Dutch Wagenbach is characterized by many as a socially inept nerd of German descent, even though he is a successful police detective. Assigned to the Farmington district of Los Angeles, Dutch is often the first called to investigate violent crimes due to his specialization in offender profiling and serial killers. Along with his partner, Detective Claudette Wyms, Dutch is widely considered to be the moral center of the show due to his willingness to do the right thing, despite the temptation to engage in illegal police activities.
Dutch is one of the few characters on The Shield that has had details revealed about his personal life. A divorced, middle-aged police detective who was born in the Midwest, Dutch became a police officer mainly as a means to gain the love and approval of his emotionally distant father. The impetus for his divorce was revealed early in Season 1; that his wife, an alcoholic, cheated on him and became pregnant by her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. Dutch is sexually frustrated, despite his claim that he has been laid, "more than a few times." He is one of two regular detectives throughout the whole series who never fired his weapon, the other one being his partner Claudette.
Dutch is not especially popular around his precinct. Many of his fellow officers consider Dutch to be over-educated and egotistical at best and a "rube" at worst because his ex-wife carried on an adulterous affair behind Dutch's back with her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor that resulted in her becoming pregnant with his child. This was revealed in the Co-Pilot episode during Season 2.
Dutch has a heated rivalry with Detective Vic Mackey. Dutch considers Vic to be nothing more than a brutish thug. This, in turn has led to Vic taking the rather public stance that he considers Dutch to be an over-educated elitist and calls him "Dutch Boy".
The two have engaged in several back-and-forth verbal fights over the course of the show, with Vic mocking Dutch's failure with women and Dutch briefly dating Vic's ex-wife Corrine. They very nearly came to blows in the fourth season when Dutch, who had just physically confronted another detective, accidentally hit Vic with a wild punch and was more than willing to throw hands with Vic before the entire incident was neutralized by Claudette.
However, there have been moments of mutual admiration between the two. Towards the end of season one, Dutch was able to successfully get a serial killer who was targeting local prostitutes to confess after a lengthy interrogation. This resulted in Vic conceding to Dutch that he is as smart as he claimed, and resulted in a truce between the two that lasted until the end of the third season. Even in the final season, Vic helped him on a case involving a shady former cop he had previously met.
Indeed, Dutch may be the only cop in the Barn who truly scares Vic, in terms of his potential to bring the Strike Team down if he ever put his mind towards the goal. This fear of Dutch going after the Strike Team was most notable during the money train heist arc, when Dutch began to close in on the Strike Team for their part in the heist. Vic openly showed fear that Dutch would not stop until he caught the Strike Team and tried to intimidate Dutch into dropping his investigation by threatening to resume his bullying of him, a move that effectively signaled the end to their truce. Mackey claimed that Dutch would be back to being "a joke" in the Barn. During season four, the Strike Team secretly bugged Dutch's car and mocked his lack of success on a date with a friend of Claudette's, as well as his singing of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf."
Dutch's investigation of the money train ultimately triggered the tragic series of events that led to the death of Vic's close friend, Detective Curtis "Lem" Lemansky. Dutch informed IAD Lt. Jon Kavanaugh about his suspicions, and Kavanaugh later used the information to trick the Strike Team into thinking Lem had turned traitor against them, causing Shane Vendrell to murder his friend using a grenade stolen from a Salvadoran gang.
During Kavanaugh's investigation into the team, Dutch learned from Kavanaugh about his suspicion of Vic's involvement into Lemansky's death. Despite the dislike he held toward Vic, Dutch confided to Claudette that he doubted whether Vic would ever murder a close friend, no matter the circumstances.
In the seventh and final season, Dutch was instrumental into bringing the members of the Strike Team down, being Claudette's trusted man on the case and personally arresting Ronnie Gardocki. As a horrified Vic watched the arrest of his last remaining friend, Dutch eyed his former nemesis with unveiled contempt.
Dutch also has an intense dislike for fellow Detective Steve Billings and the two have come to blows at least once. Billings often humiliates Dutch, but will often turn to him to cover up a mistake or illegal activities (such as purchasing vending machines for the Barn to use inside the precinct in order to turn a profit, which was expressly against department rules). In the sixth season, the two were partnered up by new Captain, Claudette Wyms because of the fact neither of them were currently assigned a partner, much to Dutch's displeasure. Further complicating things was Claudette openly siding with Billings when Dutch objected to the pairing. The partnership worked however quite well, Billings's weary pragmatism counterbalancing Dutch's sense of abstraction.
Billings, however, was sick of Dutch's needling about his various illegal actions. He reacted by a prank against Dutch, playing Cupid between Officer Tina Hanlon, Dutch's secret crush, and new Strike Team leader Kevin Hiatt and making Dutch an unwilling witness while they were having sex. Before Dutch could confront him, Billings took a short leave from the Barn to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the department. Dutch was instrumental into proving the biggest charges were bogus but had to be partnered again with Billings when he was reinstated, still decided to put as little effort as possible in his job. However, after the suicide of a man he had wrongfully suspected, a humbled Dutch turned to Billings and asked him to be more involved, realizing that he was only good at his job when he had somebody to challenge his views.
In the final episodes, Billings had false evidence put in a former sexual delinquent's house, as his former wife and his daughters were frightened by living in the vicinity. When he realized that, Dutch confronted Billings. Billings agreed to make the charges against the delinquent drop and in exchange, Dutch half-heartedly wrote a report backing Billings in his on-going lawsuit. Dutch finally rewrote the report by request of Steve's attorney (who was played by Jay Karnes's real life wife) who convinced Dutch that his client should not be humiliated and should get a fair settlement. She also gave Dutch her card, hinting that she had more than just a professional interest in him.
For a long time, Dutch's only true friend was his former partner, Claudette Wyms. The two have a rather complex and symbiotic relationship: Claudette uses her empathic touch to counterbalance Dutch's psychological means of solving violent crimes while Dutch is able to keep Claudette grounded emotionally, so as to prevent her from allowing her personal grudges and vendettas keep her from seeing the big picture towards their jobs as detectives.
Though friends, Claudette did share in the criticism of Dutch's ego. Her reaction to this egomania has been a systematic campaign of mean-spirited practical jokes waged against Dutch, including leaving dog manure inside his desk drawer. Dutch has taken upon himself to blame Vic Mackey for the pranks.
Because of Claudette's unwavering determination to do the right thing, no matter the cost, Dutch has at times paid the price for his loyalty. When Claudette pursues the oveturning of a myriad of cases because a public defender was high on drugs, the Los Angeles district attorney's office blacklisted both detectives. As a result, the two were demoted to working minor criminal cases for over six months before Captain Monica Rawling confronted the DA's office and manipulated them into removing the blacklisting of the two officers. However, Dutch struck a deal with the DA that Claudette subsequently discovered, and there was bad blood between them until the end of Season 4. After Dutch turned down a chance to replace Monica Rawling as Captain of the Barn, he told Claudette that the Chief wanted him "to be the spineless, company yes-man, jellyfish. I told him to shove it."
Since Claudette took over as Captain of the Barn in Season 5, Dutch remains one of the only detectives whose judgment she trusts completely. In Season 6, the two collaborated in proving that Internal Affairs Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh had planted evidence implicating Vic Mackey in the murder of Lem. She referred to Dutch as "my best detective."
Claudette's battle with lupus created a strain on their relationship during the final two seasons. Upon learning of Mackey's immunity deal with ICE, she is enraged. Dutch attempts to console her but she has learned about him trying to resolve Billings's latest stupidity, and she uses this as an excuse to unload her anger on him and shout, "You're fired, you sanctimonious son of a bitch!" Dutch calmly tells her that this isn't her and he gets her to leave the ICE building.
In the final episode, Claudette offhandedly tells Dutch, who ignored her furious termination order from earlier, that she fired him and Dutch says "It didn't take." Claudette gets over herself and finally tells Dutch that she is dying and no medicine can help her now. He asks what he can do and she tells him to just keep doing what he's been doing and that it means a lot to her. She says that she will show up every day until the day when she can work no more. They work together to break a teenaged serial killer while also dealing with the fallout from Vic and Shane's final implosions.
Dutch was initially attracted to patrol officer Danny Sofer. Taking advantage of his attraction, Danny manipulated him into helping her pass an exam that would have resulted in her promotion. After Danny rejected his advances one night after Dutch visited her home to help her prepare for her exam, Dutch lingered long enough to see his nemesis, Vic Mackey arrive and passionately kiss Danny. (Dutch's reaction to this, a muttered "You've got to be shitting me!" quickly became a popular catchphrase for fans of the show and has become a running gag during the show's run, used by various characters when they witness something shocking.)
Dutch would ultimately call Danny out on her manipulation in front of the rest of the Barn, when Danny tried to schedule another study session while Dutch was deep in the middle of an investigation of a recently murdered child. The two would eventually settle their differences and apologize to one another for their mutual bad behavior. The two remained close friends as Dutch has continued to mentor Danny unofficially.
In Season 6, after Dutch watched his longtime crush, Tina Hanlon, have sex with another man, he leaned on Danny for support. As for Danny, she began to see a more mature side to Dutch, who responded to Tina's apology by telling her in a fatherly way that she had no reason to apologize. Later, as Dutch comforted the nephew of a homeless man who had died alone, despite a family which loved him, Danny realized that she had feelings for him. When Danny later found him in the locker room, sobbing over the homeless man's death, she put her arms around him. The scene ended with them kissing passionately. However, the following day, at the start of Season 7, both claimed it was mainly the product of a moment. Afterward, Dutch's friendship with Danny returned to a more platonic state. Dutch eventually successfully persuaded Claudette to appoint Danny as her assistant. As the series wound to a close, Danny stood at Dutch's side during the arrest of Strike Team Detective Ronnie Gardocki.
Dutch was openly attracted to Tina Hanlon since she began her duty at the Barn, much in the same way he was attracted to Danny. He would come to her defense on several occasions where her inexperience resulted in mistakes and offered his services as a mentor to her. When semi-nude photographs of Tina began circulating around the Barn, Dutch personally began to investigate the source. Much to his surprise, Acting Captain Steve Billings had installed a security camera in the locker room and had carelessly left the photos on his desk where they were stolen and circulated. Billings, who knew of Dutch's attraction to Tina, begged Dutch to help him cover up the potential scandal before Tina could file a possible sexual harassment suit against the department. Ultimately, he pushed a plan to have Dutch begin mentoring Tina, and have Danny and Officer Julien Lowe's attempt have Tina dismissed from the force overruled, in exchange for her silence on the photos. When Claudette found out about the deal upon becoming Captain, she quickly tried to negate the deal Billings had reached. But when she realized that doing so could potentially destroy Dutch's career as well, the arrangement was allowed to continue.
Dutch realized, from a form of "education" he had been given that day, that the deal he had negotiated might make Tina smug. Dutch then told her that she would not be given special treatment, and that she would have to prove she was worth Dutch giving up his time to mentor her. The mentoring was off to a decent start as Dutch began to share some of his knowledge with the young officer.
In the Season 6 episode, "Back to One", Dutch felt envy as Tina admired out Strike Team member Ronnie Gardocki while on a meth case bust. Later in the episode, while Dutch and Tina were driving to Dutch's house to examine his archive of investigations, Dutch suggested ordering Chinese food and opening a bottle of wine. Tina, bewildered, asked, "Is this a date?" Dutch nervously responded with "Do you want it to be?"
Shortly after, Tina transferred out of the Farmington precinct to take part in the department's recruitment campaign. Tina returned to the barn a few weeks later. To Dutch's surprise, however, she soon took a liking to Strike Team Leader Kevin Hiatt. Billings, angry with Dutch for his continued blackmail of Billings's vending machines opportunity, arranged for Tina and Hiatt to meet at Tina's place and for Dutch to "accidentally" walk in on them. The end result was Tina having sex with Hiatt, while Dutch watched through the window. The shock of the meeting results in Dutch finally acknowledging that Tina is essentially lost to him and ending his infatuation with her.
Later, while discussing the incident with Danny, Tina described her encounter with Hiatt as "a big mistake." Speaking of Dutch, she said, "He had a chance, he just never took it." When Dutch approached her, she looked ashamed and told him she never wanted to hurt him. But Dutch responded in a fatherly way, telling her that she had nothing to apologize for. As Dutch walked away, Tina's eyes followed him longingly as he walked towards Danny.
Dutch also dated Corrine Mackey, ex-wife of Vic, for a period of time during the fourth season. The two dated behind Vic's back and, despite the innocent nature of their relationship, Vic accused Dutch of dating his ex-wife just to spite him. When Corrine confronted Dutch about this accusation, Dutch commented that spiting Vic played a small part in his pursuing her but he saw that she was doing the same thing as well. The two have since stopped dating, but have remained close friends, much to Vic's dismay. When Corrine found herself becoming a target of Lt. John Kavanaugh's IAD investigation of the Strike Team, Corrine turned to Dutch for advice. Dutch told her to just tell the truth, a move that led to Corrine revealing to Kavanaugh that Vic gave her $65,000 several months prior to take care of their children's special needs. Dutch also suggested to Corrine that she do whatever possible to curry favor with Kavanaugh, in the belief that her cooperation would lead to Kavanaugh not to follow through with his threats to indict Corrine as an accomplice to her husband's crimes. This move, however, backfired and only further enraged Kavanaugh, who made it clear to Corrine that she would help him because she has no choice, due to her status as IAD's leverage over Vic. However, when an enraged Corinne formally accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Dutch privately expressed doubt that Kavanaugh would ever attempt to rape her.
In the final season, Corrine turned to Dutch when she had a better grasp of Vic's criminal activities due to Mara Vendrell's revelations about the Strike Team. When Shane and Mara used her as a go-between in their negotiations with Vic, she informed the police through Dutch. When Vic arranged an immunity deal with the Feds, Corrine was horrified that her ex-husband might murder her and the children in retaliation. For this reason, Dutch and Claudette arranged for the Mackey family to disappear into the Witness Protection Program.
Dutch's relationship with IAD Lt. Jon Kavanaugh was also complicated, especially when he forced Dutch to help him investigate the rape of Kavanaugh's ex-wife. In spite of Kavanaugh using bullying tactics to force Dutch to obey his demands; especially after pulling rank on Dutch, Dutch did seem willing to help Kavanaugh's investigation of Vic and the Strike Team. It was Dutch who alerted Kavanaugh towards the money train heist and Vic's involvement in the robbery. He personally offered to hand over to Kavanaugh his personal notes, outlining the evidence he uncovered linking the Strike Team with the heist. However, the relationship soured when Dutch learned that Kavanaugh's ex-wife, Sadie, had a history of mental illness. Kavanaugh reacted violently, throwing Dutch against a bathroom wall, when Dutch casually asked why Kavanaugh had refused to share such important information with him.
When Dutch ultimately realized that Sadie had faked being raped, Kavanaugh refused to believe him and ordered Dutch to continue to investigate a local sex offender Sadie had identified as her attacker. Though Kavanaugh ultimately was forced to realize Dutch was right, Dutch would renege on his offer to assist him after this negative experience.
Upon beginning his investigation into Lemansky's murder, Dutch was surprised to see Kavanaugh appear in the Barn and seemingly setting up shop again. Upon questioning, he discovered that Kavanaugh was looking into an alternate aspect of Lem's murder, mainly Vic's involvement. During his search for information into the Salvadorans, he looks for Emolia Melendez, Vic and Kavanaugh's former informant. As he nears a possible residence that received a call from Kavanaugh, who informed him that Emolia had sought him out in an attempt to sell him information of Vic's involvement, he gave Dutch a false meeting place, and later gave him the excuse that Emolia changed the meeting place and that he was unable to reach Dutch.
After hearing her testimony, Dutch expressed skepticism about the truth into her story and requested highway footage to check the validity of Kavanaugh's story. What he did not know was that Kavanaugh, in an attempt to protect Emolia's credibility, had already requested that Dutch be pulled off of the case, citing that Dutch's relationship with Vic might have resulted in a conflict of interest.
Before any change could be made, Dutch investigated the footage given to him by the city of the apparent meeting place, disproving the validity of Emolia's story. Combined with allegations by Corrine Mackey of Kavanaugh's abuse of power, plus the apparent fact that the evidence appeared to be "too perfect", Dutch attempted to question Emolia himself about the validity of her story. Kavanaugh ended the interview, but Claudette instead took Emolia for her own interview, resulting in Kavanaugh confessing to his crime of framing Vic for the murder of Lem.
Dutch's communication with the Strike Team beyond Vic rotated between assisting them in gang and homicide-related cases on the street, and regular antagonism, due to their loyalty to Vic, who disliked Dutch for the majority of the series and played both well-meaning but also harsh pranks on the detective. The Strike Team as a collective held both respect and fear for the detective, as they knew his unorthodox criminal profiling techniques and effective investigation methods were an immediate and extremely viable threat to their various illegal activities. This is most evident when Dutch began establishing links between the Strike Team and the Armenian Money Train heist.
Shane in particular shared Vic's antagonism against Dutch, bullying him solely because Vic did so. Lem was more neutral and playful with Dutch, working together with him with a level of respect as any other fellow police officer. Ronnie hardly interacted with Dutch but when they did it usually involved one of Vic's pranks, such as when Ronnie and Vic planted an unauthorised wire in Dutch's vehicle to watch his mostly unsuccessful attempts to woo his date before he dropped her off while singing "Hungry Like a Wolf".
Because of his unhappy childhood and his treatment as a pariah amongst his fellow detectives, Dutch carries around a great deal of bottled up anger that borders on outright rage. Occasionally, when he has been put through a great deal of stress or frustration, Dutch's containment of these emotions is unleashed, sometimes in very public outbursts.
In the first season, Dutch thoroughly interrogated and psychoanalyzed a man he suspected of being a serial killer. The man then did the same to Dutch with great effectiveness, dwelling on Dutch's lonely and awkward nature. Most of the precinct had no opinion of the man and believed Dutch was wasting his time, and some even found amusement in the man's verbal abuse of Dutch. Eventually, however, and to the astonishment of the precinct, Dutch exposed the man's guilt and even got him to confess. This gained a completely unexpected applause and accolade from the other officers, including Vic. However, in a private moment later that same night, Dutch broke down and cried due to the truth of his attacker's words.
On another case, upon discovering that a couple he was defending turned out to be serial killers, Dutch entered one of the Barn's toilet stalls and blamed himself for not saving their victim in time. After contemplating this, moments later Dutch slammed the stall door.
Dutch's dark side became most notable during season three in a controversial sequence where Dutch strangled a stray cat with his bare hands, partly because its caterwauling was constantly keeping him awake, but also to see how it felt to kill another living thing. This act was influenced by Dutch's interrogations of the "cuddler rapist," a serial offender who sexually assaulted senior citizens and eventually graduated to murder.
Season 4 saw another appearance of Dutch's dark side, when he was interrogating another serial killer, in which he described to the suspect, in great detail, what he believed the killer must have felt during the murder.
In the Season 5 premiere "Extraction", Dutch nearly strangles to death a man who tried to push Detective Wyms over the second story railing of the Barn. Dutch has to be physically separated from the attacker by Mackey.
Dutch repeatedly declined promotions to be able to stay partnered with Claudette. He once turned down a chance to replace Captain Monica Rawling as Captain of the Barn because of his loyalty to her. However, Dutch also believed that his superiors only offered the job to him because they felt that Dutch was "a spineless, company yes-man, jellyfish."
He also turned down an offer to transfer to the LAPD's "robbery-homicide" division, which Dutch once commented was his dream assignment. He later learned, however, that the offer was arranged by Claudette, who wanted to get rid of Dutch so that he would not have to worry about her terminal lupus, which had recently experienced a debilitating flare-up.
When Claudette fell down a flight of stairs at the Barn and her condition suddenly became public knowledge in the department, Claudette furiously accused Dutch of being the one who told her superiors; however, it was Billings. He requested a transfer a few days later, partly because of his new assignment with Billings, but also because he was no longer with his long-term partner. His transfer was denied in the wake of Lemansky's murder, with Claudette stating, "I need my best detective on this."
As the series wound to a close, it was implied that Dutch planned to stay at the Barn as Claudette's right-hand man. He also met the oft-mentioned but not previously seen Ellen Carmichael, Steve Billings's attorney, who swiftly developed a romantic interest in Dutch. After arranging an end to Steve Billings's lawsuit, Ellen (who is played by Jay Karnes's real life wife) left Dutch her business card, asking him to call her soon.Jay Karnes later played an Internal Affairs officer also named "Wagenbach" in "For Gedda", an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.