The city of Lakewood has rejected a request by producers of the “COPS” television show to again film police officers on the job in the community for the show’s 26th season, which begins airing in September.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is also taking a pass.
For years, Pierce County and Lakewood were a mainstay on “COPS,’ which first aired in 1989 and is considered one of television’s first “reality” shows. Until 2005, when then-Lakewood Police Chief Larry Saunders ended his department’s relationship with the show, about 50 segments focused on Lakewood.
(Lakewood contracted with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement until 2004, when the city formed its own department.)
Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said COPS has filmed close to 150 segments with the agency over the years, exceeded only by the Las Vegas and Miami-Dade police departments. COPS last filmed the sheriff’s department two years ago, but Troyer said the agency is taking a pass for the upcoming season because they don’t have the manpower to spare.
“It’s done nothing but good for us. It’s nothing against them,” he said. “We’re not in a position right now to do it.”
Troyer didn’t rule out a return in the future.
Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar said COPS producers have contacted him about a return for several years. They had even proposed dedicating a season in honor of the four Lakewood police officers killed in November 2009.
The City Council heard a presentation last month from producer Zach Ragsdale before quickly nipping the idea in the bud.
Here’s the video of the presentation (fast-forward to 13:08 to watch it):
Even that didn’t end the matter. Last weekend, five people posted comments on the city’s Facebook page lobbying for the program’s return to Lakewood.
That led city communications director Jeff Brewster to post that Lakewood wasn’t interested “in turning back the clock to that particular chapter of the city’s history.
“The show would no doubt highlight the professionalism of the LPD,” Brewster wrote, “but Lakewood is now focused on economic development and enhancing the quality of life for our residents and visitors.”
Brewster said Monday the inquiries appeared to be part of a lobbying effort but he didn’t know the source.
Ragsdale tried his best to persuade the council, saying that the focus of the upcoming season was on officers going “above and beyond.” After 25 seasons with the FOX network, the show is moving to Spike TV.
He played a clip of a 1992 show featuring Farrar. (The clip starts at 22:00 in the video above.)
Ragsdale, a longtime cameraman on the show, said “COPS” can be a successful police recruitment tool.
“If you went to an academy class and asked any of the recruits if they watched ‘COPS,’ I’d guarantee you every hand in the room would raise,” he said. “If you’re looking to go into law enforcement, you’re watching our show. It’s a good advertisement.”
Council members weren’t moved. Councilman Michael Brandstetter worried the show, whose reruns live on in syndication, cast Lakewood in a negative light.
“We’re really trying to paint our community’s positive features more prominently while still looking for very positive ways to emphasize the professionalism of our police department,” he said.
Councilwoman Helen McGovern, who was on the council back when “COPS” aired its Lakewood segments, said she heard many residents at the time complain about how the community was portrayed.
She bluntly asked Ragsdale: “Do we make money off you exploiting us to the world?”
“COPS” producers do not pay police departments they feature.
For his part, Farrar understands the council’s concerns but said he favored the return in part because it’s a morale booster for his department.
“It gives you the opportunity to showcase what people are doing and dealing with on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It gives the public a really good look at what we do.”
Farrar also was open to the new approach of the show.
“They’ve kind of done the naked meth addict running through the streets,” he said.
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