A fairly new cable television show called Live PD puts viewers in the front seat of cop cars as officers’ speed to calls, make traffic stops, and respond to various situations in their respective cities. The program is just what it’s billed as – live police work. It alternates from boring to entertaining, but it’s always intrusive.
Live PD, which airs on the A&E network, focuses on police officers in six cities across the United States. The hub linking all this action is a studio environment hosted by Dan Abrams, joined by Dallas Police Detectives Rich Emberlin and Kevin Jackson. The program switches back and forth, jumping away from calls that look boring and ensuring that viewers are fed a near-constant stream of adrenaline and analysis as the hosts weigh in on the situations presented. It all sounds exciting and amazing – but in reality, it pushes a highly disturbing narrative.
In one episode, a portly officer gleefully chuckles as he drives away from a call. He’s happy that he could take someone to jail. He says that he gets paid to take people to jail, and so it’s not a good day unless he fulfills his goal. In a constitutional republic – at least a properly functioning one – the purpose of law enforcement is not solely to take people to jail. The fact that an active officer on the street sees his purpose as such is a frightening concept because it means that the average citizen’s constitutional rights come second to him fulfilling what he sees as his ‘duty.’
In another episode, the hosts shake their heads with a collective ‘tsk tsk’ that someone would dare question what the police are doing. The message is clear – always do everything you are told to by a police officer, even if they’re wrong, even if you’re innocent. Don’t stand up for your rights when they’re blatantly violated, don’t question the authorities, just blindly comply.
The obvious problem with this is that police are human too. They make mistakes – and sometimes those mistakes cost people their lives. If you’re unlucky enough to run up against an officer who believes his greatest purpose while on duty is to take people to jail, you’re already at a disadvantage.
Another issue is that if you’re in public, it’s perfectly legal for you to be filmed without your consent. That means if you happen to be in one of these six cities, you could be pulled over by a cop from this show, have your car searched, even end up in handcuffs if you dare ask the wrong question and the police you’re dealing with thinks he might look weak on camera. Your experience, of course, would be broadcasted live for your family, friends, and colleagues to see.
All of this, while highly disturbing, isn’t even the worst of it. In 1989, the show Cops first aired, and suddenly Americans being pulled over, chased, searched and arrested became a form of entertainment. Thirty years later, that isn’t enough; in keeping with the need for raw, uncensored gratification, Live PD has upped the ante. The surveillance state with its cameras everywhere now allow Americans to watch police bring the hammer down live, where there’s always a chance that something graphic will happen. In fact, that possibility is part of the show’s appeal, and A&E’s producers admit it:
I think anything can happen. We can see a police officer’s reactions to a situation and that reaction can be totally perfect, or, in that moment, maybe make a mistake.
When those mistakes happen, will the officer be held responsible? When rights are violated, will viewers even know? Or will it all just be entertainment, no matter how immoral? And perhaps most importantly, what does it say about us as a society?