When I first began pondering the question of who is a better law enforcer, Dirty Harry or Robocop, it turned out to be a deeper conundrum than I had originally anticipated. What does it mean to be a better cop? Let’s find out when Dirty Harry versus Robocop.
Dirty Harry Versus Robocop
There are many aspects of policing that need to be taken into account. For example, I don’t see Harry Callahan being really efficient with paperwork, which is a large percentage of the day-to-day aspects of enforcing the law (I am told). On the other hand, Alex Murphy, aka Robocop, has a data spike that he can plug directly into a computer. He can probably churn out reports fast enough to make that old dot matrix printer smoke its guts. He also seems just fine plugging that data spike into the necks of bad guys (RIP Mr. Boddicker). So one can see there is more to take into account than initially suspected. That being said, let’s turn on the juice and see what shakes loose, so to speak, when Dirty Harry versus Robocop.
Getting The Bad Guys
This is going to be pretty even as both Callahan and Robocop inevitably get their criminals. If we are talking about sheer numbers, Robocop wins. Being an officer, not a detective, gives him access to a higher level of criminal behavior. Callahan foils the occasional bank robbery during his lunch break, however, he is not driving a beat looking for small-time crimes. But this category is not about numbers, necessarily.
They seem to have a pretty similar Wild Wild West (1999) use of force policy: “shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more and then when everybody’s dead try to ask a question or two.” To be fair, they are generally shooting back. When they have suspects who get tight-lipped about the information that they need, both Callahan and Murphy don’t seem to have much issue putting on a little “pressure.”
Callahan does lose a few points here as his “pressure” tactics and lack of warrants while trying to find kidnapped Ann Mary Deacon lead to the antagonist Scorpio being released without trial.
Speaking of trials, Robocop wins hands down as a witness in court as his computer brain records everything he sees and does. Callahan’s temperament also leads to complications on the stand.
Works Well With Others
Callahan is known for being hard to work with. That’s not just because he tends to be hard-headed and callous, but he makes a point of explaining that his partners have a tendency to get shot or killed. He does, however, seem to warm up to his assigned partners as time goes on. He also has no time for bullshit and resents authority that gets in the way of his doing his job. That is commendable but often gets him in trouble with the higher brass.
Robocop, in the beginning, doesn’t seem to work with anybody. He is a computer running a program. After having a dream while “charging,” he begins to remember more and more of his old life. By the end of the movie, Robocop seems to be equal parts Murphy and machine. Prior to being killed and reborn, Alex Murphy was known as a “dutiful, upstanding and mild-mannered police officer” who seemed laid back and good at his job. This makes me assume that the Murphy/Machine combination that is Robocop would make a great partner. Of course, that’s regardless of whether he would actually need one or not.
Robocop is a star from the start. At first, he is cleaning up crime at a rate that gets him noticed and put on TV, as well as paraded out among some elementary school kids like the ultimate show-and-tell. Since at this point he is still mostly machine, he doesn’t have much personality. At one point he ended an interview with, “Excuse me. I have to go. Somewhere there is a crime happening.” Like I said, a little dry, but he is not wrong. I have to assume that end-of-movie Murphy/Robocop is a better talk show guest. Another strong point here is I believe that Robocop, regardless of how much of Murphy’s personality is back, still must behave according to his prime directives: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law.
Callahan seems to be mostly a hero, but his checkered past might get him in trouble with the public. He seems to loath journalists unless he is trying to sleep with them. He mostly tries to stay out of the spotlight, which is good.
While most of Callahan’s shooting techniques could use a little updating, he is quite the marksman with his .44 Magnum, getting headshots and center mass on almost every inconsequential bad guy, unless he needs to take the time to talk trash to them before they die or get arrested. Style points here, for sure.
Robocop is, well, a computer. His Auto 9 has a 50-round magazine, and he wields it with the precision that one would expect from a CNC machine so we can leave proper technique out of his equation.
What the 9mm lacks in power to the .44 Magnum is surely made up for by a sheer number of standard, armor-piercing, flechette, high explosive, or non-lethal projectiles traveling with pinpoint accuracy. Not to mention with one extra magazine he walks around with 100 rounds at all times.
One thing I will give Callahan is draw speed. Robocop’s holster is encased in his thigh. The process of deploying his sidearm is a little slow compared to the speed with which Callahan gets his Model 29 out of his cross-draw leather. I assume if Robocop’s weapon deployment speed ever became an issue, a little software update would fix the problem.
Again, I would say that this category is pretty even. To make an omelet, you have to break some eggs. To get the really bad guys, sometimes you just have to break some shit. It happens. Dirty Harry seems to get in more trouble for this kind of behavior, however.
Harry Callahan is a smooth operator. He stopped four bank robbers while eating a hotdog. Got shot, hardly noticed. Then took the time to deliver his, “Do I feel lucky, well do ya, punk?” speech to one of them. Years later, he drops the “go ahead, make my day” line. Classic.
What does Robocop have here? Not a lot. We get a “Buddy, I think you’re slime,” and “Your move, creep.” Not a real strong showing in the one-liner game. He does gain some cool points for being a cyborg, however.
So Who’s The Ultimate?
It’s definitely a tough call, but I have to be true to myself, and say that Robocop has the edge as the best cop. Not as OEM configuration, but as the amalgamation of Alex Murphy and computer. Callahan wins all day against a computer without empathy and sympathy, but the combination of speed and precision inherent in a computer with the good-guy cop who was Murphy is almost the total package. I say almost because Robocop has a distinct lack of a “package,” which brings his game with the ladies down quite a few points below Callahan’s. I did take this into consideration.
This is just one man’s humble opinion. Please don’t cancel me. Regardless, as Chip from Outlaw Ordnance pointed out to me, “Chuck Norris would whup both their asses.” —Alex Landeen
This article originally appeared in the Ballistic Magazine April/May 2021 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.