Suzanne Tobias

'Cops': Crime, punishment, right to remain silent

Apparently, I have the right to remain silent. Anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law. I also have the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and if I cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for me.

Hannah, my 11-year-old, greeted me one recent morning by reciting these rights. Bleary-eyed and coffee-less, I had planned to remain silent for several more minutes, rights or no rights.

Instead, I was forced to stop, and squint, and mutter the mantra of tired parents everywhere:

"Ummm... Huh?"

"That's what they say when they handcuff somebody and take them to jail," Hannah explained. "I'm practicing."

Of course.

"Do you understand each of these rights as I've explained them to you?" she continued.

"Yeah. I guess."

"Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?"

"Ummm ... Huh?"

My daughter's new favorite television show is "Cops," so we've been watching it together recently.

I'm not sure how Hannah first discovered the program or why it appealed to her. But I know that, given the choice between "Cops" and another episode of Drake and Josh or Zack and Cody, I say bring on the real bad boys.

Perhaps the show isn't appropriate for impressionable tweens and their 9-year-old brothers. It features bleeped-out cuss words, bags of drugs, rough-ups, shakedowns and all manner of shameful behavior.

But I've discovered that, viewed in the right context, as a family, "Cops" can spur some fascinating conversations about good and evil, guilt and innocence, and the mechanics of spike strips.

Hannah, whose sense of justice outweighs all else, loves to see bad guys get it. No matter how I explain "innocent until proven guilty," the principle is lost on her. Take those perps to jail, and fast. Add a K-9 unit dog to the mix, and we're talking Emmy.

Jack, meanwhile, focuses on subtleties: Who's lying? Who's telling the truth? Why did that guy run? Can you really get pulled over for a busted tail light?

Last night we watched an officer arrest a drunk man who had thrown furniture around his mother's house. In another segment, officers found drugs and weapons in a stolen truck. In another, a hit-and-run suspect was captured, cuffed and taken away.

Tucking the kids into bed, I asked what they liked about the show. Was I a bad mom for allowing this peek at criminals and their scofflaw lifestyle?

"Everybody should watch it," Hannah answered. "Then they wouldn't do stupid stuff and go to prison."

So simple. Too simple. But I left it at that, and kissed her good night, and exercised my right to remain silent.