For the patient fans who waited through the NBC/TNT handover, the third season of “Southland” begins in the middle of action. Lydia (Regina King) and her new partner Josie Ochoa (Jenny Gago) run down a perp. The episode culminates in a rolling vehicular move by the officers on the street, so “Southland” is back with thrilling TV action, but it’s not really the action that makes the show.

Flash back to the beginning of the case that leads to this dramatic chase. John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) and Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) respond to the call about of a missing janitor. Ben brings the human touch to an uncaring bureaucrat. The missing woman’s daughter is upset. That should have been enough cause to investigate, but the suit waited two days. Now it’s a police matter.

Cooper knows something’s wrong from basic detective skills. Her purse is still in her locker. What woman would leave her purse? Duh. This is enough to turn the case over to Lydia and the detectives. The janitor never punched out. And that didn’t raise a red flag? The K-9 unit ultimately finds the body (spoiler alert, but come on, did you really think she’d turn out okay?)

Even though we know what’s coming, “Southland” builds up to the discovery with class and suspense. That’s why the show is a step above the usual cop drama. Also, this all happens within 10 hours. That’s some damn fine police work. I hope the real cops are that efficient.

Continuing in the story, the detectives handle the survivors with sympathy. Josie tells the daughter, “I’m going to be sad with you, okay?” Think about it, that is the only possible response to the situation and it could even be helpful. Personality differences between Josie and Lydia become a recurring theme. It’s petty that Lydia doesn’t like Josie talking on the phone while driving, but profound when they argue a rape counselor’s responsibility to help the investigation.

Meanwhile Cooper and Sherman handle some more petty street incidents and these are my favorites on the show. A fight between a convenience store clerk and a customer over $3 tests even Cooper’s patience. He uses his own personal resources to defuse the situation, which may be against the books but I respect it. In real life, it’s more important to just solve the problem then follow some irrelevant procedure. That’s why the police work of “Southland” speaks to me on a more practical level.

Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) investigate the bodies of some gang members in a subplot that didn’t mean as much to me this week. However, it does touch on the reality that a couple of suits can only do so much in gangland. More interesting is that Tammi and Sammy have bee fighting again. We don’t even know what it was about, but we get it because that girl is nothing but drama.

Yes, this is the “Southland” I love. They’ve set up some ongoing dramas (also Cooper’s painkiller dependence) but delivered a standalone episode that should hook any first time viewer.

“Southland” returns Jan. 4 on TNT.