TULSA, Okla. — About two years after the Tulsa Police Department cut ties with A&E’s “Live PD” over concerns that the broadcast wasn’t in its “best interest,” the show has returned.
TPD recently announced the kickoff of the first show of Season 4.
When A&E announced the season’s participating departments across the country about a week earlier, TPD wasn’t listed.
Sgt. Shane Tuell, a spokesman for the department, said the contract was finalized in mid-September.
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan declined to renew the department’s contract with the show in 2016 after a season’s run with the Gang Unit because “he felt like it was not in the best interest of the department,” a spokesman said at the time.
Local activist group We The People Oklahoma posted a statement to Facebook following the cancellation, calling for a permanent end to “Live PD” in Tulsa and similar shows.
“This puts our citizens in a negative light...” the post read. “This is not what we need for our citizens especially when we are trying to build a better relationship between law enforcement and the community.”
At the time, Mayor G.T. Bynum said he supported Jordan’s decision; not for the reason of public relations but for the safety of officers and residents.
Bynum said Sept. 20 that if officers are comfortable with the film crews, he has “no problem with it.”
“I supported the cancellation of Live PD previously because I felt the presence of a television camera crew served as a distraction for our officers in the field,” Bynum said in an email. “I have since come to appreciate that our training staff greatly values the footage from the show as it allows them to teach from real life scenarios at our academy.
“I also think we’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years discussing the way our officers go about their job in the community. As I’ve experienced personally, it can be valuable to see it for yourself rather than to rely on the assertions of others. Tulsans will benefit from seeing the work their police officers do every day.”
Tuell said the department’s first run with “Live PD,” in which cameras followed only the Gang Unit, gave the impression that officers were focusing efforts only in certain areas.
TPD doesn’t indiscriminately decide where to do enforcement, he said. It is a data-driven agency, and specialty units focus on areas where the most victims are calling for help, said Tuell.
This season, “Live PD” camera crews will rotate through patrol officers in all three TPD divisions — Gilcrease, Riverside and Mingo Valley — reaching every corner of the city in an effort to show a “diverse cross-section” of the community.
Tuell said the show reveals the city’s crimes to a global audience, but it also shows the preparedness of TPD to respond to them.
“This is a unique opportunity to showcase the great men and women of the Tulsa Police Department to the rest of the world, and the great work they do day-in and day-out,” he said in a news release. “The Tulsa Police Department has some of the highest employment standards in the nation and we look forward to LivePD’s format highlighting the training and professionalism of our officers.”
Tuell said the department does not receive any financial compensation for participating in the show, but the exposure is worth more than money.
The transparency of the show, the actions of officers being broadcast “almost live” — footage is delayed 10-25 minutes for producers to bleep-out curse words or blur nudity — allows the public to see the department’s workings for what they are, Tuell said, the good and bad.
Viewers provide immediate feedback, Tuell said, which can help the department identify areas for improvement. He said TPD has no control over what interactions are broadcast live and which aren’t.
“You don’t expose yourself as an agency and then say, ‘Ooo, don’t show that about us,’ ” Tuell said, adding that all officers have body-worn cameras that capture footage available to the public through open record requests.
A&E’s “The First 48,” which chronicles the work of homicide detectives in police departments across the country, has invited the world into TPD’s Homicide Unit since 2014.
Homicide Sgt. Brandon Watkins didn’t mince words in sharing his thoughts of the show’s impact.
“It’s very rare that you say something has been purely beneficially, but I think ‘The First 48’ has been purely beneficial to the Tulsa Police Department Homicide Unit,” Watkins said.