Toledo will be in the national spotlight tonight, but not because it’s a great place to live and work. Instead, some city residents who do illegal — and often stupid — things will be presented as televised entertainment. That’s not an image Toledo should seek.
A chance meeting with a local police officer at a convention led producers of the reality TV show COPS to send their camera crews to Toledo last summer. The crews spent hundreds of hours tagging along with Toledo police. Their job, producer Morgan Langley told The Blade, is to document “as accurately as possible what these officers encounter ... and the true nature of their work.”
The result is “Odd Arrests,” the first episode of COPS’ new season. It airs at 8 p.m. on local Fox affiliate WUPW-TV, Channel 36 (cable subscribers probably won’t be able to tune in, because a dispute over fees caused the owner of the local Fox station to demand that Buckeye CableSystem drop the channel this week). But don’t expect “the true nature” of police work to emerge.
Riding along on uneventful shifts doesn’t make good TV. So reality shows focus on the chases, takedowns, accidents, and acts of violence that make up a small part of actual police work.
Fans assert that such shows are important because they remind us that police officers put themselves in danger every day to protect law-abiding citizens. In a world in which crime often appears to go unpunished, the bad guys in these TV shows get what they deserve — which can include beat-downs, Tasings, and being bitten by police dogs.
Since COPS first aired in 1989, it has followed officers in about 140 U.S. cities, as well as Hong Kong, London, and the former Soviet Union. More than 3 million viewers tune in for each episode.
Of course, crowds gather at any disaster; we can’t help ourselves, in part because we’re happy it’s not us. But in this case it is us, because the people who laugh at drunk or stoned Toledoans, inept robbers, or abusive spouses will form judgments about the rest of us.
A preview of tonight’s episode shows a Toledo police officer asking a handcuffed suspect: “If you didn’t do anything wrong, and you weren’t threatening anybody, why’d you run?” The response: “You know, I really don’t have an answer to that.”
You’d think that after 24 seasons, the show would have accomplished its goal of showing what police officers do. Dope deals, drunks, and abusive spouses are pretty much the same in Toledo as they are in Fort Lauderdale.
Commonsensemedia.org says COPS isn’t suitable for children because it’s too graphic and violent. Drunk and high suspects often figure prominently.
There’s always the chance that something will go wrong because of the presence of TV cameras. In 2010, a 7-year-old girl was shot to death during a house raid in Detroit that was being filmed for the reality show The First 48. Family members and attorneys suggested that because cameras were rolling, police went ahead with the raid even after they were told there were children in the house.
Every town and city has its share of drunks, dopers, criminals, and abusers. Holding them up to ridicule before TV audiences and calling it entertainment demeans us as well as the miscreants caught on video.