Homicide: Life on the Street

Season 4 Episode 18

Scene of the Crime

Aired Friday 10:00 PM Apr 12, 1996 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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out of 10
26 votes
  • Toguh questions are asked but never answered

    Technically speaking, according to the show and the board this episode was the next to last episode in the fourth season. However, given the events in episode 420 (which we will explore in time) it is very difficult to believe that Lewis would be on the job. Problems with numbers aside ‘Scene of the Crime’ is one of the most troubling episodes the series would do dealing with two controversial questions—are the police really effective when it comes to dealing with drugs, and can the black community trust the police?

    Question one comes into play when Lewis and Kellerman investigate the murder of a drug-dealer in Highland Terrace—and run into a wall of hostility, part of which comes from the residents but also comes from a group of Muslims who we see have managed to maintain peace and order where the cops have not.

    There has been a great deal of hostility towards the Black Muslims in the past few years and they are very hostile towards the police--- specifically Kellerman, who is the wrong race. (The Muslims would prove fascinating for Fontana, a year later he would explore their religion still further in the HBO drama Oz) But it is very clear that they have been doing good work (even if, as Giardello suggests, the violence and drugs are only being moved a few blocks away) and Lewis, in particular, seems somewhat impressed by what they have managed to accomplish where normal policing has failed. This brings up--- for the first time between Mike and Meldrick—the issue of race. It is clear that the case gets under each other’s skin. However, in the end, asked to choose black or blue, Lewis chooses the latter. When the murderer gets away because of the Muslims intervention, he is enraged and upset.

    The second question deals with an even more troubling problem. Officer Stu Gharty is dispatched to a shooting in a housing project a couple of blocks away. When he arrives however, he hears the shots being fired and goes back into his squad car. Some time later Munch and Russert arrive and learn from Gharty that two drug dealers ran into the basement and killed the other. Munch has no problem writing this up as a double murder. Russert, however, presses forward and learns that the mothers of the victims called the cops when they heard the shooting and it took half an hour for them to arrive. Things get even murkier when Russert presses Gharty and he refuses to state, one way or the other, whether he called for backup. Technically this is dereliction of duty but consider--- Gharty is over fifty and is armed with just his service piece. He could have easily been killed or opened up a can of worms if he ended up killing one of the shooters.

    Reluctantly Russert brings the case before a board of inquiry. Gharty is eventually cleared of all responsibility. However, he is unsettled enough that he admits to Russert that he was too scared to go into the firefight. Peter Gerety gives a superb performance showing both the good and bad about this troubled cop. As it turns out Gharty’s work in the Baltimore PD has just begun, though we won’t learn this until the end of the next season.

    There are no easy answers for any of the questions raised in this episode. Yes, the Muslims are wrong to manipulate race for political advantage but is it far removed from the political manipulations that the brass use to get them out of the Terrace? Yes, technically Gharty should have gone in to the project, but should we really expect a fiftyish cop go into a building where two young heavily armed teenagers are shooting up the place? Police are public servants but they’re not superheroes.

    In addition to all this excellence, we also finally see the real differences between Giardello and Russert’s leadership. Russert, even though she is reluctant to do so, goes after a fellow police officer rather than support him. Gee, on the other hand, fully stands behind his detectives, supporting Russert’s decision to move forward. He also does one of his most masterful manipulations of the bosses. After Barnfather tells Gee to stop the investigation of the murder in Highland Terrace, Gee agrees—and promptly leaks this to the press the minute the Colonel’s out of his office. The next day, Barnfather puts them back on the case.

    Even the lighter moments in this episode have a ring of pain behind them. Munch yearns for the return of Bolander, who he has not heard from even though he has called twenty-six times without getting a response. He finally thinks Stan is going to show up at the Waterfront--- only to be let down when Bolander not only cancels, but does so without even talking to Munch. Poor John. As it turns out, his partnership problems are only going to get worse.

    Essentially though, ‘Scene of the Crime’ is a very serious episode. Like many episodes, the issues are not black and white but rather gray--- and this time the gray involves the police. As Russert puts it, “if the people don’t trust the police and we don’t trust each other, who can we trust?” This question has come up before on Homicide and will come up again but there’s still no easy answer.”
    My score: 9.5