COPS is a TV show on Fox produced by Langley Productions, Inc. that is basically a 30 minute long (commercials included) series of video taped clips from several police officers' patrols. COPS has been filmed in various cities throughout the United States of America over the years (the show's first airing was on 11 March, 1989 with footage taken in Broward County, Florida). Usually a single episode has footage from various cities, though occasionally an entire episode will feature footage from the same city. When an episode like this is to occur, often the advertisement for that episode will mention it's not just COPS, it's COPS in [insert city name here] (e.g., "COPS in Las Vegas" or "COPS in Atlanta").
At the end of each vignette, the law enforcement official that has been the focus of the footage usually relates the moral of the story. Don't let this fool you into thinking any of it's planned: The footage is real. For whatever reason(s), each episode usually contains one vignette dealing with a domestic dispute (e.g., a battered wife calling the police, neighbours complaining about someone who, it turns out, was selling drugs). The domestic disputes hardly ever result in a chase or any type of violence. Typically there's some fat, lazy drunk involved (seriously!). There's also usually a vignette involving a chase (though this type of scene isn't as consistant as the domestic dispute), sometimes on foot, sometimes by car, sometimes both.
The theme song for COPS is "Bad Boys" by Inner Circle. There's always a just barely noticeable moment of black and silence on the TV prior to COPS. Even without watching the show very often, I've managed to be aware of this. The theme song begins with a "Huh!" and, should you be aware of this time delay, can join in the exclamation at just the right time to the delight, disgust, or just utter shock of your friends. When the theme song is done (during which various clips of cops chasing down suspects, reading the recently-apprehended their Miranda Rights, having dogs find drugs, etc. are played), a deep voice announces that "COPS is filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement."
The vignettes are filmed by a cameraman (who may or may not have others along with him/her) who goes along with a cop on his usual patrol. Traffic violations that don't lead to DUI arrests or otherwise uneventful patrols don't end up being aired. The officer(s) that take anyone arrested into custody are never ones that have a cameraman following him/her/them around. Occasionally, someone caught on camera will have their face blurred out when the episode is broadcast. Sometimes it's the apprehended. Sometimes it's a witness. Sometimes it's just someone walking by. The COPS crew must have the permission of an area's law enforcement agency in order to follow its officers around to film.
There have been quite a few parodies of COPS over the years. Noteably, an episode of The X Files featured Agents Mulder and Scully working with a local law enforcement agency to track some type of supernatural entity on a rampage. The entire episode was filmed like an episode of COPS would be if the cameraman was following Mulder and Scully around. There's also a parody of COPS titled "TROOPS" available online featuring, in the place of police officers, Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars on Tattooine.
COPS has a website - http://www.cops.com/ - which was useful in obtaining some of the information found in this write-up.