Law & Order (1990–2010)
3 user


Van Buren kills an intellectually disabled, 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.


Fred Gerber


Dick Wolf (created by), Michael S. Chernuchin | 1 more credit »

On Disc

at Amazon




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Jerry Orbach ... Lennie Briscoe
Chris Noth ... Mike Logan
S. Epatha Merkerson ... Anita Van Buren
Sam Waterston ... Jack McCoy
Jill Hennessy ... Claire Kincaid
Steven Hill ... Adam Schiff
Samuel E. Wright ... Jerome Osborn
Jude Ciccolella ... Captain Dennis Burnett
Omar Scroggins Omar Scroggins ... Zack Rowland (as Omar Sharif Scroggins)
Lisa Louise Langford Lisa Louise Langford ... Marjorie Gordon
Marcella Lowery ... Van Buren's Attorney
Carolyn McCormick ... Dr. Elizabeth Olivet
Jacklin Brooke Sanford Jacklin Brooke Sanford ... Guinivere Sheffield
Rochelle Oliver ... Judge Grace Larkin
Fredro Starr ... Tony 'G-Dog' Rowland


The police find themselves investigating one of their own when Lt. Van Buren shoots a young intellectually disabled 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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis





Release Date:

2 November 1994 (USA) See more »

Filming Locations:

New York City, New York, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Chris Noth (Mike Logan) & Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Detective Brian Keene) also worked together on episode 6.18, The Good Wife: Loser Edit (2015), of The Good Wife (2009), as Peter Florrick & Charles Jinks respectively. See more »


The title cards indicate Thursday September 10. Since the air date was November 1994, the closest year that had not passed for Thursday September 10 was 1992. When Briscoe and Logan read a kid's rap sheet, they learn he died in March 1993, about six months after the events shown, so he would have still been alive in September 1992. 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

A Compelling, But Slightly Problematic, Van Buren-Centric Episode
8 May 2018 | by Better_TVSee all my reviews

This one puts the spotlight on Lt. Van Buren, played forcefully by S. Epatha Merkerson. When she shoots a would-be young adult robber in self defense while making a late-night ATM stop, she is thrust before a grand jury and the unapologetic EADA Jack McCoy. While Detective Logan and ADA Claire Kincaid believe Van Buren implicitly, Briscoe isn't so sure, and McCoy refuses to treat her with any favoritism.

And that's just the first half of the episode.

The second half involves the DA's office attempting to prosecute the OTHER kid robber - the one who didn't get shot and who, it seems, may have been manipulating the mentally disabled victim. I cringed a few times at the characters' flippant uses of the word "retard," which is today typically used as a cruel insult; there's also an undercurrent of condescension in the way it rolls off the detectives' lips. Even the victim's mother, played by Lisa Louise Langford, uses the term kind of contemptuously... maybe it was just her performance, but when she speaks about her dead son she definitely sounds irritated with him.

The episode tries to assuage some of its political incorrectness by having another intellectually disabled character, played here by Jacklin Brooke Sanford in her only acting credit. She's convincing as the victim's friend who attended the same school he did, and she ends up being extremely important to the case. A later scene has the camera slowly panning across the victim's room, lingering on movie and baseball posters as well as other memorabilia - the passions and hobbies of a boy just like any other, snuffed out by tragedy, and a message from the show that it really *does* want you to feel bad about the kid's death, despite how dismissively everyone in the episode speaks about him.

Whether that takes it out of the realm of "problematic" territory is up to you, and "Competence" is otherwise a neat little yarn that squeezes some unique character beats out of the main cast in what is usually almost exclusively a plot-driven show.

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