Law & Order: Season 5, Episode 6

Competence (2 Nov. 1994)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Mystery
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 73 users  
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Van Buren kills a retarded, unarmed teenager at an ATM. She claims it was a robbery attempt, and that there's a second, armed suspect on the loose. But not everyone believes her.



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Title: Competence (02 Nov 1994)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Jerome Osborn
Captain Dennis Burnett
Omar Scroggins ...
Zack Rowland (as Omar Sharif Scroggins)
Lisa Louise Langford ...
Marjorie Gordon
Marcella Lowery ...
Van Buren's Attorney
Jacklin Brooke Sanford ...
Guinivere Sheffield
Rochelle Oliver ...
Tony 'G-Dog' Rowland


The police find themselves investigating one of their own when Lt. Van Buren shoots a young retarded boy at an ATM. She's certain that one of the boys had a gun and Capt. Dennis Burnett tells everyone to stay out of the investigation but Detectives Lenny Briscoe and Mike Logan can't help but look into the case. They find the second boy, Zack Rowland, and McCoy for his part takes the case to a grand jury who refuse to indict Van Buren. She's not happy however because a non-indictment isn't the same as being found innocent. When Logan and Briscoe find the gun Zack used, they have to find a way to prove he had it in his possession. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

2 November 1994 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Lenny acknowledges he has 25 years on the job. The title card dates correspond to September 1992, so Lenny began his NYPD career around 1967. See more »


Lt. Anita Van Buren: Were you born a smart-ass, or did it just come with the job?
Jack McCoy: I'm a pussycat. You should've met my old man.
Lt. Anita Van Buren: Lawyer?
Jack McCoy: Cop.
See more »

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User Reviews

Van Buren Shoots Kid.
20 February 2011 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

The lieutenant is at an ATM when she's approached by two kids. One demands money and points a gun at her. She wounds him and kills the other with one shot. The problem is that the wounded kid takes off and the dead kid has no gun. What's worse, both kids are African-Americans barely into their teens, and the dead one was severely retarded. He was unable to plan a robbery. McCoy and the rest of the DA's office treat it as another homicide, but it's a tough case for everybody involved.

What's impressive about this episode is that it so clearly demonstrates its lack of political correctness. The wounded kid who fled the scene is located and brought in, and so is his older brother, from whom he bought the pistol. And, wow, do they illustrate a type of street rat that was common in those years. Both the kids are black teen agers, insolent, snotty, burning with resentment towards legitimated authority, and immune to the kind of moral reasoning most of us are familiar with. They bash old ladies over the head to steal their social security or their welfare checks. It's the way things are done.

That takes huevos on the part of the writer and the producer because you're in danger of alienating half your audience. You probably won't alienate the residents of New York City who have had a gun shoved in their face by two young black kids, as I have, but there are bound to be cries of "perpetuating racial stereotypes" and so forth. "Law and Order" could be almost unique in that regard. No other crime show that I'm aware of ever achieved quite the same level of verisimilitude. The lousy, graffiti-covered walls; the wisecracking and often indifferent but fundamentally decent police. No wonder it garnered so much praise.

The performances are unusually good in this episode. A young retarded girl is played by Jacklin Brooke Sanford. She's pretty plain. Her hair isn't well groomed, she has a big nose and freckles, her gaze wanders, and there are gaps between her teeth. But she is nevertheless tres charmant. She smiles in a terribly trusting manner. I have no idea whether the actress suffers from some cognitive deficit or not, but either way --. The two insolent black kids are also plain awesome, thoroughly believable as two of life's losers who remain defiantly bad. It's hard to imagine where the casting people could come up with young people with such skills.

The plot takes a couple of doglegs here and there but it's never distracting. A nice job.

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