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Though it premiered nearly two decades ago, The Wire maintains its reputation as one of the most complex, gritty, and realistic portrayals of criminality to ever make it to the small screen.

With each season tackling a different aspect of the underlying issues contributing to the complicated lives of the criminals and police officers portrayed on the series, the TV show definitely took on an ambitious and interconnected project

Fans of the series were greeted with intense moments and some tragically memorable deaths of favorite characters, but they may not have noticed one particular quirk of the series. Almost no police officers actually used a gun. 

‘The Wire’ premiered in 2002

HBO premiered The Wire back in 2002 as a loose spinoff from a miniseries called The Corner. At its heart, the series attempts to peel back the layers at the core of American criminality by taking a laser focus look at one neighborhood in Baltimore.

Along the way, viewers have their assumptions challenged as there are clearly no easy answers about who is right and who is wrong in a brutal winner-take-all mentality playing out between the leaders of rival drug cartels, the teens they recruit into a life of crime, the police officers attempting to bring order to the community, and the politicians pulling the strings. 

The series started out with low ratings and limped its way through five seasons that wove a complicated tale. Each season tackled a different element of the problem. From education to journalism to the connection between domestic and international crime, the series attempted to bring up big questions while rarely delivering many answers.

While the show did gain popularity during its run, it wasn’t until after it ended that fans truly began to appreciate its depth and complexity. These days, many critics consider it one of the best examples of television ever made. 

Dominic West
Dominic West | Michael Tran/FilmMagic

There is plenty of violence in The Wire, and the grizzly details often made the show heart-wrenching for its fans. No character was safe, and battles between police and drug dealers erupted on a regular basis. Even more common was death at the hands of a criminal rival. From murders to accidental overdoses to bystanders getting caught up in a fight that wasn’t theirs, plenty of people meet untimely and violent ends. 

The series also did a commendable job of avoiding simple hero and villain narratives. Even some of the most bloodthirsty and cold-hearted criminals were shown to have complex and understandable motives. Meanwhile, the police officers who were supposed to protect and serve the community were often demonstrated to be flawed and ineffective — hindered either by their own incompetence or by a system that worked against them. 

Police in ‘The Wire’ rarely fired a weapon


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One notable thing about The Wire that many fans may have missed is how rare it is for a police officer to actually fire a weapon. There are plenty of times when officers enter a situation with their guns drawn, but most altercations are resolved without the use of deadly force. 

In fact, as Adam D’Arpino reports for Mental Floss, there is only one officer who fires his weapon — and its shown to be a mistake. “By turns the most and least sympathetic character on the show,” D’Arpino calls Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski.

Eventually, Prez leaves the force to focus on a career in teaching, where he does a lot more good at keeping criminals off the street. Prior to that, though, Prez is shown firing his weapon three times, and each demonstrates him to be more and more incompetent in the role of an officer. 

First, he accidentally fires a gun at the wall. Second, he returns fire — escalating a situation into a battle that endangers everyone involved. Finally, he ends his career by shooting and killing a fellow officer who was dressed in plain clothes.