A long-running investigation into misconduct at the Los Angeles Police Department finally concluded yesterday, delivering a damning verdict on Lieutenant Columbo, chief homicide investigator with the force from 1968 to 2003. In a period that saw an unprecedented rise in carefully pre-meditated murders of family members and business partners in the city, Columbo had enjoyed a 100 per cent conviction rate, putting away a remarkable 69 murderers with his legendary ability to solve complex cases in around 73 minutes (rising to 90 in the ABC years).
‘Columbo was a renegade cop, pure and simple, who rode roughshod over all principles of good policing,’ announced Chief Commissioner John Finnegan, who headed up the enquiry. ‘Harassment of suspects on 69 occasions. 37 cases of entrapment. Contamination of crime scenes with cigar smoke and dirt from that infested jacket. The list goes on and on.’
The enquiry resulted in dozens of victims coming forward, notably Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner and Jack Cassidy, who described intimidation by Columbo on an industrial scale. McGoohan was pestered by the grubby detective four separate times. ‘I kept changing occupations to try and evade Columbo, albeit always typecast as an ice cool murderer with a grudging respect for a clever adversary, obviously’ revealed McGoohan.
The investigation also revealed thousands of infringements of the standard US police show formula, including excessive reliance on the ‘reverse whodunnit’ and a complete refusal to include any bread and butter ‘detective-procedural’ filler scenes. One LA Medical Examiner during the 1970s, Quincy, described how Columbo would stubbornly refuse to retch and faint at the sight of a dead body on the slab, in direct contravention of forensic pathology TV series regulations. Retired LA Private Investigator Jim Rockford was also critical. ‘In 1974, it might have been okay to rely on ‘last number redial’ as the only hard piece of evidence against a criminal, but to use that in 14 different episodes?’ noted Rockford, shaking his head. ‘I compiled literally hundreds of instances of him continuing to question a suspect after formally concluding an interview. ‘Just one more thing?’ mimicked Rockford. ‘If only that was the case.’