What’s Wrong With LIVEPD
I grew up on COPS. It first aired on March 11, 1989, on what was then an up and coming network named FOX. When it aired, COPS had bad mustaches, bad uniforms, lots of original Oakley brand “Blades” sunglasses (remember those), with Ford Crown Victoria and Chevy Impala police cars. Law Enforcement Today authors Jay Wiley and Robert Weisskopf probably have a few stories about those cars. COPS was not without controversy, but it became one of the longest running shows on television. It still airs today. COPS episodes were taped, edited then aired at a later date. Now we have LIVEPD, which has a host, in-studio guests, and features several police departments and officers around the country as they respond to various calls for service. LIVEPD is aired live with little to no studio editing. So what’s wrong with the show?
Before I continue, I want to take a moment to say that I do love LIVEPD. I watch it all the time. My wife frequently catches me watching it and asks, “Don’t you get enough of that at work?” The show is a great training aid. I love the job and being the police, and of course I watch it and ask myself how I would have handled the call for service that unfolds on the show. However, I know how cops are. Cops are usually disgruntled and downright ornery. I know some of you will MDT message your beat partner, or text your sergeant with the hastag, #lookatthisidiotauthor. But I think there are some cops out there who will agree with me. So don’t judge!
LIVEPD Is Not Accurate
I am frequently asked at cocktail parties and neighborhood gatherings what it is like being a cop. People always ask, “Is it like what I see on TV?” I always answer no. I always tell people that police work, regardless of where you work is hours of boredom. There are lots of tedious administrative paperwork (timecards, departmental forms etc.) to complete, mind-numbing documentation (police/accident reports), low risk calls for service (alarms/fraud complaints), and a adrenaline rushing calls involving domestic assaults, and foot/vehicle pursuits mixed in to keep the shift interesting. I also add that there are petty neighborhood disputes like trash cans not removed on time, or Facebook taunts (yes, I have handled those), and awful calls involving death, child and or elder abuse.
I try to emphasize to people that normally, police work is not running from call to call, handling vehicle pursuits, and chasing after armed suspects. Yes, I been in vehicle and foot pursuits, and yes I have had shifts where I went call to call, with no breaks. Yes, I have been on SWAT callouts, and thrown flashbangs, and captured wanted felons and fugitives at gunpoint. However, for every cool Hollywood style police call I have been on, I have been on three calls that were not so cool. For instance, I have been on not so cool calls like mediating between neighbors fighting over a parking place, comforting a daughter who found her mom dead in the kitchen, or going to McDonald’s to buy breakfast for a family that found their 10 year old son dead in bed after he suffered an asthma attack in his sleep. You never see those not so cool calls on LIVEPD. And those cool Hollywood calls like vehicle pursuits and foot chases produced mountains of paperwork that took me hours to complete. You never see LIVEPD showing cops spending half of their shift on paperwork.
Another aspect of policing you don’t see on LIVEPD is police PTSD. Police PTSD is not a joke. It is real. The Law Enforcement Today Radio Show with Jay Wiley has featured many guests on the topic. My favorite is the one with Chris Orton (Season 2 Episode 1). If you are cop and reading this, and you think you have PTSD, please ask for help. The job can take a huge toll on your psyche, and it is important to seek help if begin to develop signs of PTSD.
One of the best cops I know is guy I will call Mike (not his real name). Tough, experienced, and one of the best investigators I have ever seen. He is also one helluva SWAT officer. I have been on many callouts with him, kicking in doors, and sitting and waiting for hours on barricades. He is one of the best.
I remember few years back there was a shaken baby death case he worked. The dad killed the baby while the mom was at work. Awful case and one of the worst kinds a cop can experience. The incident happened early one night. I was on day shift at the time, so when I went to work that day, Mike had been at the scene all night. I saw him later in the day after he had come back from the medical examiner’s office after the autopsy. We passed in the hallway. He had been up all night and he looked like sh-t. His face said it all. He had that 1,000 yard stare and we passed in the hallway like strangers. It was like he didn’t even know me. I gave him some space. I don’t know how, but he recovered and dealt with those demons. You won’t see officers after a baby’s autopsy on LIVEPD.
LIVEPD Is Bad for Recruiting
“Top Gun” debuted on May 16, 1986, and the media has widely reported about the movie’s effect on U.S. Navy recruitment. There were reports that recruiting booths were set up in movie theaters, and that interest in the U.S. Navy, specifically Navy flight programs, skyrocketed.
The reality is that not everyone in the Navy is a pilot. The vast and overwhelming majority of U.S. servicemen and women are not pilots and are not associated with flight programs.
There has been no research on LIVEPDs effect on police recruitment. However, speak with any police chief, sheriff, or police recruiter and they will tell you that there is a recruiting crisis in law enforcement. There has been a significant decrease in the amount of quality police applicants. Law enforcement recruiting officials nationwide have consistently spoken about the difficulty in finding applicants that have clean backgrounds, good credit, and can pass a polygraph.
Additionally, law enforcement trainers (including me!) and supervisors have had difficulty training and managing young police officers that have successfully made it through the police academy. One of the chief complaints is that new police recruits lack the ability or desire to work with the community to solve non-traditional police problems.
One of the main themes of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
was the cause and effect of effective community policing and the relationship/image of the police in local communities. If you think this report is irrelevant, think again. The report and its key findings will be with us for decades. The bottom line is that the public expects the police to solve problems, even if the problems are not “a police matter.”
Here a good example:
Officer working a beat notices a large number of parking complaints from a particular neighborhood. This neighborhood has permit parking only during certain times of the day/night. This neighborhood is a Section 8 neighborhood with the majority of residents being poor, mostly non-English speaking immigrants.
The residents begin complaining that there are not enough parking spaces, and they are not able to park and are subsequently ticketed and towed. Some residents have to park 10-15 blocks away from their house, even when they paid for the parking permit. Some residents are elderly and disabled. The officer takes compassion, because he remembers when his parents couldn’t afford a car and took the bus to run errands etc.
The beat officer decides to investigate further and notices that there are approximately 50 parking complaints over a six month period. Most officers had responded to complaints from residents of this community and said, “It isn’t a police matter.”
The beat officer calls the revenue office and discovers that the revenue office has issued almost 10 times the amount of parking permits as there are residents in this neighborhood. Using sources of information in the community, the officers discovers that there is a black market for parking permits in this community. The officer finds that residents in the surrounding apartment complexes were fraudulently able to purchase parking permits for this neighborhood, and park to avoid paying the high price of the apartment parking fees.
The officer coordinates with the community HOA and the local government to have the correct amount of permits issued. This community problem only took the officer a few hours to solve.
You will not see this type of community problem solving on LIVEPD. You only see officers driving fast, and pointing guns at people. The public is now demanding more from the police. In my opinion we lost the night watchmen, beat officer mentality that used to exist in law enforcement. An officer I know (name protected) has a picture of Norman Rockwell’s, “The Runaway,” prominently displayed in his office. He told me once that it shows everything law enforcement should be: an officer in uniform, a member of the community, counseling a young boy, at a local food establishment.
One of the most underrated aspects of law enforcement is community interaction. When there are no calls for service, and the radio is quiet, I love just driving around, waving and talking to people. Law Enforcement Today radio host Jay Wiley has also talked about this in his radio show. You must enjoy this aspect of law enforcement, if you want to survive a long career.
If you want to become a member of law enforcement after watching LIVEPD, please find another job. If you want to drive fast, shoot guns, and wave a badge around, please find another job.
However, if you want to make a difference in your community, solve problems, enjoy talking to people, and only want to use force as a last resort, please contact your local police recruiter.
I am not a fool. I have been in law enforcement for almost 19 years. I understand that we sometimes go into awful places and find, arrest, and sometimes have to use force on some really bad people. And sometimes we have to drive fast to get there. I understand that this profession is sometimes ugly and things occasionally can get messy. But the majority of police work is not what you see on LIVEPD.
Will is a certified law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He has been in law enforcement for over 19 years at the local and federal level. Law enforcement is his passion and he has served in a variety of roles including: SWAT, FTO, bike officer, and Community Policing Officer. He is an avid reader, and spends whatever free time he has away from work with his family, and working out. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from the Virginia Military Institute, and a Masters in criminal justice from Boston University.
He has written articles for other well known law enforcement publications and has appeared on CNN and CSPAN. The opinions expressed here are his own.