ST. LOUIS – For almost 13 years, the TV series “The First 48” has tagged along with real police detectives through the gritty, bloody process of investigating homicides, often from the initial call through an arrest.
Beginning in January, the crew from cable TV’s A&E Network will bring its cameras — and some past controversy — to the Gateway City, reported St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Police Chief Sam Dotson believes the benefit is to humanize officers and generate better cooperation to help break the “don’t snitch” urban code.
The negative is an emphasis on a city’s violent underbelly and concerns about complicating prosecutions. Those are calculated risks that Dotson said he is willing to take with a production company that so far has aired 333 episodes since it premiered in June 2004.
“This isn’t a startup,” Dotson said. “They’ve been doing this for a decade, so I have a high degree of confidence in them.”
The show’s “The First 48” title refers to an assumption that investigators who don’t get a solid lead in the first two days after a murder are far less likely to solve it.
More than 20 cities have participated, including Miami, Minneapolis, Dallas, Kansas City and Tulsa.
Videographers will begin shadowing the St. Louis homicide detectives in mid-January, with plans to air the first episode several months later.
Dotson had previously rebuffed producers of the show, but his opinion recently changed after a conversation the chief from New Orleans.
“He told me it actually helped people feel comfortable talking to detectives, and sometimes, people would ask for them by name,” Dotson said. “People recognized them and felt like they had a connection to them by watching the show. … The show highlights the good work and skill that homicide detectives have, and there’s no better way to promote that.”
Airing investigative work has caused problems in court. New Orleans Criminal District Court Judge Laurie White blasted city leaders for working with the show, saying the relationship had caused unnecessary complications. “I wish that the city would never contract with ‘The First 48,’ and I hope in the future they would think through that,” she said in a hearing, according to The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
Other complications include trade secrets that most investigators prefer to keep close to the vest, or disclosing witnesses that might otherwise like to avoid publicity.
In Texas, a man sued the show in February, claiming that he was shot and that his life remains in danger because he was portrayed as a “snitch” on the show despite efforts to conceal his identity, according to the Dallas Morning News.