When he heard the television show “Cops” was canceled, former Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart sent a text message to his old legislative assistant.
The assistant, Adam McDaniel, was celebrating a birthday. The news of the demise of “Cops,” Stuckart said, was McDaniel’s birthday present.
But the enormously popular television show’s cancellation might as well have been a gift to Stuckart, who along with McDaniel fought a bitter battle in 2018 to limit the access “Cops” – and shows like it – have in Spokane.
“It’s validating that our arguments are right and other people have seen them now, two years later,” said Stuckart, who reached his term limit last year and lost a bid for mayor.
“Cops” and “Live PD” – two reality television shows that claim to offer viewers an unvarnished look at policing in America – have been canceled amid the nationwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
The Paramount Network announced June 9 that “Cops” has been canceled after 33 years on the air. The A&E Network, which has aired “Live PD” since its debut in 2016, announced the following day that show also would be canceled.
“This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on ‘Live PD’,” A&E said in a statement. “Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them. And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments.”
But in the city of Spokane, the debate over whether these shows accurately depict policing or, as Stuckart describes it, unfairly portray “people on the worst day of their life” often without their consent, has been raging for years.
In 2018, the Spokane City Council adopted a new law that stopped short of enacting a ban on the reality television shows, but effectively acted as one.
Under the Spokane law sponsored by Stuckart – prompted by research undertaken by McDaniel – the shows now must obtain a $1 million liability insurance policy and a Spokane business license and receive signed consent from anyone who is filmed. The shows must also allow the Spokane Police Department the ability to review footage before it goes to air.
“It’s not a news show. It’s an entertainment show and it had built–in biases,” Stuckart said of “Cops.”
At the time, opponents of the law voiced concern that it would allow the city to limit access of the news media into its police department. But Stuckart draws a distinction between the shows and a documentary or news production, and argued that it is entertainment produced for financial gain.
Some of the people arrested on ”Cops” were later acquitted, for example, but that was never indicated. And, ultimately, he resented that the shows made Spokane look worse than it really is, he said.
“It was so biased and because they only put on TV really outrageous stuff with no context. It did make someone look bad,” Stuckart said. “This show is not showing an accurate portrayal of reality.”
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office continued to welcome the shows’ cameras on a semi-regular basis. “Live PD” last filmed in Spokane County in 2017, but “Cops” joined Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies from July to September of last year.
In a statement to The Spokesman-Review, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich decried the shows’ cancellation as a result of “cancel culture” and the “extreme left.” Just as he did in 2018, Knezovich argued the show portrays a reality many are uncomfortable with and is a result of failed social policies.
Knezovich argued that the show demonstrated officers’ humanity.
“Some would argue that they didn’t show when things went wrong. That is a false flag argument. When things go wrong in police work the world sees it in (high definition), hears it in stereo, and reads it above the fold,” Knezovich wrote.
“Live PD” came under renewed scrutiny recently when the Austin American–Statesman and KVUE-TV reported that one of its camera crews was present for the death of a Black man who was repeatedly subjected to a stun gun, despite telling sheriff’s deputies he could not breathe.
The network discarded footage of the arrest and never aired it. In a statement, A&E said it was never asked by authorities for the footage, which never aired because it was against the network’s policy to televise a death.
“Shocked & beyond disappointed about this,” the show’s host Dan Abrams, wrote on Twitter. “To the loyal #LivePDNation please know I, we, did everything we could to fight for you, and for our continuing effort at transparency in policing. I was convinced the show would go on.”
Spokane’s relationship with the shows was documented in the popular podcast “Running from COPS,” which raised a series of questions about how “Live PD” and “Cops” are produced and questioned whether they truly provides an unfiltered look at policing.
Its producers reviewed about 300 episodes of “Cops” and found that it disproportionately represented violent crime, prostitution and drug crime in comparison to FBI crime statistics.
“Basically, it presents a world that is much more dangerous than real life,” “Running From Cops” host Dan Taberski told The Los Angeles Times . “It presents the police as being much more successful than they really are. It misrepresents crime by people of color – the raw numbers are about the same but the show front–loads crime, and especially violent crime, by people of color. And anyone who’s worked in television, especially reality television, knows that you front–load your best stuff, you hook people in the first act.”
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