No More “Live PD” Liability for Tulsa PD
February 16, 2017 (Fault Lines) — There’s an old Larry the Cable Guy joke that goes something like this:
My cousin came over the other night to visit. I asked if he wanted to watch “Cops.” He said “Yep,” so we went and sat out on the rocking chairs on the front porch.”
Apparently Tulsa, Oklahoma had its own version of “Cops” in the form of an A&E show called “Live PD.” Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan declined to renew the city’s contract with the show, and Tulsa’s citizenry isn’t too happy about it.
“Live PD,” according to the A&E Network, is a show dedicated to entertaining and educating the viewer about police work from a cop’s perspective. The show follows several city police departments in “real time” as they perform everything from traffic stops to questioning suspected gang members. Following approximately six different police departments per episode, “Live PD” is arguably the law enforcement version of “NFL Red Zone.”
Tulsa’s Police Department was one of the agencies signed up to participate in “Live PD.” When the department’s contract came up for renewal this year, Chief Jordan declined. Mayor GT Bynum stands behind the Chief’s decision, but there’s a question as to why the department wanted Tulsa off A&E’s cameras.
According to Mayor Bynum, the decision to nix Tulsa’s participation from the show came after a segment featuring two gang unit officers taking down a suspect allegedly armed with a loaded handgun. The takedown was non-violent, and no injury came to the suspect. But Bynum saw that moment as an incident where the cameras were a distraction officers didn’t need.
“I’m not worried about public relations,” Bynum said. “I’m worried about the safety of our officers and our citizens.”
Safety is a good thing, and a laudable goal for Mayor Bynum and Chief Jordan. It’s the public relations issue that seems to be the bigger worry in Tulsa, since the police don’t want interactions like the one with Randy Wallace hitting prime time. When you wrongly identify someone as a gang member, and that screwup hits social media, it’s time to start re-thinking whether camera crews are a good idea for your police force.
Randy Wallace was a Tulsa man suspected of potential gang involvement. During an episode of “Live PD” following Tulsa’s gang unit, Wallace is asked to step out of his house and speak with police officers. During the interaction, one of the cops accuses Wallace of being a gang member.
According to Randy Wallace, he’d never been involved in any sort of gang activity. He wasn’t a criminal. The Tulsa gang unit had wrongly identified him, and he got angry over being labeled something he wasn’t. Eventually the police left and returned with the “Live PD” film crew waving disclaimer forms for Wallace’s signature.
Wallace’s anger was scooped up on social media and went viral. The Facebook clip of Wallace’s interaction with Tulsa’s gang unit has over 70,000 views and 1,200 shares as of this writing. His strenuous objections over being labeled a gang member and the casual indifference of the Tulsa gang unit spurred an organization called “We the People Oklahoma” to ask for formal notice the city’s “Live PD” contract had been terminated.
We The People Oklahoma, a local activist organization, remarked in a social media post that the show puts Tulsans in a bad light.
“Shows like this reinforces negativity between the police department and the community,” We The People Oklahoma states in the post. “And it creates celebrity status off the backs of citizens who may very well be innocent.”
Randy Wallace wasn’t seeking celebrity status. Neither was the suspect in the takedown where Mayor Bynum saw camera crews as a “distraction.” What no one in power is discussing is Tulsa’s sudden realization that their presence on a national television network meant every televised violation of rights carried the potential of a new Section 1983 suit against Tulsa’s police department and the city.
What happens if Tulsa Gang Unit officers find themselves in fear for their lives and shoot an innocent black man? There’s no need for Facebook video or Periscope. All the decedent’s family has to do is subpoena A&E’s camera footage. It’s the same scenario if a traffic cop decides a mouthy sovereign citizen needs a good tasing. Tulsans going out for the night while the show aired simply needed to set their DVRs for “Live PD” in the event of a negative police interaction.
Shows like “Live PD” might accomplish their goal of educating and entertaining the public on the day to day work of police in communities across the country. The unintended consequence, and one that may cause other departments to decline renewal of their contracts with A&E, is when the missteps occur, and aggrieved individuals decide to sue cops whose misconduct is broadcast to cable television, obtaining video evidence for the federal lawsuit is as simple as programming one’s TiVo.
For now, Tulsans upset by the cancellation of their city’s participation with “Live PD” have no recourse but to follow in Larry the Cable Guy’s footsteps and watch cops from their front porch.