Playing A TV Cop In Real Life

Terrence McCoy exposes the sloppy police work encouraged by the reality cop show The First 48:

In Detroit, city police shot a 7-year-old girl in the head in a bungled attempt to catch a suspect on The First 48. In Houston, another man was locked up for three years after cops wrongfully accused him of murder within the first 48 hours. And in Miami, according to a New Times examination of court records, at least 15 men have walked free of murder charges spawned under the program’s glare. Despite it all — sloppy crime scenes, rushed arrests, ruined lives — The First 48, which has now reached its 13th season, is as popular as ever. Millions of Americans tune in to every new episode, and with ratings as seductive as these, who cares about a few botched investigations?

Balko worries about the effect these shows are having on public perceptions:

The premise of “The First 48″ presents its own unique set of problems, mostly the implied pressure on the departments to meet the 48-hour deadline. But more broadly, reality cop shows tend to emphasize all the ass-kicking, name-taking aspects of police work, with little emphasis on community service. (“Cops,” the longest running police reality show, was actually one of the more accurate portrayals of the job.) Over the long term, that raises some interesting and troubling questions about what a generation raised on these shows thinks about police work, and about what sorts of personalities will be attracted to a career in law enforcement based on the way the job has been portrayed on TV. Most police departments also retain the right to veto what footage gets on the air, so viewers often see a revised, cleaned-up sort of “reality.”