On September 20th, 1999, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) premiered on the small screen and has since become one of the longest-running crime dramas on primetime television. It follows a team of New York City detectives who specialize in violent crimes and assault. The show originally starred police partners Detective Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, portrayed by Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni.
The actors have undeniable chemistry on screen and have become everyone’s favorite police duo. However, there are other beloved cops in the Law & Order universe. Here are some of the best Law & Order detectives ranked. Make sure you stay tuned for some fascinating facts you never knew about SVU.
26. Lennie Briscoe
Detective Briscoe joined the NYPD over thirty years ago and is a respected and honorable detective who spent time as a U.S. Corporal in the United States Army before joining the police force. Like many other Law & Order detectives, Lennie Briscoe puts his job above all else – sometimes even at the expense of his family.
Briscoe is a recovering alcoholic and attends AA meetings. Unfortunately, he got clean way too late to have a healthy relationship with his family. Briscoe also lost his daughter to an overdose and spent a lot of time feeling guilty and blaming himself. Lennie Briscoe passed away in 2005 after retiring from the 27th precinct.
25. John Munch
Detective John Munch is your classic, paranoid, cynical detective. He thrives off conspiracy theories and seems to have a new ex-wife show up every other season. Several of his ex-wives and family members suffered from mental disorders, so Munch has become a major advocate for the mentally ill.
He started his career as a homicide detective in Life on the Baltimore Police Department Homicide Unit streets. He then retires, gets his pension, and moves to New York to work with the Sex Crimes division at the Special Victims Unit. He takes a sergeant exam, passes, earns Sergeant Munch’s title, and served whenever Sergeant Cragen is off duty. He eventually retires with all his friends and co-workers from SVU.
24. Ed Green
Even though his methods were unorthodox at times, Detective Ed Green is a valued member of the NYPD, and his heart is always in the right place. Unfortunately, he butts heads with his superiors quite often because he believes in bending the law if it will help him catch a perp.
Green gets shot in the line of duty and then takes a break from the police force to recover in the hospital. Just a few years after coming back, Green was involved in a shooting and was indicted before the grand jury. Even though he was cleared of all charges, he made the decision to leave the force because he had “broken every rule in the book.”
23. Robert Goren
Detective Robert Goren is arguably the most intelligent detective on the NYPD. He has a way of tapping into the psyche of some of the most complex criminals, and his unusual investigation strategies almost always lead him to the right answer. Although his quirks sometimes rub his co-workers the wrong way, he always gets the job done.
Goren was raised in Brooklyn with a schizophrenic mother and estranged, homeless big brother. On occasion, his personal demons get in the way of investigating – he got suspended when he tried to save his nephew Donny and is completely distraught when his brother, Frank, is murdered. It was later discovered that Goren’s birthfather is a serial killer on death row named Mark Ford Brady. His unorthodox investigation tactics ultimately cost him his job.
22. Mike Logan
Mike Logan is a good detective with a tough past. He grew up in a working-class Irish family but was physically abused by his Catholic mother and was sexually assaulted by a priest. He started behaving like a womanizer, but it seems like a defense mechanism to cover up the pain his abuse caused him.
For several years, Logan worked for Manhattan Homicide until he was fired for getting involved in a physical altercation with a homophobic politician. He was then transferred to the Staten Island Domestic Disputes squad, where he worked for a few years.
It was revealed in the made-for-TV movie Exiled: A Law & Order Movie that after Logan’s stint on Staten Island, he tried to work his way back onto the Manhattan Homicide unit by solving a murder case. Instead, he was moved to the Major Case squad on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Detective Logan spent 25 years on the MC squad before developing a sense of injustice and anger against the criminal justice system. When the DA tried to cover up a 16-year-old suicide, his girlfriend died around the same time it was too much for him. He left the police department to do something more fulfilling with his life.
21. Alexandra Eames
Detective Alexandra Eames was a part of NYPD VICE for five years before she joined the Major Case squad. She decided to join the police force to follow in her police officer father’s footsteps. Eames is extremely reasonable and plays everything by the book.
However, oftentimes, her personality clashes with her partner, Detective Goren, but their partnership eventually grew into a strong bond. Eames crosses paths with SVU detectives on occasion when solving major cases involving sex crimes. She has a good relationship with Detective Benson and even takes down the sniper who shot Detective Rollins.
20. Rey Curtis
Detective Curtis is another cop who plays by the books – if you do the crime, you do the time; no questions asked. He joined the 27th precinct from the Organized Crime Control Bureau, but he was forced to quit because was being sexually harassed by one of his female co-workers.
His cut-and-dry detective approach was tested when he watched a violent execution of a person whom he helped prosecute. To cope with these new feelings, he cheats on his wife, Deborah, with a college student. The affair almost destroyed his marriage and certainly strained his relationship with his daughters.
Through much therapy and counseling, Detective Curtis was able to save his marriage. But shortly after, Deborah was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Curtis took it hard and believed that he was being punished for his sins.
When Deborah couldn’t even hold a toothbrush on her own, Rey Curtis left the police force. He moves his family to California and only comes back ten years later to bury Deborah in Long Island after her devastating death. Fun fact about Curtis: He loves the band Oasis.
19. Joe Fontana
Joe Fontana comes from Little Italy, a neighborhood in Chicago. He headed over to New York, where he taught detectives what life is like in a different city. After working Homicide in the Bronx for several years, he was transferred to the Manhattan Homicide unit.
He has great taste and is frequently seen rocking the latest styles and most expensive fashion trends. He drives a Mercedes Benz SL500 and usually carries around at least $1,000 in cash. Naturally, the other detectives are suspicious of his flashy behavior but eventually get over it. Above all else, Fontana believes in respect, so watch how you talk to him in the interrogation room!
18. Cyrus Lupo
Detective Cyrus Lupo spent four years working in the NYPD Intelligence Division in Pakistan before transferring to the 27th Precinct Overseas. He was used to working alone without backup, so that transition wasn’t easy at first.
One Christmas, Lupo witnessed a father murdering his family – a wife and two children. This event caused him to develop PTSD, and he becomes an alcoholic. His partner died in the line of duty when he went to get Lupo a coffee to sober him up. That’s when he seriously decided to stop drinking and see a therapist.
17. Phil Cerreta
Sergeant Phil Cerreta was brought into the 27th precinct to help investigate the murder of Sgt. Greevey. He investigates cases using his good manners and charm. Interestingly, Phil is that throughout his entire career as a detective, he never fires his gun once.
Unfortunately, like many other detectives (on the show and in real life), Cerreta was shot in the line of duty. The shooter was an insane drug addict, and although Cerreta survived, he was forced to take a desk job at the 110th precinct. He is married and has a 15-year-old daughter named Linda.
16. Dominick “Sonny” Carisi Jr.
The most inexperienced SVU detective is probably Detective Sonny Carisi. He has short stints in other burroughs, so the squad decides to take him on. When Sonny first arrives, he is too harsh and abrasive toward victims, and Detective Olivia Benson reprimands him for his behavior.
He later softens up, but he clearly has a knack for interrogation. He uses fake empathy and pretends to be on the perp’s side. Of course, this is a trick to get them to confess and flip on another suspect. Carisi later passes the bar exam and becomes a lawyer, still working with SVU.
15. Nick Amaro
Detective Amaro seems to be torn between two worlds. Like Detective Stabler before him, he is a family man at heart. But he also has a short fuse that gets him in trouble on more than one occasion. His wife ultimately leaves him and moves to California with his daughter. It later comes out that Nick Amaro has a child out of wedlock, and he had no idea that child existed.
He and Detective Rollins become intimate when he helps her recover from her gambling addiction. He took the sergeant exam later on, but he was told but Lt. Tucker that he’s never going to be promoted. After being shot by a suspect during an investigation, he decides to retire and focus on his recovery.
14. Zack Nichols
Detective Nichols was raised by two psychiatrists for parents and decided to become a police officer in the act of rebellion. He took a seven-year break from the force after 9/11, but he didn’t tell anyone where he was. The only clue was a postcard he sent the squad from Cleveland, OH.
Detective Nichols ultimately returned to the force and continued solving crimes. In his free time, he loves to play the piano. He and his father finally reconcile after the two solve a case together before Nichols retires.
13. Kevin Bernard
Detective Kevin Bernard first appeared on our screens as a member of the Internal Affairs Bureau, investigating Ed Green’s shooting. Bernard is Catholic, and his views and opinions are very conservative: Bernard is pro-life and seems to understand those who hate illegal immigrants.
While he was investigating Green’s shooting, Bernard met his old partner, Lupo. He then decided to join Lupo as a Junior Partner. He also fathered a child while he was in the Police Academy, but the mother and her fiancé moved away to California. Bernard also hates dogs and landed the nickname “St. Bernard.”
12. Megan Wheeler
Megan Wheeler spent years as an undercover cop investigating drug crimes, money laundering, and white-collar crimes. She then joined the MCS as Barek’s replacement. Other guys on the squad often make fun of Detective Wheeler for being so young. However, her age comes in handy when they need to solve crimes involving short-hand teenager text message lingo.
She takes a hiatus from the MCS for a little while to teach in Europe. Wheeler later becomes pregnant by her fiancé, who was recently arrested for money laundering by the FBI. After she had the baby, she retired.
11. Chester Lake
Detective Chester Lake comes from Mohawk Nation descent, and his family has been living in New York for several generations. He is an MMA fighter and earned the nickname “Naptime” because of his signature sleeper-hold. Ironically, he has severe insomnia, which he tried to fix by wandering the streets at night.
He grew up in the foster care system, and he once committed a crime with his brother. However, his brother took the fall and went to jail so that Chester could pursue his dreams of becoming a police officer.
11. Chester Lake
When Detective Lake finally made it to the police department, he was part of the Vidocq Society in Pennsylvania, which works together to crack cold cases. He was involved in a shooting with the guys who were accused of murdering two people in a 10-year-old rape/homicide case.
He was quickly cleared of all charges because it was evident that Detective Lake killed the suspect in self-defense. However, the detective was later found standing over the body of the second suspect. This time, he was arrested for murder.
10. Carolyn Barek
Detective Caroline Barek is a criminal profiler who joined the Major Case squad after working with the FBI for two years post-9/11. An extremely abusive catholic mother raised her. Barek also speaks a few different languages: Polish, Spanish, Yiddish, Russian, and Creole.
At one point, Barek worked without a partner, which explains why she talks to herself while examining a crime scene. But deep down, she is a true caretaker, and even although she and Detective Logan don’t see eye-to-eye, she always has his back. Unfortunately, when she left MCS, they were on bad terms.
9. Monique Jeffries
Detective Monique Jeffries started her SVU career as a street-smart detective who takes crime very seriously and always plays by the book. She was teamed up with Detective Cassidy and Detective Briscoe before getting her permanent partner, Detective John Munch.
But when a suspect almost killed her during a chase, Jeffries started acting very recklessly. She admitted to a psychologist that she was having casual sex with a person involved in a prior rape investigation. She was then transferred to the VICE unit.
8. Nick Falco
Detective Falco comes off a little like a loose cannon. However, he was actually a law student. Because of his schooling, he was a little more cautious than his team would like. He tends to call out other detectives for breaking little-known laws. However, if taken to court, these “crimes” would be looked at as good faith arrests.
Nick Falso has two children, a son and a daughter. One night, he brought a date home and finds her murdered when he woke up in the morning. After an investigation, they found out she was part of a crime family known for committing robberies, and she drugged Falco with Rohypnol.
7. Nola Falacci
Detective Nola Falacci is assigned to the NYPD Major Case squad when Detective Wheeler was sent overseas to Europe. She has an abrasive personality and described herself as “not much of people person.” She was temporarily partnered with Mike Logan. From the moment the duo worked a crime scene together, it was clear that he found his match in a confrontational detective.
Detective Falacci was a serious cop and could be calculating in her investigation. Nobody could intimidate her. When Wheeler returned, Flacci left MCS so that she could train for the FBI program at Quantico. She is happily married with three children.
6. Nina Cassady
Nina Cassady is a less experienced detective than the rest of the officers on the police force and created immediate tension when she walked into Precinct 27. She was nicknamed “Detective Beauty Queen” by her fellow team member for her role in a shootout that took place in a hair salon. Wow, I would love a nickname like that.
Throughout her time as a detective, you could tell Cassady is a little guarded since she is an inexperienced female detective. However, she lost her temper during an investigation and was reprimanded and then fired.
5. Serena Stevens
Detective Serena Stevens began her career as a police officer with the Chicago PD but then transferred to the Major Case squad. She was raised by her dad, who was a marine. They lived in Islamabad when she was a child, and she learned how to read in Urdu and Arabic.
She was brought to MCS by Captain Danny Ross; she was the last person he hired before he was killed. Detective Stevens is a big White Sox fan and has an 8-year-old girl named Kira. She is a solid detective with a light sense of humor.
4. Amanda Rollins
Amanda Rollins comes in as a hot-shot detective from Atlanta. She tended to get a little ahead of herself during investigations but quickly adjusted to life at the SVU. She is also involved in a brief sexual relationship with Detective Amaro.
Rollins struggled with a gambling addiction, and it was eventually revealed that Deputy Chief Charles Patton rapes her at her precinct in Atlanta. Her little sister is a drug addict with severe mental health issues. Rollins has two little girls that she loves very much and a dog named Frannie.
3. Fin Tutuola
Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola is certainly a fan favorite. He began his career working as an undercover investigator for VICE. He spent more time undercover than out, which caused a strained relationship with his family: he and his wife got divorced, while his son, Ken, hardly speaks to him.
Tutuola grew up in Harlem during the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination riots and was forced to learn many tough lessons about the streets. He also tends to butt heads with the other detectives because he feels like criminals should be punished in a very black-and-white manner. Tutuola nearly transferred out of the department on a couple of occasions, but eventually, he softened up and stayed on the force.
2. Elliot Stabler
Detective Stabler is that no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, Irish-Catholic, tough-guy cop. At his core, he is a loving husband and father, with a cool arm tattoo from the Marines and no-holds-barred interrogation tactics. You can bet child offenders will be on the receiving end of his violent temper (as they should be). However, sometimes his anger does get the best of him.
He retired after a very sad incident when he shot and killed an armed suspect in the precinct. The suspect was a young girl who was angry and grieving her mother’s tragic death, and Stabler had to shoot her to save everyone else in the squad room.
1. Olivia Benson
Olivia Benson is the patron saint of badass female cops. Her character always stands up for feminism and for what is right. She also has the victim’s best interest at heart. Since she is a child of rape, Benson feels like she was born to help victims after an attack. I mean, Liv grew up watching her alcoholic mother struggle with the rape up until her death.
Although is loving, nurturing, and helpful, you don’t want to get on Olivia’s bad side. She has been known to take down a perp or ten, especially the ones who tried- and failed, to sexually assault her. After Cragen and Munch retired, Benson was promoted to Sergeant. Her hard work as a young detective certainly paid off. Keep reading to find out more interesting facts about the show.
Only One John Munch
Richard Belzer, the actor who played Detective John Munch, returned to SVU in 2016 after taking a two-season break. But his character wasn’t originated at the Special Victims Unit. Munch’s character goes back to Homicide: Life on the Street and even beyond that.
John Munch is the only character who the same actor portrayed in more than ten TV shows. Some of the most memorable include The Wire, The X-Files, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development, to name just a few. John Munch was even featured as a Muppet in the special Law & Order: Special Letters Unit.
Mariska Hargitay’s Lung Collapsed on Set
Mariska Hargitay was filming a scene back in 2009, where she was chasing down a suspect, and suddenly the actress started feeling pain in her chest. At the time, she walked it off, but she later found out her right lung was 50% collapsed. Luckily, a simple surgery fixed the problem, and the incident brought her a new appreciation for life.
She stated, “[After my lung collapsed] all of those old fears about my mom and my grandfather [both of whom died relatively young] came shooting up.” Mariska realized she needs to pay attention to her health with a baby of her own because she has so much to live for.
Just Business, No Pleasure
The incredible partnership between Detective Benson and Detective Stabler is one of the main reasons why audiences fell in love with the show. They had such undeniable chemistry, and viewers were hoping their relationship would turn romantic. I mean, both were involved with other cops in the office, so why not each other?
As it turns out, Christopher Meloni was completely against the idea of Olivia Benson and Eliot Stabler ever becoming intimate. He explained that a hookup “would be the death knell of that relationship. I think they needed to keep that line taut and very clear… Keep the tension, never cross it.”
The Green Mile
There was one particular episode of SVU which was clearly inspired by the film The Green Mile. During that episode, detectives are trying to figure out where the bad guy is keeping his victims. During the episode, they discover that the character is claustrophobic.
Since they were running out of time, their only hope was to use his weakness against him. They proceeded to lock him in a cabinet with no lights until he started talking. Well, if you saw the prison movie, The Green Mile, this is pretty much exactly what happened.
Named After NYPD’s Real Special Victims Unit
For a while, the show had a more NSFW title, but NBC had reservations about it and thought it might be too aggressive when it came to recruiting advertisers or maintaining a strong fanbase and viewership. They ultimately chose to use the real-life NYPD unit that focused on these types of crimes: The Special Victims Unit.
They also wanted to use it as an opportunity to make the show part of the Law & Order universe, which was clearly the right choice. Dick Wolf, the creator of the franchise, said, “We’re going to be covering a wide range of crimes, and Special Victims Unit just seems more inclusive.”
Some Significant Cameos
If you’ve seen some of SVU’s guest stars hitting the red carpet, it’s probably because they are married to one of the stars. The most recognizable guest star is arguably Peter Hermann, who plays a recurring character named Trevor Langan, and also happens to be Mariska Hargitay’s husband.
On the show, Langan is the lawyer who helped Olivia Benson adopt her son, Noah. Ironically, the happy couple met on the set of SVU back in 2001. Ice-T’s wife Coco also made appearances on the show. She was featured in three separate episodes.
The Man Behind the Iconic Voice
At the start of each SVU episode, there is a voice explaining who the Special Victims Unit are and what they do. It’s a staple of the program, with millions of fans knowing the entire opening by heart. Well, the man behind the voice is Steve Zirnkilton. Steve was first hired to play a bit player in the pilot of Law & Order.
But Wolf fell in love with his voice, to the point where he decided to make Zirnkilton a permanent part of the franchise. Not only does the narrator do voice-over work, but he also used to be a politician and spent eight years serving as a Republican in Maine’s House of Representatives.
Ice-T Was Only Supposed to Be on Four Episodes
Ice-T is definitely a fan favorite. That’s why it may shock you that the showrunner didn’t intend on keeping Fin at the SVU for very long. Before becoming an actor, Ice-T had a controversial rap career when he released the track Cop Killer with his band Body Count.
Then he got an acting gig on Dick Wolf’s show New York Undercover and was then hired again for a part in the Law & Order TV movie. After Dean Winters left SVU, Ice-T was brought in for a four-episode stint as Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola. Fans fell in love with the character, and he has been there ever since.
Christopher Meloni Was Juggling Shows
You may not have known that Christopher Meloni was juggling shows when he joined the original cast of SVU. In 1997, he was starring in Oz at the same time. However, he needed to decide at some point because working on two shows simultaneously is insane for anyone. Since he was so dedicated to SVU, he ultimately chose to leave Oz.
However, the actor ended up missing Oz more than he ever imagined and returned to the show for the next season. He later explained that although it took an emotional and physical toll on him, getting to work on both shows made it all worth it.
Filming in New Jersey
The show obviously takes place in New York City, and you can tell since most of the exterior shots are filmed on the street, but that wasn’t the case for the interior shots. For the first eleven years of the series, most of the interior shots, including the inside of the precinct, were shot in New Jersey in their indoor studio.
This happened following Governor Chris Christie’s decision to stop favorable tax treatment for a television production. Today, SVU uses the studio that was used by the original Law & Order franchise.
Guest Star First
It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that some of the lead actors in SVU had previously guest-starred in other shows in the Law & Order universe. After showing off their acting chops, maybe they can be considered as a main cast member on SVU.
Many actors have to impress casting directors in guest roles to get bigger opportunities. Peter Scanavino, who plays Sonny Carisi, is the only Law & Order cast member to have had guest appearances in four out of the five Law & Order shows before finally landing a permanent role.
Mariska Hargitay Speaks Five Languages
When we see Detective Olivia Benson speaking Spanish on the show, she didn’t just memorize a few Spanish lines for that particular scene. She is actually fluent; in fact, her mother, Jayne Mansfield, reportedly spoke five different languages and had an impressive IQ of 149.
Mariska is also fluent in five languages: English, Spanish, Hungarian, French, and Italian. Additionally, her husband grew up in Germany and didn’t even learn English until he was ten. Undoubtedly, their kids will also speak multiple languages.
Met at Their Audition
Even though they had a magnetic connection from the start, Hargitay and Meloni were strangers up until their first audition. Hargitay heard that a friend of a friend would be coming in for the audition, and the two of them should meet.
So, when she introduced herself to Meloni, she assumed he was the friend of the friend, and the pair hit it off right away. They were then partnered up for auditions and did an outstanding job. Even though four other people were auditioning, it was clear to the casting directors that they had found their Detectives Benson and Stabler.
Even though they are never shown on TV, every episode of Law & Order: SVU follows a specific pattern and has a title. It wasn’t consistent during the first season of the show, but by the end, all of the titles were just one word.
Writers established a routine slowly, and from Season 13 to 17, episodes were each two words and contained as many letters as the season they were in. For example, the Season 13 episode entitled “Scorched Earth” has a total of 13 letters in it. Did you notice this pattern?
Fans Didn’t Like Carisi at First
Peter Scanavino came into the show as Detective Sonny Carisi and wasn’t well-received by audiences at first. Fortunately for the actor, the writers made his character softer and more likable as the show went on. However, it was rough at the beginning.
Scanavino recalled the initial reaction from fans to the Hollywood reporter: “It was my first TV show, but I’ve also done a lot of plays, and I’ve been panned in plays, but you don’t let it affect you. You can’t get bogged down in that. You have to bet on yourself, bet that what you’re doing is good.”
Why Did Meloni Leave SVU?
Christopher Meloni is an original cast member of the show, and he left the Special Victims Unit in 2011 after starring on it for 12 seasons. Many people assumed he just got tired of the show and wanted to try something new. Well, the real reason he left was because of contract negotiations.
Andy Cohen asked Meloni why he made the decision to leave. The actor responded saying, “When negotiations broke down.” Apparently, Meloni was hoping for a raise, but the network didn’t approve it. Hargitay, however, chose to stay on the show.
Like the rest of the shows in the Law & Order franchise, SVU has a string of remarkable guest stars sprinkled throughout the show’s continuous run. Some of the actors who graced the show with their presence are Kal Penn, Sarah Paulson, and Carol Burnett. But countless Academy Award winners made appearances.
One of the most memorable guest stars was the amazing Robin Williams, who played master-manipulator Merritt Rook, seeking revenge for his wife’s death and their unborn baby. But he wasn’t the only Oscar winner on SVU. Others include Whoopie Goldberg, Jeremy Irons, Olympia Dukakis, Patricia Arquette, and so many more.
“Ripped From the Headlines”
Like the original Law & Order series, SVU episodes are advertised as “ripped from the headlines.” Understandably, this causes many people to believe that the show’s stories are based on real events, but that isn’t necessarily the case. It actually means that news headlines inspire the plot; however, everything else in the episode is completely fictional.
Their intention isn’t to adapt news stories and portray them accurately. They need to dramatize it to keep audiences intrigued. That doesn’t mean they don’t run into issues, though. For example, take the 2016 episode Unstoppable; it featured a presidential candidate and needed to be delayed before the election.
The Catholic Church and the NFL Have Issues With the Show
Like everything else, some people found the show to be offensive and inappropriate. SVU even ran into some issues with huge organizations, including the Catholic Church and the NFL. From Season 13 to 17, the showrunner was Warren Leight, who aired two stories about the NFL players, which the NFL didn’t appreciate.
The Catholic Church was also upset after filming several episodes about events that take place within the organization. Leight has admitted that those two establishments are “exceptionally good [at] keeping on top of anything that makes them look bad.”
Mariska Hargitay Has Become an Activist
Mariska Hargitay is obviously the star of the show. Her character’s experience so inspired the actress and what she stands for that Hargitay became an advocate for victims as well as survivors—working on the show for so long exposed Mariska to real assault statistics and first-hand stories.
So, to help, Hargitay trained to become a crisis counselor and, in 2004, she founded the Joyful Heart Foundation. The organization’s goal is to provide help to victims, prevent future violence, and expedite testing kits that have been backlogged.