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“Live PD exploits Tulsa’s citizens,” a Tulsa citizen loudly declared at Mayor G.T. Bynum’s Town Hall listening input session to select a new Chief of Police for Tulsa.
Live PD, a show in which law enforcement officers are followed while they patrol cities each weekend, is a smash hit on A&E network. Viewers get the opportunity to see day to day police interactions with local citizens, nearly in real-time.
The series began in 2016 as an eight-episode pilot, with each episode as a two-hour block. However, as viewership increased dramatically, so did Live PD’s impact on the media. Currently, “Live PD” airs each weekend night for three solid hours.
The show’s creator and producer, Big Fish Entertainment president Dan Cesario, has stated that Live PD allows viewers to see the truth about law enforcement, and encourages conversations about the role of law enforcement. He also claims that Live PD encourages police accountability.
Yet Live PD is not without controversy. A resident of Bridgeport, Connecticut, one of the cities which originally participated in Live PD, sued the city and police department for brutality and violating his Constitutional rights following his arrest while filming. Bridgeport’s homicide rate also increased while on Live PD, and the city eventually ended its contract with the program.
Other cities have followed suit, claiming that Live PD portrays their communities in a negative light, focusing on dangers for citizens and crime, exploiting them — particularly people of color.
The Executive Director for Tulsa Remote, Aaron Bolzle, said, “Shows like Live PD make it more challenging to recruit the best candidates for the Tulsa Remote program.” Bolzle added, “when people only hear about Tulsa because of LivePD, it takes away momentum from all we’re doing to make it a more vibrant and inclusive city.”
Williamson, Texas, and Streetsboro, Ohio, both canceled their contracts with Live PD and Big Fish entertainment in 2019.
Yet Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, who single-handedly signed that contract with Live PD without the consent of the City Council, dismissed such concerns at a public town hall meeting for the selection of a new Tulsa Chief of Police, on the evening of January 8 at Rudisill Regional Library. When asked if he would cancel Tulsa Police Department’s contract with Live PD, he replied with a curt, “No!”
“What happens to the footage that doesn’t make it on the screen?” community activist Marq Lewis asked Mayor Bynum. “That footage is theirs forever. Live PD has more access than any of the media professionals here,” continued Lewis. “You have given access, as well as our personal information, to a production company, for entertainment purposes — not education.”
Despite citizens’ concerns about who owns the footage captured on Live PD, and for how long the footage is maintained by Big Fish, which in turn is part of entertainment conglomerate MGM, Mayor Bynum doubled down on his refusal to end the city’s contract, implying that Live PD benefits Tulsa, stating that it is important for people to see what our officers actually deal with in the field. Live PD provides the ability to do that, and I support it.”
However, with its focus on citizens who are stopped by police, and to all appearances, Live PD overrepresents Black people in Tulsa as criminals. The Human Rights Watch maintains that North Tulsa’s population of Black people is 80% in some areas – and that North Tulsa citizens are policed at higher rates than citizens in other areas. Black citizens of Tulsa are 2.3 times more likely to be arrested than white Tulsans, and between 2012 and 2017 there were 49 arrests of residents of North Tulsa per 1000 citizens, compared to 32 arrests per 1000 citizens in other areas of Tulsa.
When one audience member retorted that cameras should be placed on officers rather than citizens, Mayor Bynum reminded the crowd that all field officers have body cameras. However, Mr. Lewis stated, “In order to see that footage, citizens have to file an open records request, while a private entertainment company has access.”
Mayor Bynum, who attempted to end the public town hall at 8pm, erroneously stating that the Rudisill library closed at that time, seemed to express frustration and what could be described as contempt toward the citizens who expressed their concerns about the way TPD treats Black residents in Tulsa. Unlike the first night of public town halls, held at Hardesty Library in South Tulsa, the Rudisill public town hall had a more charged atmosphere, with residents lining up at the microphone for a turn to address the mayor and his policies. The room was also full before the start — standing room only — and audience members cheering and shouting support for local citizens who spoke.
The final night of public town halls regarding the selection of Tulsa’s next chief of police is tonight at the University of Oklahoma Tulsa campus, in Learning Center room 145.
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