THere was a window into the summer of 2020 of unimaginable, unexpected progress. This included the cancellation of Cops and Live PD, two reality shows combined with law enforcement that provided footage of real people in real arrests for the appreciation of the police and the mockery of their targets. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, the show networks, Paramount and A&E, have responded to pressure to account for television’s role in the so-called copaganda production. It was a long-awaited move as Cops, the longest running reality show in history that could air 69 times a week in syndicate form, cemented the influential police archetype as tough, fickle, justify-the-mean characters and left behind a trail of off-camera damage. in its wake.
will not last. Last September, Cops moved to Fox News Media’s streaming platform, Fox Nation, which aired its 34th season the following month. And on Wednesday, cable channel Reelz announced that it will revive Live PD, which is arguably the most unscrupulous, deceptive and dangerous version of its predecessor. The “live” version of Cops, Live PD premiered on A&E in 2016 and quickly became the most-watched show of its time with an average of 2.4 million viewers. She was more famous than Cops, having run one-hour marathons, and six spin-offs by 2020. The return of Cops and Live PD is not surprising – there was a lot of money, a very large fan base, a very wide culture gap and very little incentive for producers not to Take advantage of all of that to keep them off the broadcast. But that does not diminish the disappointment, nor does it dispense with reiterating what many unwilling participants already know: The revival of PD Live is a regression, and people will pay for it.
Its new Live PD rebranded to On Patrol: Live, but maintains the same production company, Big Fish Entertainment, as well as host Dan Abrams, who also serves as ABC News’ lead legal analyst. According to Abrams in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, On Patrol: Live “is going to be a very similar kind of show that it used to be.” As in, a show applies the buzz of a sports news report to seemingly live police footage, serialized with commentaries by analysts at a New York studio. Think of the NFL Red Zone, but for the arrests of people who haven’t been given the opportunity to sign release forms because the show considers itself live news. “Live PD follows newsgathering standards as any news organization – whether it’s your news show or your nightly newspaper – in covering a story,” an A&E spokesperson told the New York Times in 2020.
Abrams echoed that sentiment – that Live PD is an information-gathering tool – in the announcement of the new series. “I think the environment has changed [since Live PD was canceled],” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think the more we talk about police work, the more we want to watch police officers do what they do. There was a conversation back then about policing, and there’s a conversation now about policing, and as a result I think it’s good to have a lens in police departments.”
To be clear: Live PD does not act as a news organization. It puts a “lens on police departments” as much as hundreds of hours of footage that is then edited for entertainment and, as many investigations have found, with police interventions to keep blatant misconduct off the air. (There is a 10- to 25-minute delay allowing producers to make adjustments, and “previous shots” clips can be shot weeks in advance.) If the environment has “changed,” as Abrams claims, it’s because public pressure has moved enough elsewhere for Live PD to be able to return; Not that the show is intended to contribute to a more accurate, nuanced, and critical view of police in the United States.
Live PD is an even more deceptive stunt than Cops, in that it places an over-emphasis on transparency by suggesting that 1-minute clips broadcast on TV are 1) live 2) minutes, despite excluding hours of footage and 3) A real life actor and real policeman. This is not the case, because Live PD is entertainment in a symbiotic relationship with law enforcement. An investigation by the Marshall Project through records requests from 47 agencies working with Live PD found that at least 13 departments had asked the show not to air some not-so-fun encounters, which eventually went unaired. This reportedly included footage of a Rhode Island officer hitting a suspected shop burglar on a skateboard the door of his car, video of officers grabbing a potential domestic violence victim and dragging her out of her Washington home, and a Louisiana officer possibly calling a black man a “boy.” (Live PD said the footage was not broadcast for other reasons.)
District attorneys in Austin, Texas, fought to have Live PD footage of the arrest of Javier Ambler II, a 40-year-old black man, in May 2019, after a manhunt began because he failed to dim his headlights; Ambler died after being handcuffed, tortured and forced to the ground. The case and potential loss of evidence was not publicly known until Austin American Statesman and KVUE-TV reported it days before A&E canceled Live PD. It’s unclear whether Williamson County sheriffs viewed the Live PD footage prior to its destruction, although according to email records obtained by the Marshall Project, Live PD producers regularly sent footage to MPs for review in 2019. (In March 2021, he raised Live PD sued the Austin Police Department and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for confiscating their footage and wrongly blaming the producers for “obstructing” the investigation.)
The Ambler affair is perhaps the most egregious example of the series’s allegiances and incredibly ambiguous morals, but the mundane slices of bread and butter take their toll. A 2020 Austin American Statesman investigation found that uses of force by Williamson County sheriffs nearly doubled in the year after Live PD’s partnership with the department, and that representatives used more force during the weeks filmed by Live PD camera crews. Even if the case does not turn violent, there is the humiliation factor.
“They have no problem belittling you, insulting you, insulting you…some of them call you names and so on,” a woman named Amy in Spokane, Washington, told Running Cops, a six-part 2019 podcast that investigates Cops and Live PD. Amy Live PD’s arrest was filmed when she was drunk, crying, committed no crime, and unable to give consent (not that important because, again, this is supposed to be live news).
The podcast found that her friend, has been searched six times by police with the Live PD crew, hoping to arrest her for missing an appointment with the corrections officer on camera. Another man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said he agreed to attend the show after several visits from police and film crews and paid $40. “They just kept stalking my house and I finally knew these guys weren’t going to go away,” he told the producers. Live PD will not confirm or deny payment, but the man has provided text messages with a show producer supporting his story.
It may return to TV, but Live PD won’t be welcome everywhere; In May last year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law, named after Ambler, that would prevent reality TV from partnering with the state police. Spokane passed a measure in 2018 that required Cops and Live PD to obtain approval from everyone on the show as well as appropriate insurance. Perhaps limitations and fears of liability will result in PD Live with fewer glorious figurative uses of force.
Perhaps new administrations and civilian cycling, Abrams told The Hollywood Reporter, will change the fabric of the show. I doubt it. It would not be enough to make any change to a program whose primary objective is to translate policing into dead-end entertainment.