Film crews hoping to broadcast Spokane police officers on the beat will be subject to additional regulations and review under a law set for a vote by the City Council on Monday night.
The proposal from City Council President Ben Stuckart is not intended to censor shows such as “Live PD” but to protect those who appear on the programs from public scrutiny and ridicule without their permission, the lawmaker said.
“I’m just saying people can film whatever they want,” Stuckart said. “If they put it on TV, they have to get the person’s consent.”
But censorship is exactly what restrictions on those shows would amount to, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.
The law requires any entity hoping to broadcast images while “embedded” with law enforcement within Spokane city limits to obtain a business license and insurance, as well as allow the police department to review all footage prior to airing.
“Live PD,” a program airing on the A&E Network that has featured members of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, often includes a delay of just a few minutes between an event and its broadcast. That has prompted concern from some cities that the show highlights criminal activity, while ignoring positive interactions between residents and law enforcement.
Cities in Connecticut, Oklahoma and Ohio already have chosen not to renew contracts with the show in part because of these issues, according to an Associated Press report from January.
But the sheriff’s office intends to continue its relationship with the program, regardless of what laws pass in the city, said Knezovich.
“The public loves it,” Knezovich said. “I cannot tell you how many times people have come to me and said they really appreciate the way the deputies handle things. It’s been the greatest recruiting tool that we have.”
The Spokane Police Department does not have an agreement with “Live PD,” but has appeared on the program “C.O.P.S.,” which provides more time for review by local officials before broadcast. That program also obtained a local business license to film in Spokane, Stuckart said.
Stuckart said he also was driven to push the legislation because of the perception that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by members of minority groups and those with substance abuse issues or in mental health crises.
“The studies that exist – it’s not the best-researched topic – but those that exist show there’s a bias in these shows,” Stuckart said.
The city law would require film crews to obtain “a knowing, voluntary, and informed written waiver” from anyone appearing on camera that they are permitting the broadcast of their image. Those who are intoxicated or exhibiting signs of mental illness would not be able to give that consent, under the city law.
Knezovich said he believes any attempt to sanitize what is shown amounts to censorship and denied that showing law enforcement responding to calls for service suggested a bias against any particular group.
“It is showing life. That’s what we’re seeing, out on the street,” Knezovich said. “We can’t control that.”
The sheriff suggested the program should prompt a community conversation about the causes of frequent law enforcement contact with minority groups, including poverty and educational opportunities.
“If we want to talk about disproportionality, let’s talk about the causes,” Knezovich said.
Stuckart said he’s not trying to hide what occurs on the streets, only to protect the rights of people who appear on the shows.
“I’m not saying they can’t exist, or that they can’t have an agreement,” Stuckart said. “They just need the consent of the people being filmed.”
The proposed law would slap production companies with a civil infraction and fine for “each broadcast or download” of someone who hasn’t signed a consent waiver. It would not apply to what Stuckart called “bona fide news organizations or those organizations that are not embedded with a law enforcement agency.”
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