L.A. Sheriff Reality Show: Transparency Or Distortion?


The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will develop its sixth reality-based police show in the last five years despite concerns from some law enforcement experts that such projects give a false and sensational portrayal of police work, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors gave Sheriff Lee Baca approval to work with a Northern Ireland-based production company to create a series titled “Tech Force USA.” The series will focus on the technology unit’s efforts to use high-tech equipment to catch criminals and keep the public safe.

Baca is an unabashed fan of pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of law enforcement. “The sheriff believes the more the public sees, the more public will understand the challenges that law enforcement faces every day,” said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman. “Transparency isn’t just a buzzword. You need to show people what is going on.” Some civilian oversight experts, however, say these shows are not designed to educate the public and can have negative consequences. “These shows are entertainment and they are going to look for the most sensational incidents and events and ignore the more mundane parts of policing,” said Sam Walker, a professor emeritus at University of Nebraska Omaha and a law enforcement expert. “They distort policing.” Walker said the sheriff’s project seems like more of the same; he suspects it will exaggerate the role technology plays in good police work. Los Angeles Police Commission Inspector General Andre Birotte Jr. said the risks for a police agency outweigh the benefits. He said there are issues of privacy for suspects and others, liability concerns and potential problems with how officers are portrayed.

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