After eight weeks riding along with Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies, a camera crew with the long-running TV program “Cops” is now teaming up with Santa Rosa police officers after the city this month agreed to allow filming.
The arrangement expands national attention to the two largest local law enforcement agencies, while also extending a sharp debate about the 29-year-old TV series, which some critics say puts forward a harmful portrait of minority and disadvantaged communities.
“I have no idea what’s on the tape, but basically these programs don’t show people in a very good light,” said Jerry Threet, the director of Sonoma County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach.
Threet sent an email to Sheriff Rob Giordano outlining his concerns with the program coming to Sonoma County on March 28, eight days after a cameraman and sound operator began riding along with deputies.
The independent watchdog said he was worried recent gains deputies have made building relationships and trust with the county’s Latino, immigrant and homeless communities could be eroded with negative portrayals on TV.
Before Santa Rosa signed off, Police Chief Hank Schreeder went to every City Council member in late March to tell them his reasons for participating in the program, said Councilman Jack Tibbetts.
“They saw it as an opportunity to showcase their skill,” said Tibbetts, who said he was reassured by Schreeder’s motives.
Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi also took issue with “Cops” and the potential exploitation of poor and mentally ill residents and those whose immigration status might be in question.
“I have had conversations with Kathleen Pozzi and I have assured her before signing off on any clips we will keep in mind her concerns,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, the sheriff’s spokesman.
Sheriff’s and Santa Rosa police officials will have final say over which clips are aired according to their contract with Langley Productions, the company that produces “Cops.”
No money is exchanged between law enforcement agencies and the production company or people appearing in the show.
The contract between Santa Rosa and Langley Productions comes after other local cities rejected any filming in their jurisdiction.
The town of Windsor, whose police services are contracted out to the Sheriff’s Office, didn’t want Windsor police to participate with the “Cops” crew, said Town Manager John Jansons.
“We are focused on things that advance our community and I believe the COPS project does not do that,” Jansons said in am email.
There was never any intention of sending a TV crew with Windsor police or Sonoma police, another city that has a police services contract with the Sheriff’s Office, Crum said.
Thirty-minute episodes featuring segments from Sonoma County will begin airing on the Paramount Network in August or September, Crum said.
“For the deputies it was an overwhelmingly positive experience,” Crum said. A May 4 post on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page bid the TV crew farewell after they teamed with five deputies for about 300 hours over eight weeks.
People who interact with or who are arrested by sheriff’s deputies or Santa Rosa police with “Cops” cameras rolling must sign a release form before the series can use footage that includes them.