TV criminals don't have a chance against today's armchair profilers

TV criminals don't have a chance against today's armchair profilers
Ted Danson and Marg Helgenberger in "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." (Sonja Flemming / CBS)

The significant drop in violent crime in the U.S. over the past few decades has everyone jockeying for credit.

Law enforcement cites tougher policing methods. Politicians point to their legislative prowess. Drug law changes, an aging population, longer prison sentences, and even the declining use of lead paint have also taken victory laps.


But there's one factor that's been overlooked — TV. More specifically crime shows such as "CSI," "Law & Order," "Criminal Minds," any of those true-crime shows on Investigation Discovery as well as the Republican and Democratic national conventions. OK, maybe not the last two.

Current-day crime shows are scaring criminals straight while drenching viewers with invaluable insights on how to avoid victimhood.

Until the mid-'90s, TV misdeeds were mostly bloodless and mundane. There were few if any serial killers, no child rapists and certainly no organ harvesters reaping revenge on Mommy and Daddy.

Motives were obvious, and the malefactors were never really evil. They were just short-sighted, desperate and greedy.

Once upon a time, spouses quaintly poisoned each other for big life-insurance payouts. Businessmen hired mafia types to liquidate their partners — for big life-insurance payouts. Professor Jones pushed Professor Collins over a cliff when proof of a plagiarized dissertation on ancient Carthaginian sandal repair came to light.

Male lawbreakers of TV past wore their misdeeds like a gaudy "Frankie Says Relax" T-shirt. They answered to "boss" or "Mr. Big" as they practiced putting in their lavish offices, surrounded by their unshaven goon squads. Female baddies were pouty, bored and wealthy seductresses who wouldn't hurt a fly, unless of course they were married to one.

By contrast, today's shows would give Nuremberg jurors nightmares.

Sanitized TV crime of days past reared its head mostly in seedy strip clubs, clammy dockyards or abandoned buildings. Today, TV's murderous Sword of Damocles hangs in what were once safe small-screen places: a child's warm cozy bed, a compassionate doctor's exam room, a wedding chapel.

Take "Criminal Minds'" Willie Kestler, who believes he's being pursued by the disembodied souls of eight prostitutes murdered by serial nutjob Russell Smith. These disembodied streetwalker souls jump from person to person, so Kestler's killing of random innocents is never really finished. Smith's preferred method of prostitute extermination was an ice pick to the back of the neck, by the way.

Then there's the episode about the father who uses his son to lure women into their home to cut out their hearts for display. Can you imagine Columbo breaking bread with those two before carting them off to the slammer?

Wrongdoers, you know you can't get away with anything today. There's DNA sampling and insanely precise CSI techniques. And who needs notoriously inaccurate witness testimony when smartphones are recording 24/7?

But, dear criminals, do you know what your biggest obstacle is? Us viewers.

We're all profilers now. We know all your tricks. We got the message loud and clear, TV producers. We're scared straight too.

So here's a modern-day primer for those who are still living in their "Hart to Hart" world:


Home: Don't just lock doors — barricade and trip-alarm them. Offer all visitors water or food to collect DNA samples. ID required for all entrants. No exceptions.

Out with friends in public: Stay in groups at night in the city. Don't walk but run and shout insane things in dead tongues to ward off potential attackers.

Out alone in public: Don't talk to strangers. "Stranger" has now been redefined as anyone who isn't you.

At the office: Killers gotta eat, so they probably have jobs. Therefore, co-workers are always highly suspect. Should anyone walk into your office and close the door behind him or her, immediately call 911 and menacingly brandish a selfie stick.

Dating: Once all the background checks are complete and you've searched all relevant databases including Interpol and CODIS for any hits, it's time for that all-important first date. Exchanging birth certificates can be a fun first-date activity. And remember, "'no' means no." As in: "May I see your Social Security Card and/or passport?" "No." Uh-oh. Your date's on the lam; better go Dutch.

It's only gonna get worse for criminals. The true-crime shows won't stop, and more are on the way. These shows run 24/7 on Netflix, Hulu and cable. We watch them on our phones, tablets and desktops. When there's no Wi-Fi and the Internet is down, we replay them in our psyches.

The American viewing public is now a veritable army of anti-crime crusaders. So bring it on, crooks.