The Academy Award-winning mystery film In the Heat of the Night
(1967) and its equally popular sequels (1970, 1971) star movie legend Sidney Poitier in the iconic role of Detective (then Captain) Virgil Tibbs.
The series "Hill Street Blues" (1981-1987) launched the careers of several Black actors including Michael Warren as Officer Bobby Hill and Taurean Blacque as Detective Neal Washington.
Often credited as the first “buddy cop” movie, 48 Hrs.
(1982) and the 1990 sequel starred Eddie Murphy, making his film debut as former police Officer Reggie Hammond.
Murphy next beat out several top actors for the role of police Officer Axel Foley in the box office hit trilogy Beverly Hills Cop
(1984, 1987, 1994)
Philip Michael Thomas & Olivia Brown played detectives Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs and Trudy Joplin in the long-running series Miami Vice
Gregory Hines starred in action/comedy Running Scared
(1986) as Detective Ray Hughes alongside comedian Billy Crystal, who plays his partner Detective Danny Costanzo.
Representing for the ladies, Holly Robinson Peete was one of the first Black female cops to be featured on television in her role as Sergeant Judith Judy Hoffs on 21 Jump Street
Film veteran Danny Glover held it down for the LAPD as homicide Detective Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon quadrilogy (1987, 1989, 1992, 1998.) Chris Rock stars as Det. Lee Butters in the fourth installment.
A spinoff off of the box office smash In the "Heat of the Night", the similarly titled television series (1988-1995) featured Howard Rollins in the reprisal role of Captain Tibbs. Geoffrey Thorne played Sergeant Wilson Sweet.
Reginald Vel Johnson is best known for his patriarchal role on "Family Matters" (1989-1998) as Officer Carl Winslow, eventually promoted to Captain by the series’ end.
Reginald VelJohnson also portrayed LAPD Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard
(1988) and sequel Die Hard 2 (1990.)
Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker played the role of Sergeant Dennis Curren in the police action comedy Downtown (1990.) Sgt. Al Powell in Die Hard
(1988) and sequel Die Hard 2 (1990.)
The 1992 crime thriller Deep Cover (1992) stars Laurence Fisburne as a no-nonsense Cincinnati police Officer Russell Stevens who goes undercover on a major sting operation in LA.
Fishburne also stars in the suspense film Just Cause (1995) as Chief Detective Tanny Brown.
Morgan Freeman portrayed the role of seasoned police homicide Detective William Somerset in the horror thriller film Seven (1995.)
In Bad Boys
(1995) and its sequel (2003) Will Smith and Martin Lawrence set the perfect cop bromance as Mike Lawry and Marcus Burnett, partners and narcotic detectives in the Miami-Dade police department.
A bevy of Black actors and actresses, including Anthony Anderson, Ice-T, and Sharon Epatha Merkerson, have graced our screens thanks to the many Law and Order
(1996), Damon Wayans plays Jack Carter, an undercover cop who survives an accidental gunshot to the head by his best friend Archie Moses, played by Adam Sandler.
His brother Keenen Ivory Wayans portrayed tough LAPD cop Jim Campbell, who has little patience for his new partner Jack Cole, played by Steven Seagal in The Glimmerman
Funnyman Chris Tucker had audiences rolling as loud mouth Detective James Carter in the Rush Hour
(1998, 2001, 2007) trilogy.
Denzel Washington won his first Oscar for his knock-out role as crooked, yet highly decorated LAPD narcotic detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day
Laurence Fishburne plays the calm and collected Dr. Raymond “Ray” Langston on the crtically-acclaimed CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Eddie Murphy plays Trey Sellars, a police officer starring in a reality cop television show, in the comedy film Showtime
Favorite to fans and critics alike, The Wire
(2002-2008), was another crime series that featured multiple authoritative roles for Black actors and actresses, like Sonja Sohn as Det. Kima Greggs.
Martin Lawrence returned to the uniform in the action comedy National Security
(2003) where he plays Earl Montgomery, a man who gets over his prejudices to earn a spot on the LAPD force.
Cheadle also plays Detective “Tango” Butler, an undercover cop on the drug beat, in the star-studded Brooklyn’s Finest (2009.)
The fresh-faced Corey Reynolds stars as Detective Sergeant David Gabriel of the LAPD in the hit series The Closer (2005-present.) Actor Robert Gossett plays Commander Russell Taylor.
In the 2006 remake of Miami Vice, singer-comedian-dramatic actor Jamie Foxx revives the role of Detective Tubbs from the original television series.
Morehouse alum Erik King, whose actual father was a police officer, played Sergeant James Doakes in Dexter (2006-present.) King also starred in NYPD Blue (1993-2005.)
Triple threat actress Tracie Thoms starred in the police drama series Cold Case (2008-2011) playing the role of Detective Kat Miller.
The talented Regina King plays the smart, yet tough Detective Lydia Adams in the young cop drama series Southland (2009-present.)
Michelle Hurd lays down the law in A&E’s The Glades (2010-present) as Colleen Manus, the brilliant and tough regional director of Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Fresh from a Golden Globe win for his portrayal of Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, Idris Elba knows how to deliver a tortured soul in the UK series Luther (2010-present.)
Comedian Tracy Morgan portrayed NYPD cop Paul Hodge in the 2010 comedy Cop Out.
In the short-lived series Chicago Code (2011,) the wonderful Jennifer Beals plays the role of Teresa Colvin, Chicago’s first female police superintendent.
No stranger to playing authority figures, Steve Harris currently portrays Detective Isaiah “Bird” Freeman in the new series Awake (2012.)