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 abruptly returned.
TPD announced late Thursday afternoon that the first show of Season 4 was set to kick off Friday night.
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 only this week.
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 Friday 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.
The social media comments on TPD’s public announcement of the show’s return to Tulsa were largely positive.
‘They’re real people’
“Live PD” is only one of many shows through which law enforcement or emergency responses in the Tulsa area have been televised to a global audience.
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 Friday.
Although the show displays some of Tulsa’s most heinous crimes, Watkins said viewers know that murders happen everywhere, and what’s really revealed to them is how dedicated the unit is to solving cases.
The show has especially opened up communication between detectives and witnesses, he said.
“People kind of feel like they know us,” Watkins said. “And when we go out to the scene they talk to us because they know that we give a damn.”
TPD reserves the right to review “The First 48” episodes before they air, Tuell said, because many of the cases have not yet made it to court.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol invited “Live PD” along on its patrols for Season 3, but the agency declined to participate in Season 4 due to short staffing in the metro area, Oklahoma Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sarah Stewart said.
“We wanted to take a break and get through our next academy, bolster our numbers and then look at the possibility of participating again,” Stewart said in an email to the World.
Stewart shared sentiments of the show similar to TPD’s, saying the main benefit of “Live PD” was “simply showcasing the fine men and women in the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.”
“People here in Oklahoma and around the country got to see ... that they’re real people who care about the citizens they serve, not just someone writing a ticket on the side of the highway.”
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s Cold Case Task Force spent some time in the spotlight in a 2018 Investigation Discovery series called “Killer Unknown.”
The show breathed new life into two cold cases, attracting multiple tips, investigators said then. It ended in December 2018, and spokeswoman Casey Roebuck said Friday there are no plans to continue the show.
The Tulsa Fire Department was featured in the first season of “Live Rescue,” which follows firefighters, paramedics and EMTs as they respond to calls across the country, and TFD spokesman Andy Little said he wouldn’t be opposed to a contract renewal.
Little said emergency medical personnel can be a bit harder to follow because of HIPAA laws, but the show’s producers did their due diligence to protect patients.
“It is a good opportunity to show the citizens what we do,” Little said, adding that firefighters don’t only fight fires anymore. “We’re proud of the work our guys do. Our guys are good at their jobs.”