Inspired by some of the comments on How to safely capture someone when you have super-strength I am wondering how police departments would handle a super-hero entering the police academy and joining the police force.

Some questions that might come up:

  • Would they be able to use their super powers while acting as a police officer?
    • Is super-hearing or X-Ray vision an illegal search?
    • Is a lightning-bolt stun attack allowed?
  • Or would they be restricted to officially issued equipment like Tasers, handcuffs and guns?
  • Will prosecutors and juries treat them the same as other officers if they use lethal force in response to threats, or because the super-hero is invulnerable will they expect him to simply wade through the bullets without shooting back?
  • $\begingroup$ @user535733: Why do you say that? In this case, the super-hero has decided to work with the police as part of the team. He's not a lone wolf. $\endgroup$
    – Zan Lynx
    Jan 1, 2018 at 2:01
  • 20
    $\begingroup$ To be an effective police officer, you need to rigidly follow the chain of command. You do what you are assigned. You are NOT free to pursue whatever investigation you choose. Moving the ranks is hard. Methinks most super heroes have a personality that would prevent them from advancing past the rank of a patrol officer.Have you EVER seen even the slightest example of where a superhero, anywhere, anyhow, filled in a report? No mention of them ever filling in paper work. $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2018 at 2:50
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ I am surprised no answer has yet mentioned the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, which, by the time of Men At Arms was a late 20th century police force struggling with the diversity of non-human races eligible to enrol. Would fantastic creatures such as werewolves, vampires and trolls be relevant to your question? $\endgroup$
    – Qsigma
    Jan 1, 2018 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ You might want to look at the Phantom, and especially his relationship to the Jungle Patrol, for some inspiration. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 1, 2018 at 12:25
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Batman, being the World's Greatest Detective, most certainly keeps his own extensive records and expects all sidekicks to contribute to them. The Flash, as a forensics officer, fills in reports sometimes. Green Lanterns are part of a cosmic police force and are expected to fill in reports, and are expected to stay within their jurisdiction. Many superheroes (Captain America, Captain Atom, two Green Lanterns, War Machine) are military officers and have no problem doing what they are told... well... until they discover their superiors are evil masterminds or spies or something. $\endgroup$
    – Nacht
    Jan 1, 2018 at 23:46

7 Answers 7


Being a police officer is about a lot more than restraining offenders. Good police officers in modern times are taught negotiation, assertiveness, conflict resolution, and a strong understanding of the criminal code and investigative practice.

In Australia (and many other countries are similar) a police officer retiring without ever having drawn their weapon in the field is very likely. The reason why you hear about the cases where weapons are drawn and standoffs and hostages are involved is because they are out of the ordinary and sound exciting; the press get larger audiences reporting on such things and that means more advertising revenue, but I digress.

Of all the things mentioned above, good knowledge of the law and of investigation techniques are going to be paramount in this instance. This is because most of the laws that surround the use of force and the right to surveil a suspect are based on the premises of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. What that means is that while super hearing or X-Ray vision may be an inherent skill of the police officer, what is learned through the application of such skills may only be admissible under certain circumstances. Super hearing (for example) could be used in lieu of a phone tap, but ONLY if the appropriate warrants have already been issued.

Being able to stun suspects without a taser doesn't make your super hero exempt from the rules around appropriate use of force. It's not restricted equipment per se, but its use would be restricted according to the same rules as such equipment.

Law enforcement agencies of any kind would struggle integrating this kind of recruit because it would force them to look beyond their rules to the intent and then come up with all the 'special cases' that apply to a person with a broader range of skills. Ultimately what those special cases would look like would depend on court case decisions. The police are there to enforce the law as written; the courts are there to interpret the law and how it applies to the case as brought before it by the police.

That said, the existence of your super hero indicates that society knows of the existence of super powers and has already put rules in place to govern the appropriateness (or otherwise) of certain skills within society. The special cases as determined by the police for such an individual is likely to start out as a conservative version of those rules, whatever they are.

What I suspect would happen is that such a recruit would be put through the standard training and if he or she graduated that, they would then be assigned to training for groups like Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) that took care of tactical operations. The one thing that your recruit would NOT be considered for is detective work; his or her presence in a case would always raise the doubt that due process was followed because of the inherent skills that could be brought to bear without anyone else knowing.

I actually think it would be a good idea for someone with such powers to join an organised and disciplined police force rather than go vigilante like we see in the comics, but such a decision comes with the caveat that the police force knows what to do with such skills and can deploy them effectively and in a manner best suited to the skillset. When you get right down to it though, that's no different to any normal recruit that joins up insofar as they all have different strengths and weakness in how they would contribute to the mission of the police in general.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A good answer. While I gave it plus one, I disagree about the use of super-senses. Wire taps require warrants because they involve the interception of communications. X-ray vision & super-hearing bring anything within range bring criminal activities of any kind into the purview of a officer of the law. Frankly it may take court rulings & judgements to decide if limits should be placed police officers with super-senses. Normally it would be dereliction of duty for a police officer to ignore a criminal act or the evidence of crime. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jan 1, 2018 at 4:15
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @a4android; these are good points and largely in line with what I believe personally in this case. The trouble would come in defining the boundary between exigent circumstances arising from the use of skills not normally available to police, and deliberate surveillance. I suspect that the courts would determine intent to be the deciding factor, and that would be a legal minefield that may make super heroes ineligible for investigative and detective style work. As a beat cop though, he or she could be invaluable. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Jan 1, 2018 at 4:35
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @a4android The usual rules about "reasonable expectation of privacy" would likely apply. If the superhero uses super hearing to overhear a criminal talking about a crime a mile away, but still in public, that would likely be allowed. If the hero heard the criminal talking to their lawyer in the lawyer's office, that would not only not be something the hero could act on, it would likely even be considered privileged information. $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2018 at 9:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @TimB We are in agreement. The courts would need to decide. Super-sense may not be normally available to ordinary police, but if they are normally available to super-cops that could be quite different. laws are human institutions, they can and do change according to circumstances. It would be easy for a legislature to make police super-senses and their use completely legal & even change the Rules of Evidence to allow them in court. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jan 2, 2018 at 1:32
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ How would a conversation overheard with super-hearing be verified? At least a wire-tap can be recorded. $\endgroup$
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 2, 2018 at 5:11

Much of the answer will have to be handwaved since a lot of things will depend on which Police department the superhero is joining, and in what capacity.

A British Superhero joining the Metropolitan police will be operating under different rules, laws and customs than an American Superhero joining the NYPD. In fact, there may be significant differences between a NYPD cadet, a New York State Trooper, a cadet joining a small town department in upstate New York, etc. And in the US this does not even cover things like the FBI, US Marshals office or quasi law enforcement agencies like the US Secret Service (part of the US Treasury department).

We also need to know if the candidate is being recruited as an ordinary officer, or because of his special powers is he being recruited for a special capacity (perhaps the tactical squad if using conventional superpowers like breaching walls with his bare hands), or is the superhero being recruited as a detective due to extreme mental powers, or maybe forensics because they can use x-ray vision or other super senses to examine a crime scene.

I expect the Police chief and commissioner (or equivalent ranks in other nations) will have some special duties in mind which both exploit the special powers of the superhero but also fall inside the various legal restraints the police operate under in the jurisdiction in question.

So as part of your world building, you will need to carefully consider which department or force the superhero is joining, what laws and regulations they operate under and how their special powers will be of interest to the force.

  • $\begingroup$ Ever wonder why Superman never went beyond the boundaries of the small town he was a reporter in? $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2018 at 2:52
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Wasn't Superman in Metropolis? Which is....like....a metropolis? He didn't report (as an adult) or crime-fight (very much) in Smallville. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 1, 2018 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ @ kingledion Metropolis was some unknown, undefined city of indeterminate size. Given how busy he was, it was also a crime-infused violet and extremely unsafe place to live. It obviously had an inefficient, haphazardly-organized police and security force. Seems Superman had his work cut out for him exclusively in this city. But as to how large it was - as a non-descript city, it certainly did not appear to have any worldly presence. $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2018 at 14:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Metropolis is "one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, having a population of 11 million citizens" (Action Comics Weekly vol. 1 #601). Also, It's modeled after Toronto and influenced by NYC $\endgroup$
    – user41674
    Jan 1, 2018 at 18:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme: Just to be clear, the word "metropolis" predates comics; derived from Late Latin, it's been used in English since at least the 14th century. It means "A major city, especially the chief city of a country or region". When the comics writers named Superman's city Metropolis, the obvious intent was to indicate the biggest city in the nation. thefreedictionary.com/metropolis $\endgroup$ Jan 2, 2018 at 11:29

Questions 1 and 2:

Depends on how the first couple of legal precedents work out. I would guess yes on super-senses and the like. If an officer with good-but-not-super ears hears how the perpetrators discuss a crime, that's their fault.

Regarding super-attacks, probably no. There are precedents that police forces regulate how officers may fight, with legal and illegal chokeholds or baton strikes. The stun bolt is not on the list, so it is illegal. A punch with super-strength may be legal, however, if punches are legal.

Question 3:

The superhero should be treated differently. Police officers use force as necessary to make an arrest or stop an attack. If an attack is obviously ineffective, no force is necessary to stop it.

Things look different if the bullets endanger bystanders.


Frankly, there is a much better chance of them being accepted into a specialty military unit, where their skills would be much more effective, and welcome.

Specialized forces are not constrained by the rules of evidence or by due process.

The problem would be in their willingness to follow the chain of command, and to follow orders.

Really, the average police force just doesn't have the action that these personalities require.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Depends on how you define 'average police force.' Most big city police forces in the United States are plenty militarized, with SWAT teams and armored vehicles and the whole nine. Honestly, the traditional Batman/Superman superhero seems more at home in a SWAT team taking down criminals than in SpecOps going to foreign countries to assassinate people. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 1, 2018 at 3:01
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Military forces are restricted by Rules of Engagement. Don't let yourself be bamboozled by the usual depiction of superhuman beings (SHB) as vigilantes. This is your typical superhero. A socially responsible SHB should be as capable of fitting in a team as anyone else. Probably, superhumanly so. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jan 1, 2018 at 4:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "The problem would be in their willingness to follow the chain of command, and to follow orders." How does this not apply to the military? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 1, 2018 at 12:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme We have whole companies that make the stuff for police: lencoarmor.com $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme You mentioned "a specialty military unit". In the case of military action, Rules of Engagement apply. I suspect super-powered people would be better suited to the armed forces than conventional policing. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jan 2, 2018 at 1:40

A super hero joining a police task force is completely unrealistic:

  1. If he is so "super", why would he join 'random-city' police force? if a super-hero did affiliate himself with a government/law-enforcement agency, most likely they would do so as a contracted mercenary, more like a gun for hire when things get real serious.

  2. A super heroes presence in active law enforcement would be highly distracting, distracting to the point where it complicates the enforcement of the law itself. Imagine the chaos and crowd control needed when you send Spider-Man into a crime scene, media and hysterical people around town would be trampling all over evidence, contaminating everything. A super hero on a police force would be nothing but a community mascot, doing no real police work.

  3. There would be laboratories around the world coughing up major cash trying to get him in their facilities for studies. Hollywood studios would be throwing script after script at this hero for reality shows and what not. I highly, highly doubt anybody would be taking a job with somebodies police agency with those offers available.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The OP is not asking if it is realistic. So this is not an answer. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 1, 2018 at 7:10
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It is an answer: there is no answer!!! $\endgroup$
    – Iam Pyre
    Jan 1, 2018 at 7:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's not asking about a superstar superhero, just superpowers. Wear the uniform do the job, use the powers to help. It's possible to be a superhero without the gratuitous self publicity the position usually comes with. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 1, 2018 at 11:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Yup. If he's going to do law enforcement at all he's going to be a federal officer sent to where his abilities would be useful. Using him in a job where 99.9% of the time his super powers aren't needed is a huge waste. $\endgroup$ Jan 1, 2018 at 21:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In the TV Show Supergirl, she works with a government agency almost exclusively, so that shows at least 1 super powered being that'll join a police force. Luke Cage, of DC Comics, is no looking for recognition for his super powers. He goes through quite a bit to remain as low key as possible. I'm refraining from down-voting this answer because it is an answer, but it has existing examples to the opposite. Also, someone who can fly, or simply jump high, can rescue a jumper midfall; bullet proof can prevent people from getting shot; cold breath can disarm a bomb; all are real police work. $\endgroup$ Jan 2, 2018 at 18:35

Would they be able to use their super powers while acting as a police officer?

-I see no reason why not to, as long the use respects the laws. Due process, proportionate use of force and human rights(or Party directives if you are in a socialist nation) all apply.

Is super-hearing or X-Ray vision an illegal search?

-It would depend upon the situation and the suspect that belives that a violation of rights happened will have to sue. The lawsuit will certainly go all the way to the supreme court. Is using super senses in a combat situation against drug cartels illegal? Most certainly would be legal. Is it legal in stop-and-frisk and checkpoints? Probably no judge would consider it illegal because super senses would be analogous to the smell sense that a dog has. If you can't use x-ray vision to detect cocaine you can't use a dog to detect drugs and bombs. Is it legal in an investigation? Maybe not, requiring warrants for wiretapping and house searches. But in the end the supreme court and the legislators will have to decide.

Is a lightning-bolt stun attack allowed? Or would they be restricted to officially issued equipment like Tasers, handcuffs and guns?

  • The cop would be restricted to standard, certified issue to decrease legal risk. His lightning bolts aren't certified and if the suspect is hurt the police department may be sued.

Will prosecutors and juries treat them the same as other officers if they use lethal force in response to threats, or because the super-hero is invulnerable will they expect him to simply wade through the bullets without shooting back?

  • Depends on the situation. Let's say that your cop is a brazillian/mexican military police attacking drug heavily armed cartels. If he is invulnerable it would be expected that he wades through the bullets and catches the criminals.

Question 3:

It's going to depend hugely on the jurisdiction, as attitudes to policing and the use of force vary enormously between countries/cultures (and even within them). This influences how policing is done within a country (values / priorities / methods), and how it's perceived – and of course how other cultures' policing is perceived.

For example, some cultures like the UK have a very low level tolerance of police violence, and police are expected to resolve things without force wherever possible.

In the UK, any officer using lethal force is (I believe) automatically suspended pending an independent investigation. We're very keen on "watching the watchmen", and ensuring that the police do not make routine use of lethal force.

So in the UK, someone with super-powers using lethal force will be looked on especially poorly – and it's not unlikely that they'd be proactively kept away from anti-terror raids and the like, just to prevent the minefield that'd ensue should they kill someone. Or they might be used as a meat-shield but not allowed to hit people. This might of course provide some good tension for a story – "I have this awesome power, why can't I use it?"

In the UK, the police instead rely on massive surveillance to make catching people easier. A very high proportion of court cases are decided on the basis of CCTV footage. We (largely) don't care about the level of surveillance, though other cultures would see it as a massive issue.

It's quite possible that super-powers would be particularly useful in non-lethal scenarios – catching suicide attempts, searching riverbeds, etc.

In the US, where police use of force (and lethal force in particular) is more common, a super-strength policeman would likely be highly popular. A culture which has people with superpowers would quite possibly be far more extreme in this direction. From a US perspective, this trait of using lethal force is largely not seen negatively, but as an important part of a 'strong' police or similar – whereas from (even a right-wing) UK perspective, the rate of police shootings in the US is extremely concerning. This type of contrast of values would again provide interesting tension for a story – cf. Marvel's Civil War arc.

So the simple answer is that it'll depend entirely on the culture of the society / police force. Imagine a similar issue – police force is offered indestructible, super-fast cars.

  • In the US, they'd be deployed continuously, as (I believe) the US priority in a car chase is to resolve the chase as quickly as possible, typically (if TV be believed) by pursuit with a large number of vehicles, and the use of force (often lethal) to end the chase.
  • In the UK, they'd sit idle, as the UK priority is to reduce the number of injuries/fatalities – UK police have previously been criticised when a perp has crashed while being chased even if no-one other than the perp was injured. So the UK response to a car chase is to leave them alone (largely preventing accidents), and put up a heli (can't be outrun by most cars, but doesn't put psychological pressure on the perp to drive fast/dangerously), and then catch them safely when they stop or give up.

Your original question mentions super-strength; from a UK perspective, super-strength would be of little value, but powers relating to e.g. vision or flight might be highly valued. So the types of super-power valued in policing in different cultures would vary.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .