‘Law & Order’ actress Diane Neal discusses how the show can affect the perception of the police


Prosecutor Casey Novak has a strong track record. In many seasons of “Law & Order: Victims Unit,” the tough and persistent assistant district attorney convicts countless sex offenders and brings justice to their victims.

But the actor who played him says that he has since realized that television does not reflect reality.

Diane Neal recently invited to his social media followers about whether the show gave viewers a false impression of how law enforcement handles sex crimes — a debate sparked by a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” (CNN and HBO, which air the satirical show, share parent company Warner Bros. Discovery).

“I’m ashamed to admit it, I thought the way we worked on the show was like real life. Then I knew I was wrong,” Neal he tweeted, police said they believed they were responding to a person who reported the attack. “Thank you for sharing your true story. #Sorry.”

When another person shared with him that the sexual assault victims they knew all regretted reporting their assault, Neal he answered: “I feel that 100%.”

John Oliver took aim at the popular spinoff “Last Week Tonight” in its final episode, saying the show’s unrealistic portrayal of how law enforcement responds to sex crimes was propaganda.

In “Law & Order: SVU,” which depicts a special force of the New York Police Department that deals with sex crimes, the police usually arrest the direct perpetrator and quickly collect and process DNA evidence. Prosecutors, on the other hand, take the cases to trial and convict the perpetrators. Case closed.

The reality is very different. An internal NYPD investigation in 2018 criticized the handling of sexual assault cases. Due to staffing, training and large caseloads, the report says, detectives and police were often dismissive or dismissive of sexual assault victims, while victims were rarely updated on the status of their cases.

Another investigation by RTI International researchers last year found that the NYPD struggled to interview and arrest suspects; while detectives identified suspects in 82 percent of sexual assault cases, they interviewed suspects only 28 percent of the time, according to the report. That study also found that investigators closed the majority of sex crime cases citing “exhausted” lines of inquiry, even though in many of those cases, investigators determined there were missed opportunities for follow-up.

A representative for Dick Wolf, creator of “Law & Order,” did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one other actor on the show has a different take on the matter. In a 2020 special celebrating the long-running “SVU,” Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson, spoke about the show’s positive impact on sexual assault survivors.

“I have often met people who have said because of this show, that they knew what to do after the attack. Because of that show, they made a rape kit. Because of that vision, they heard about it and had faith. And because of this show, above all, they no longer felt alone,” he said.

Others have argued that “Law & Order” and police procedurals more broadly shouldn’t be expected to reflect reality precisely because they’re fictional, a point Oliver acknowledged on his show. But research has shown that viewers of crime dramas “believe that police officers are successful in reducing crime, that they use force only when necessary, and that misconduct does not usually lead to false confessions.”

“I know ‘Law & Order’ is just a TV show. I know it’s meant to be entertainment, and frankly, I’m not telling you not to watch it,” Oliver said. “But it’s important to remember how much there is to represent anything resembling reality.”