Elaine Frontain Bryant, the executive vice president and head of programming for A&E, has stated that the mission of Live PD is to provide “transparency of policing in America.” To that end, Live PD takes “COPS” to the next level, bringing a live feed from the field directly into your living room.
But how “live” is Live PD? How much of the calls are you actually seeing? And what kind of editing is being done to the footage?
The “Live PD” Wikipedia article contains an oft-repeated line: “Because of the risk of confidential or otherwise inappropriate material being aired, A&E imposes a broadcast delay on the show which may range from a few seconds to several minutes.”
Excuse me for a minute while I finish laughing 😂
Live PD is many things, but live is not one of them. In fact, one Live PD contract we looked at explicitly states that the show is produced to give *the appearance* of being unedited. And as this video shows, what was in reality a 20+ minute incident was condensed by Live PD to ~3 minutes of broadcast-worthy content.
Is it still “live” if audio is cut and dubbed between scenes?
If a funky bass backing track is added for mood? How far can the word “live” be stretched before it becomes a lie?
On March 20, 2020, The New York Times published an article about Live PD. Written by Lindsey Underwood, the piece describes Live PD as “live-ish,” adding – almost apologetically – that “There’s a delay, in case something unusually gruesome happens.” Not quite, Ms. Underwood.
Here are some facts:
—Officers in the field have the authority to stop Live PD’s film crew from filming at any time. No questions asked. No explanations needed.
—The law enforcement agency dictates what Live PD can (and can’t) film.
—We uncovered records indicating that – despite contract wording to the contrary – it’s the police department (and not the show) that has final say over what you see.
In an attempt to put real numbers on Live PD’s delay, we looked at contracts between the show’s production company, Big Fish Entertainment, and police agencies. The delay’s duration varies between contracts, but it has never been “seconds to several minutes.”
One contract we looked at states that ‘almost live’ content is delayed “10 to 25 minutes.” Another contract has the delay at “30-60 minutes.” That one also provides for a department representative literally in the control room, to put the kibosh on anything they don’t want you to see.
And it seems that things may be moving more in the direction of an edited production. We got our hands on the emails police agencies had exchanged with Live PD. For example, an email from Ashlee Souza, Live PD’s Coordinating Producer. The email was sent 12/19/19 and it contains a link to edited footage that was filmed two weeks prior. Souza’s email was a request to the police department, asking that they review and approve the linked video “package” covering the 12/3 incident. Souza sent a few nudging follow-up emails, and the package was finally reviewed and approved by the chief of police on 1/2/20. For content filmed 12/3/19. Almost live?
There are other, arguably more important, questions that should also be asked. Like how much editorial control police departments have over the footage that gets aired, and what kind of impact the show itself has on policing — let alone the people who appear on it.
For those questions I refer you to a fantastic podcast by Dan Taberski. It’s called “Running From COPS” and the six-episode series is the result of an 18-month investigation into the iconic TV show. Running From COPS explores how COPS actually gets made and how much control the police have over the final product, while telling some of the stories of people who have ended up on camera. The show’s last few episodes touch on Live PD. Check it out at http://tiny.cc/copspodcast
Want more Live PD vs. reality comparison videos? Let us know in the comments below!
*I’m running out of space, but – briefly – about Jalen Foster: Foster was arrested by Officer Martinez on 5/2/19 for driving without a license, which violated Foster’s probation for burglary of a structure. That’s how they know each other. More to come.
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