        Also because even criminals know that the fifth amendment is for guilty people. There’s no act more likely to focus suspicion on the speaker than saying “I want a lawyer”.

        1. Hognose Post author

          If you are in The Room already, and they’re axing for Your Side of The Story™, you may rest assured that suspicion is focused enough for government work.

          There have been a few interesting cases where they changed suspects as evidence produced or invalidated alibis, etc. And one where they ultimately determined who the shooter was, found the guy, and let him go as he was defending himself from an armed robbery. They could have probably bagged him on a gun charge, but didn’t.

          He did not do himself any favors by not staying on the scene, perhaps, but I had a strong impression what he did was go lawyer up.

    2. bloke_from_ohio

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5GKP_fcpPw

      Tom Segura does a standup routine riffing on that exact observation. In his bit, Tom relates that of all the folks that cops rolled up, only one kept his mouth shut and asked to talk to his lawyer. The comic joked that when the perpetrator asked for council, the cops threw a fit outside the interview room. He posited that the episode then promptly ended and the after show text scroll mentioned “dindu nuffin was acquitted and released, and the murder remains unsolved.”

      Tom also poked fun at the really silly things that got the perpetrators to confess. At one point in the bit, a fictional perpetrator was described as giving himself up when confronted with the fact the cops know he was wearing a blue shirt at the time of the crime and nothing else.

      While the comic was being facetious, it points to an interesting area of human psychology. I have very limited exposure to the psychology of interrogation, but what I have seen is fascinating.

  13. staghounds

    And of course not many people you see on The First 48 have $2500 just laying around.

  14. Daniel

    I won’t watch that show again after the debacle with the Columbia, Mo SWAT raid conducted for the cameras…. It was ‘drug’ raid and not for a violent crime. Classic Keystone Cops style, they break in and shoot two dogs in front of the wife and 7 year old son under the guise of seeking large amounts of MJ for distribution. They find a pipe, and the guy is released with a $300 fine….The tip was bogus from an ‘informant’….

    Here’s the video from the police cameras : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51nzcBuwjfI

    Article on the events: https://reason.com/archives/2010/05/11/a-drug-raid-goes-viral

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