Castle: “Murder, He Wrote”

This episode of Castle has Castle and Beckett interfacing with a police department outside New York City, specifically in “The Hamptons.” The Hamptons are actually a collection of municipalities at the eastern end of Long Island including Southampton and East Hampton, each of which are subdivided into villages and hamlets such as Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Amagansett, and Montauk. This post will look at local law enforcement agencies, their jurisdictions, and inter-agency cooperation. Some spoilers do follow.

I. Local Law Enforcement

In any given place in the US, there could be up to three overlapping state and local law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction. First there’s the state police. State police fall into two basic categories: fully-empowered, state-level police agencies, and highway patrol agencies with some extra powers. A few states actually have both. The former have a broader mandate than the latter, but even they tend to keep their involvement in local cases to a minimum except in the most complex investigations or by providing inter-departmental communication and support for local departments working together on the same case. But both types of state police forces are tasked with assisting local police forces in rural areas on more mundane matters, or providing front-line policing in areas where there is no local police force.

One step down from state troopers are sheriffs. The vast majority of states in the country are divided into counties, and most counties have sheriffs. Sheriffs can be thought of in three main categories. The least active are basically tasked with courthouse duties, including security, transport of prisoners and operation of jails, serving subpoenas, handling civil matters such as foreclosures, evictions, repossessions, etc. Then there are sheriffs with a broader mandate which do the above plus some law enforcement duties in unincorporated areas. Full-service sheriff departments do all of the above plus asserting plenary jurisdiction within their counties, with concurrent jurisdiction with local departments.

Then there are the local cops. These are operated and funded by the local municipality. The most obvious feature about them is that since they are created by local municipalities, the smaller and less formal the municipality, the less likely the local police department is to be particularly well-funded or even exist. There are numerous unincorporated rural areas—called “townships” in some states—with operating local governments that don’t include police forces. Such municipalities either contract with more populous neighboring municipalities or go directly to the state police for their police needs.

II. Law Enforcement in the Episode

So the deal in the episode is that Castle and Beckett leave the city for a romantic getaway in Castle’s place at the Hamptons. Which is palatial. Anyway, their first night out, a guy falls into the pool, having been previously shot, where he promptly expires. Castle and Beckett wind up working with local police—the delightfully unspecific and fictional “Hamptons Police Department”—to investigate the murder. Depending on where Castle’s place is located, and we’re not told, this would probably be either the Southhampton or East Hampton Police Department, both of which actually exist.

But here’s the thing: the victim obviously has connections with New York City, so the odds of someone at the local PD wanting to talk to someone in the City are pretty decent. That means inter-agency cooperation, which is normally where the sheriff or state police would come in, especially as the case grows from a simple drug-addled manslaughter charge to Breaking Bad levels of meth distribution. In many states, this is where the sheriff’s department would step in, except that in both New York City and Suffolk County, the sheriff is of the first or second type of department: courthouse/civil duties with some law enforcement in rural areas. The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office does seem to have some tactical units, but they don’t appear to do much investigative work. And the NYC Sheriff is of the first type, keeping itself exclusively civil. In NYC the municipal and county boundaries are the same, so leaving the criminal work to the city police works out.

So it’s actually not that far-fetched to assume that the state police would be getting involved. There’s no mention of them though. This isn’t entirely implausible, but given that we’re talking about mass arrests of defendants in multiple categories of crime, it is a little suspicious. Then again, Beckett, Esposito, and Ryan seem to have no problems making arrests in any number of different types of case.

III. Conclusion

As episodes concerned with inter-departmental relations go, this isn’t a bad one. The absence of the state police is perhaps a failing, but that’d have meant introducing at least one or two more characters which would have complicated the plot unnecessarily. We’ll give them an artistic license pass, especially as there hasn’t been any need for the state police in the series so far, nor given its location is there likely to be one in the future.

4 Responses to Castle: “Murder, He Wrote”

  1. Your statement that in New York “the municipal and county boundaries are the same” is factually incorrect. Since 1914, when the Bronx was finally detached from New York County, the BOROUGH and county boundaries have been the same. This is a touchy subject for those of us in the “outer boroughs” who keep hearing Manhattan called “New York”.
    Legal papers executed in Manhattan are “at my office in the city, county and state of New York”, but in Brooklyn it is “the county of Kings, city and state of New York.”
    Apart from this, since the La Guardia administration made a policy of “consolidating” county agencies (like the abovementioned City Sheriff), about the only remaining vestige of the county governments is the elected District Attornies.
    And the Sheriff’s Department get to ride around in nice-looking red and white cars.

  2. It’s actually even more complicated than that out in the Hamptons. There is both a Town of East Hampton, and a(n incorporated) Village of East Hampton, the former of which contains the latter (as well as the Village of Sag Harbor), and each of which has a police department of its own. Southampton is arranged similarly. Which of those has jurisdiction I presume would depend on the exact location of Castle’s place, although it seems likely that the involvement of the drug conspiracy angle would probably bring in both departments in this case, along with the NYPD.

    The western towns of Suffolk County have a unified Suffolk County Police Department. The incorporated villages in those towns frequently maintain a vestigial “constable’s office” or “code enforcement division” or such, but any criminal police work is handled by the SCPD. The Hamptons have maintained a stubborn independence from that arrangement, making things REALLY confusing out there.

  3. This has no bearing on a story that takes place on the east coast. But, as a St. Louis resident, I feel compelled to point that local cops aren’t always controlled by the local municipality.

    Around the time of the Civil War, the state of Missouri took control of the police departments of St. Louis and Kansas City, MO. St. Louis just regained control of the local police in the last election (Nov. 2012). As far as I know, the state still controls KS City’s department. (The cities have been funding the local police the entire time.)

  4. And, of course, there were the incidents during the Tweed regime when there were pitched battles between the Municipal Police and the state-controlled Metropolitan Police.

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