‘Law & Order’ Alum S. Epatha Merkerson Once Shared a Hilarious Story About Her Run-In With Real Undercover Police Officers

by Josh Lanier

S. Epatha Merkerson said it was always a compliment when real cops would recognize her in the street. Fans of the original Law & Order will know Merkerson as the tough-but-fair Lieutenant Anita Van Buren. She said it wasn’t that uncommon to have a police officer come up to her and joke they wished they worked in the 27th Precinct, the fictitious NYPD precinct where she worked in the show.

But there was one instance when she had a run-in with some undercover New York police officers that she said she’ll never forget. She told The Archive of American Television the story in 2013.

She was on a trip to Upstate New York with a friend, and they stopped at a store to get a few items. And as she left the store, two undercover officers rushed up to her.

“As I’m coming out of the store these undercover guys come over … and they’re like ‘Lue! Wait, Lue! Lue, listen listen, we’re gonna help you, but listen we wish we were at the two-seven,'” the former Law & Order lieutenant said. “And I’m just like laughing, but then, literally one on either side, they take me and help me get into my car.”

It was a pretty cool moment, she said, but she missed the real action. Her friend, who stayed in the car, said just after she walked into the store, a van skidded to a stop in front of the store. Several plainclothes officers (her friend didn’t know they were officers) jumped out and handcuffed a man and threw him in the back of the van.

That’s when one of the officers said that he thought he saw the lieutenant from Law & Order go into the store. So, they hung around to say hello after the bust. All the while, Merkerson’s friend thought she was about to be kidnapped by men driving a fan.

Law & Order: Jerry Orbach Loved Meeting Police

During an interview in 2004 on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Jerry Orbach, who played wise-cracking NYPD detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order, said he loved running into police in real life. The beloved actor died in 2004, but he was the show’s north star during his 12 years on the show.

O’Brien wanted to know what actual police thought of Law & Order. And why Orbach thought police liked him so much.

“Real police officers treat you with a lot of respect,” O’Brien said. “They really do treat you like you’ve been on the force for 12 years. Rather than as an actor who’s played that part.”

“Yea, it’s an amazing thing. They’re very sweet. The New York cops are terrific to me,” he said.

But he said he cared less about how they treated him and more about how his performance respected them.

“I love it when they say, ‘Keep making us look good,’” Orbach told O’Brien. “So, that’s quite a compliment.”