By Ken Tucker
Updated May 28, 2010 at 03:30 PM EDT

Mall Cops, a TLC reality that premiered last night, covers the 2.5 miles of stores inside Minnesota’s Mall of America. Being a mall cop is no Paul Blart breeze: In the two back-to-back episodes, one mall cop lost a toenail breaking up a brawl; another one had to chase down the “ringleader” of what the cops had dubbed “the handbag mafia,” a shop-lifting crew.

Most intriguing was a man hustled out of the mall for having too weird a crush on a female store employee: He left her a birdcage filled with a toy snowman, a pair of sunglasses, a love letter, and a condom. I had no idea mall cops can arrest people, carry pepper-spray and handcuffs.

Also premiering on TLC last night was Police Women of Memphis. You can’t pay these women enough to deal with the stuff they have to go through.

Coming upon a young man who’s been shot in the legs and back, one officer, Aubrey Olson, comforted the kid until medical help arrives. Another officer, Joy Jefferson, has a big, lovely smile but knows how to get tough when answering a call for a domestic disturbance. She may be capable of immense cheerfulness, but Officer Jefferson took no guff — or rather, her “alter ego,” the harsh, take-some-prisoners side of her, which she has dubbed “Keisha,” is always ready to emerge from inside Jefferson to handle volatile situations.

Police Women of Memphis, a spin-off from last season’s Police Women of Broward County, did a good job of capturing the feel for various neighborhoods of Memphis. It had an air of both danger and humor, most of the latter poker-faced when dealing with suspects. But sometimes stuff is just too funny to keep from laughing. When Officer Jefferson questioned a young man about his name, he gave her different answers. Which one is it, she asked, repeating the latest name he’d given her. “That’s my maiden name,” he said blithely.

Jefferson couldn’t keep a straight face for that one. “We may be progressive, but… ” — well, she shrugged, maiden names for men is just a silly lie.

Neither of these shows is going to end up with Emmy Awards, but like the granddaddy show from which they ultimately sprang — that would be Fox’s Cops — they’re interesting snapshots of American life.

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