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I really wondered what would make an average detective think he would have a chance one-on-one with an arch-criminal. Was this scene to indicate that the Joker's formidableness was largely unknown or was it just used to make the plot move forward?

It is clear that everyone thought the Joker was a physically unthreatening clown -- even the pimp who wanted to "teach him some manners" before killing him thought this even though he had witnessed him killing one of his bodyguards in the blink of an eye, like a magic trick. This is calculated. So maybe a better question is, did Batman himself underestimate The Joker, failing to tell the police just what they had on their hands? This movie established The Joker as a true criminal genius and even unarmed one of the most dangerous men alive. (Note: If the police had captured Bane, they sure were not going to leave him in a room alone with one detective, seated at a table wearing ordinary handcuffs.)

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  • Wasn't the Joker handcuffed at the time? – user66716 Oct 14 '17 at 10:58
  • @jim my sense is that the cop may have uncuffed him to make it a fair fight; in any case, handcuffs vs a trickster (someone with the skills of an accomplished stage magician, yes, an evil one) -- not a problem. – Jeff Oct 14 '17 at 16:21
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Joker was just a crazy killer at that point, at least to a cop.

The most Joker has done at this point in the movie is arrange some high profile assassinations and crash a party. The attack on Dent's convoy - the unsuccessful one, where they captured him - is the biggest stunt pulled so far. So even though smart people are recognizing he's still a threat behind bars, the reputation hasn't sunk in yet.

To a regular cop, he's just another dirtbag, and he's been caught. What harm could he do, in the middle of a secure station?

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  • That's exactly it and I will edit my OP to make what I am getting at more precise. – Jeff Oct 14 '17 at 16:26

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