'Live PD' a mixed bag to cities, counties featured on show

Some jurisdictions have been sued by people filmed on the show, and others have reported impeded investigations, LEOs being distracted in dangerous situations, and negative publicity

By Matt Neuman
Missoulian, Mont.

MISSOULA COUNTY, Mont. — "Live PD" has proven a mixed bag for cities and counties featured on the hit reality-TV crime show.

Some police departments and sheriff’s offices have touted increased recruitment and public support after being filmed and broadcast live to the nation. But others have seen lawsuits, increased officer danger and pushback from citizens who felt the show focused on the worst parts of their hometowns.

The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office recently entered into a contract with “Live PD,” allowing the show unfettered access to its day-to-day operations. In a statement, MCSO said it was honored to be featured on the show beginning Sept. 20.

But at least three jurisdictions have been sued by people filmed on the show, and others have reported impeded investigations, officers being distracted in dangerous situations, and negative publicity. Those issues are also accompanied by concerns of people being treated and portrayed as guilty, rather than allowing for a judge or jury to decide that, tarnishing the reputations of people falsely accused or acquitted.

In Streetsboro, Ohio, a suburb of Akron, Police Chief Darin Powers eventually decided to end the contract with the show’s producer, Big Fish Entertainment, in 2018 after it began to cost the department money.

Because filming crews were crowding the patrol cars, additional officers were needed to transport suspects, leading to manpower and overtime issues, Powers told the Columbus Dispatch at the time.

Beyond the fiscal costs, Streetsboro City Council member John Ruediger was concerned about the social costs of having crime in his city broadcast nationwide.

“In the very first episode, there was an incident with some adults but there were children in the shot, and none of their faces were blurred out,” Ruediger told the Missoulian. “One of the big concerns I had was these kids have to go to school the next day and how awful it could be for a child if their parent is involved in something horrific and it’s all over national TV with their faces unblurred. And they could be ridiculed or tormented or anything else.”

At least six other jurisdictions have canceled or chosen not to renew contracts with the show.

Some residents have been sad to see the show leave their towns. Pasco County, Florida, decided not to renew its contract, and when the Sheriff's Office announced the decision on Facebook, thousands of disappointed residents commented on the post.

Recently in Texas, Williamson County Commissioners unanimously canceled its contract with the show, despite pushback from its sheriff, because the show refused to give up its ability to destroy tapes that could be used in trials. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys spoke out against the show and its practices there.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the chief of police decided against renewing the contract with “Live PD” in 2017, saying that hosting the show was not in the best interest of the department.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum also voiced his support of kicking the show out of the city after watching a video in which Tulsa Police wrestled on the ground with a suspect holding a handgun. Bynum said he saw camera crews as a distraction to police in that kind of intense, dangerous situation.

“(The chief's) job and my job is to keep the citizens of Tulsa safe, not providing fodder for reality TV,” Bynum told the Tulsa World.

While negative publicity may have been the worst Tulsa saw, a lawsuit in Connecticut and two in South Carolina have meant taxpayers are footing the bill for cities and counties sued by suspects who were filmed.

Two separate incidents on the same day in Greenville County, South Carolina, each resulted in lawsuits. Both incidents were characterized by the suspects as racially motivated. In one lawsuit against the sheriff's office and "Live PD," Frederick West said he and a group of friends were accosted by deputy sheriffs while hanging out in his front yard. He alleged that deputies didn't find anything on him but proceeded to search his property until they eventually found drugs, resulting in drug trafficking charges that were later dropped, the Miami Herald reported.

Despite the charges being dropped, the incident involving West continued to be aired nationwide "countless numbers of times," causing "irreparable harm" until the show stops airing the segment, the lawsuit alleged.

In the other suit, a man whose car was rear-ended by deputies and then searched was portrayed as a criminal on the show, despite deputies finding nothing in his car. The deputy involved continued to talk about the man as if he were a criminal, “suggesting that he happened to get away with a crime this time," according to the lawsuit. The man is suing the sheriff's office, Big Fish Entertainment, and the show's broadcaster A&E.

In Spokane, Washington, the city council created barriers to "Live PD" operating there in order to preserve the privacy rights of its residents and prevent excessive negative publicity.

In the ordinance passed by the council in March 2018, TV shows embedded with police must obtain a local business license, maintain liability insurance and obtain consent from the suspects they film. Suspects who are intoxicated or show signs of mental illness will not be able to give consent to be broadcast, the Spokesman Review reported.

The ordinance also allows police to make production crews stop filming at the officers' discretion. The contract Missoula County Sheriff's Office signed does not allow for such officer discretion, and grants Big Fish complete access to everything, down to the locker room.

©2019 Missoulian, Mont.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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