In reading the article about the show's cancellation in the Huffington Post today I learned things about the show that were even more chilling.
In 2004, a study of the show concluded it was racially skewed because it featured cops arresting Black and Latinx suspects for violent crimes at rates disproportionately higher than in reality. Last year, the podcast “Running From the Cops” came to similar conclusions.The TV show that turned policing into entertainment would go on to face other serious criticisms. “Running From the Cops” also found that officers followed on the show would sometimes coerce subjects into signing filming releases and that the show’s producers let police departments have the final say on what aired, thus letting the police dictate how they were portrayed on screen. In some cases, the show found, police used aggressive tactics condemned by the Justice Department, protected under the premise of a show that shines a positive light on cops. Other investigations have found that officers on the show sometimes took direction from camera crews regarding how to handle arrests.
Dan Taberski's excellent fact finding podcast Running from COPS chronicles the way that life perversely followed art on COPS and explains how film producers often called the shots on this series and are alleged to have lied about securing voluntary releases. And cops had a ten day veto power over footage to show themselves in the best possible light. Does that scare you? It scares me. Cops that evidently cared more about looking good on television and working for their producer buddies than having justice done. And Taberski maintains that the show glorified the use of excessive force and brutality by police officers.
Finally, it’s no small matter that “Cops” also consistently, and casually, presents textbook bad policing as good policing. In one disturbing segment, a white officer in Wichita, Kan., pries a black man’s mouth open with the butt end of his flashlight, leaving it inserted in his mouth while the officer searches for drugs. Another segment shows an officer in Arizona tasing a fleeing man in the back, in violation of his department’s use-of-force policy. The man was suspected merely of loitering. This type of behavior is never presented as either questionable or unconstitutional. Body-cam footage also recently captured that same officer in a separate incident tasing another suspect 10 times during a routine traffic stop, then pulling down the man’s shorts and tasing him an 11th time in the testicles.And it skewed reality. There was four times the violence showed on the episodes than in real life, three times the drug offenses. Because it looks so good on television. And they look so good. They always get their man, 95% of interactions have resulted in arrests in the last season, a number far higher than the real world.
How did we allow this to occur, the entertainment industry inserting itself into the judicial process? I wish Philip Dick was still alive. He would certainly have something to say about it, I am sure. And the fact that the cops on COPS were allowed to personally tailor and sanitize the footage before it was released.
Listen to this incredible podcast, Nothing is voluntary when you have handcuffs on. Very interesting and very dishonest behavior practiced allegedly by these sleazeball producers and their police partners. Nine supposed signed releases, eight suspects deny signing them and COPS refuses to ever come up with them. COPS playing for the cameras. Minority chase scenes and arrests were frontloaded before the first commercial. I guess that it makes for more riveting television.
A man in Tampa says he was threatened with a trumped-up charge of felony trespassing if he did not sign the release. A woman in Missouri filed a lawsuit after she was repeatedly harassed by producers, who showed up at her residence and her court appearances with the release forms in hand after she refused to sign. A woman in Gwinnett County, Ga., claims she was denied bail bond until she signed, after being arrested on the show for cocaine possession. A state test later proved the substance found in her car was not cocaine or a drug of any kind. “Cops” aired the episode anyway, and it continues to air in reruns.I'm personally very glad that the horrible show is finally off the air.