Look for Newport News police officers in the next season of the ‘COPS’ TV show on Fox
Camera crews for Langley Productions, which produces the reality TV-style show, spent eight weeks riding along with about 30 officers as they patrolled their districts.
Filming wrapped up July 21 and the footage will appear in multiple episodes of “COPS” starting early next year, said show producer Zach Ragsdale. The series will end with a two-hour finale marking 25 seasons of the show. The episodes tell the stories of individual patrol officers and illustrate how the department operates, Ragsdale said.
“COPS” didn’t come to the city because of crime, he said, adding that that is a common misconception. The police department invited the show after Lou Thurston, one of its public information officers, approached Ragsdale with the idea.
Ragsdale had been a cameraman for the show when it filmed in Virginia Beach for 1998 episodes. Thurston was a spokesman for the Virginia Beach Police Department at the time.
“I just really want to show off this police department,” Thurston said.
While it’s a “tremendous morale booster” for officers, it’s also a recruiting tool, Thurston said. After the Virginia Beach episodes aired, Thurston said there was a dramatic increase in calls from career seekers.
“I think it’s a great show because I think it gives people a better understanding of what we deal with on the street,” said Officer Danielle Lawrence, who was followed by “COPS” crews in the South Precinct.
The 43-year-old was surprised to hear the show would film in the city, but hopes her friends and family get an idea of what she does every day. Lawrence pursued a police career to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, who was a New York City police officer.
What keeps her going, she said, is when residents show their appreciation for her efforts, like one elderly woman who kissed her on the cheek and thanked her for patrolling her neighborhood.
“That overcomes and outweighs anything bad that can happen on this job — because somebody said thank you,” Lawrence said.
Newport News police officer Matthew Boykin, 26, grew up watching “COPS” and the show partly encouraged him to join the force. A two-person crew rode with Boykin about six times. The cameras made him feel a little awkward at first, but it became exciting, he said.
Boykin said he hopes residents get a better understanding of how police operate to further build the relationship between the department and community. Most of the time, people see police when they act, like making an arrest or pulling cars over, but not why they act, Boykin said.
“We’re human beings,” Boykin said. “We’re approachable. You can talk to us.”
Viewers need to be aware the show is entertainment and not the full picture of what it’s like to be a police officer, said Cheri Chambers, assistant professor in sociology at Christopher Newport University.
Over the years, “COPS” has evolved to show more realistic scenes like traffic stops and not just the violent and sensational crimes, Chambers said. The footage selected is what will entice viewers to watch, she added. It doesn’t show officers testifying in court or spending hours doing paperwork.
Additionally, research has shown that the people portrayed on the show are more impoverished and have a higher minority representation, said Chambers, who teaches a media and crime class. Not everyone who interacts with the police signs the release to allow the footage on air.
The police department administration views the footage before it airs and Police Chief James Fox approves it, Thurston explained.
Newport News Mayor McKinley Price has no concerns about the city and police appearing on “COPS,” as both he and City Councilwoman Patricia Woodbury agreed that showcasing the professionalism of the local police force would be positive for the city. Woodbury said that it could possibly help deter crime.
Officer Boykin hopes the show will film in Newport News again.
“If they invite us, we’d love to come back,” Ragsdale said