Review: Live PD

Genre: Reality, Documentary, Crime
Rating: TV-14
It may not be very geeky — there are no spaceships or wizards — Live PD has quickly become a national phenomenon, showing what cops face all across our country with very little editing. The show follows multiple departments in several states, both rural and urban, and all sorts of calls are featured.

Content Guide

Spiritual content: Very little; while some of the officers and deputies they follow are Christian — I remember one deputy telling a DUI suspect to lean his head back and look up at those beautiful stars God made during a field sobriety test — overall there is pretty much no discussion of spirituality.
Violence: Quite a lot. Suspects who resist may be involved in physical fights. Tasers are common, as are firearms. Shots are rarely fired, but it does happen.
Language/crude humor: Most of the profanity is bleeped out, but some make it through anyway, such as S***. Crude humor is occasionally attempted by suspects.
Sexual content: Cops are involved in dealing with prostitutes and other sexual crimes, occasionally “adult toys” are discovered while searching a person, vehicle, or residence.
Drug/alcohol use: Drunk and high suspects are among the most common encountered.
Other negative themes: Numerous references to pretty much every crime in the book, from speeding to homicide.
Positive Content: With all of the above, you might be thinking this show is nothing but negative. But those things are just what the men and women who pin a badge on their shirt every night have to deal with. The true stars of the show, the officers and deputies are shown doing what they are called to do: Help protect innocent civilians not only by dealing with lawbreakers, but also responding to accidents and medical calls. Sometimes the cop is the first one on the scene and needs to take immediate action to save a life.

Storyline

“America, this is your ride-along.” Those are the words that introduced the nation to what has become a TV phenomenon. At a time when there’s been a very vigorous debate about policing in our country, Live PD (or LivePD) shows what cops see on a nightly basis on a near-live basis; there is a delay built in so they can bleep certain words or quickly switch away from overly disturbing scenes such as accidents involving children or scenes that may be too gruesome for a “regular” cable channel. During the show, commentary is provided by legal and police experts from a studio in A&E’s New York headquarters.
The departments followed vary; at the beginning there were six, but they have since increased to eight. Only one of the original departments is still being shown, that being Richland County (around Columbia) SC. Some departments have dropped out, and new ones have joined. This map shows both past (blue dots) and current (red dots) departments.

Presentation

Live PD shows us near-live coverage of actual officers (for brevity’s sake, I’ll be referring to police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and state troopers all as “officers”) during some of their busiest times: Friday and Saturday nights. During the show, they switch back to the studio and occasionally the control room for commentary and updates from analysts.
The main host is Dan Abrams, who is also the chief legal affairs analyst for ABC News, pictured standing on the left in this photo. The permanent analyst is Tom Morris, Jr., who is a crime reporter and has been a Washington, DC police officer. He is seated on the right in the photo. The third man in the center is Sgt. Sean “Sticks” Larkin of the Tulsa, OK Police Department. Originally one of the officers followed by Live PD, he became such a fan favorite he was brought in as a semi-permanent analyst and stayed even after the Tulsa PD dropped their association with Live PD. Occasionally they give Sticks a weekend off and bring in another officer (or sometimes two) who’s become a fan favorite on Live PD. Together, these three give an analysis of what just happened, explaining terms that may not be familiar to most viewers and discussing why the officers did what they did.
In order to fill times when nothing TV-worthy is happening live, A&E will show pre-recorded and edited events from the departments they cover, with a note in a corner of the screen indicating it happened earlier. They also take advantage of slow moments to show three special types of segments, each with Tom Morris handling the narration. The first is their “Crime of the Week,” typically featuring body or dash cam footage of a notable police event in a department they don’t ride with. The second is a “Wanted” segment where they feature a person police are seeking urgently, generally for a serious crime; these come both from departments they ride with and those they don’t. The third and arguably the most important is the “Missing” segment, where they partner with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to highlight a case of a missing child. NCMEC Media Director Angeline Hartman is shown via video giving the details of the case. Both the Wanted and Missing segments have had success in finding the people in question, and those are announced on later shows.
Live PD has developed a huge Twitter following who have taken the name “Live PD Nation” and who have started “watch parties” where groups of people will gather at a designated place to watch the show together. Recently, some departments are beginning to sponsor their own watch parties as well, which also serve as community outreach. The fans on Twitter have even helped officers with some of the cases shown live, usually in the form of spotting something thrown or dropped by fleeing suspects the pursuing officer didn’t notice — probably because they were focusing on catching the suspect! The word goes out Twitter and either the department itself sees it (I believe all of the currently featured departments have Twitter accounts), or one of the people in the studio will see the tweet and relay the information to the department. Another instance of Live PD Nation coming to the assistance of officers happened recently when a pickup with a, shall we say, distinctive rear window decal was found abandoned in the snow after an apparent slide into a pole. People in the area recognized the pickup on TV and informed the department where they could find the owner.
Live PD has also spawned several spinoffs: The first one was called Live PD: Rewind which is an hour of the best parts of an episode. Later, they added Live PD: Police Patrol, which features incidents previously shown live with a short commentary from the officer(s) involved afterward. On the Lifetime network, there’s a show called Live PD Presents: Women on Patrol focusing on pre-recorded clips of female law enforcement officers, some of which are from departments not shown live on the main show. Finally, the most recent spinoff is Live PD Presents: PD Cam, hosted by Sean “Sticks” Larkin, which showcases dash, body, and sometimes helicopter camera footage from departments also not usually shown on Live PD.
One thing many fans complain about is the bane of American TV: Commercial breaks. While we understand A&E needs to pay the bills to keep the cameras running, sometimes they pick times during high excitement moments to go to the ads. Perhaps someday some company will offer to sponsor the show with minimal or no commercial breaks as long as their name is mentioned often.
Though much of the coverage is definitely what you might call “gritty,” there are a few bright spots. One that comes to mind is when Richland deputy Kevin Lawrence pulled over a couple of college kids and found drugs in the car. Engaging one of the suspects in conversation, he asked the young man if he could make it onto the Dean’s List that semester. The young man said he could if he worked hard at it. Kevin then made a once-in-a-lifetime deal with the suspect: If he could make it on the Dean’s List, Kevin would drop all the charges. I’ll let Kevin explain what happened himself from his Twitter account:

In summary, I believe Live PD is doing a lot to help inform the debate on policing in America. Rather than short, edited clips, we get to see a lot more of the story and the background, often beginning to follow the action when the officer is still in the car on the way to the call. We get to see what both sides were saying and doing long before it’s all over for good or ill. This is not to say every officer in America is a saint; there are people in every profession who really shouldn’t be in it, and law enforcement is no different. What Live PD is doing, however, is highlighting the good that peace officers in America do every day and night, from pulling victims from accidents where the car is starting to burn, to administering Narcan to overdosing victims, to getting stray animals back home. And yes, arresting the bad guys so they can’t hurt innocent people. Whether or not you’re a supporter of law enforcement, watching even one episode of Live PD is almost certain to be educational. You might just find it fun to ride along with cops and wonder, along with the rest of us, what’s going to happen next.

David Fernau

Born the same year as Star Trek: TOS, and with a Navy electronics tech for a father, David was pretty much destined to be a geek. Coming to Christ as a young man, he has enjoyed combining these two facets of his personality. When not reading or playing video games, he works for the local hospital, enjoys cooking, baseball, photography, and videography

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