In one scene she's standing on a boat over moonlit water, sipping champagne and shedding a tear as her boyfriend proposes. In another, posing as a hooker in skintight capri pants and stiletto heels, she's leaning into a car window, chatting up a stranger and mentioning $40. But in her most poignant appearance to date on Cops, Fox's video verite crime series, deputy sheriff Linda Canada is hugging a hysterical 7-year-old black girl whose mother has just been beaten by her boyfriend. "I want to go with you" sobs the girl.

Scenes like these have made Cops, an innovative new documentary series that follows the day-to-day workings of Florida's Broward County Sheriffs Office, a TV stunner, tripling Fox's ratings for its Saturday night time slot since its national premiere last month. And scenes like these have made Canada, 26, blond and very attractive, the emerging star of Cops and the most compelling character to fill a serge suit since Angie Dickinson.

Like the sobbing girl, the Cops cameras always want to go with Canada. Most of the show's scenes aren't staged—they're captured by camera crews or by cameras hooked up inside the patrol cars. And most of the early episodes have focused on Canada. In fact, "there was too much of me," says Canada, wearing very short shorts and sitting on the couch of her Plantation home. "They got a lot from me, and I didn't like seeing myself. I love the show, but I was very critical of myself. And there was some resentment from others who wanted to be on, so I finally said no to the camera."

But she's certain to return. The Cops producers want Officer Canada's arresting presence back on the show, especially since she's an unbelievable bargain; while Fox is hauling down good profits from the show, Canada and the other cops are not being paid one cent over their police salaries—in her case, $30,000 a year. Although her bank balance may not reflect it yet, Canada is unmistakably headed for accidental fame. She has already been overwhelmed by public-appearance and interview requests.

Although Canada, the divorced mother of Laura, 8, and John, 2, has been on the beat for two years, it's doubtful that any director would seriously cast her as a cop. At 5'5" and 118 lbs., and with the face of a model, she simply doesn't look the part. Nor, as a rookie cop, did she act it. She spent her first day on the job learning the ropes with her training officer. "We were on patrol," says Canada, "and I waved to this cute kid standing on a street corner. He looked shocked." So did the trainer, who asked Canada why she was waving to a drug dealer.

These days Canada is tougher. In one scene from Cops, she jumps out of her patrol car and confronts a drugged-out hooker, warning the woman to "get off my street!" in a gritty, riveting voice that completely belies her beauty-contest looks.

The youngest of three, Linda was born in Arlington, Va., and was 4 when the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Her father, John Strunk, was a post office employee, and her mother, Barbara, a secretary. At 18, Linda married John Kivney, a salesman, and had her daughter. By 20 she was divorced and had changed her name to Canada, her mother's maiden name, preferring it to Strunk. To support herself, she became a private investigator because she "thought it would be exciting." It was also exhausting. Although she was living with a boyfriend, Canada was spending most of her time on the road, dragging Laura along on insurance surveillance work. In 1986 she became pregnant with John and the boyfriend left.

"I was 24 years old," she says, "and I could either go home to Mommy and Daddy or try to make it on my own. I wanted a more stable life, so I decided to become a cop." After four months at the Criminal Justice Institute at Broward Community College, doing "the same number of sit-ups the guys did," Canada threw a graduation party. Finding another man was the last thing on her mind. "My opinion of men was minus 10," she says. "Then I met Jerry at the party, and we've been going together ever since."

Jerry Wurms, now a detective on the Broward force, has also appeared on Cops. In one episode, with the producers' cooperation but without Linda's knowledge, he made his shipboard proposal in front of the cameras. The couple will be married April 29.

Wurms, 33, who dabbled in independent video producing before falling into his father's line of work, says there are "good points and bad points about Linda being a cop." She can understand what he's been through on a given day, but he worries that her work may make her cynical. Maybe it's already starting. "I used to think you do the crime, you pay," says Linda, shaking her head in disgust, dismissing the notion as hopelessly naive.

Linda's parents are less than enthusiastic about their daughter's job. "We don't like it one little bit," says her mother. "We're proud of her, but we just wish she'd be anything else." Actress is probably out. Despite the potential offers, Canada says celebrity isn't on her docket. "I don't want to be a star," she insists. But neither does she want to be a policewoman forever. "It's fun, but it's very stressful," Canada explains. "I think eventually I'd like to teach kids about drug abuse."

In the meantime, she continues as one of Florida's finest. And she often drives by the house of that 7-year-old black girl, "just to check on her." At last count, the boyfriend had been taken back by the mother, beaten her again, and the little girl had sobbed once more as he was taken away, probably not for the last time. "Sometimes," says Canada, "you just get disgusted with the system."