It reminded me of a podcast that came out in 2019 called Headlong: Running from Cops, where Dan Taberski, the creator of other great podcasts like Missing Richard Simmons and Surviving Y2K, looked back at the history of the show and its cultural impact on how Americans view policing.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Some reviews of the show give you an idea of what you can expect. This one, from Slate, says:
Both law enforcement and the entertainment industry are ripe for abuses of power, and Running From Cops suggests that wherever the opportunity presents itself, it’s taken. The podcast reaches its full impact in chronicling at how many steps in the production process things can go wrong for the poor and the vulnerable, who are the most likely to end up on the wrong side of the screen. A former officer attests to dragging out a traffic stop, thus endangering both himself and the driver, because the producers needed to fill a seven-minute segment. Another ex-cop recalls that subordinates who used to arrest six to eight suspects a month started apprehending people in the hundreds in the same time period after Cops rolled into town. Law enforcement has helped producers intimidate arrestees into signing release forms, sometimes by repeat visits to their homes.
Another from Vulture made a reference to Cops’ descendant, Live PD, which I only knew about because an ex-girlfriend’s mom was obsessed with the show, and one of its familiar host cities was Springfield, Missouri, where I lived for a short while.
Understandably, “Running From Cops” often feels like it’s merely scratching the surface of a much larger problem. Cops, along with its equally problematic descendant Live PD, is the distillation of a toxic combination of corporate interest and state propaganda. And though I might miss the absence of a more personal narrative, of the kind that characterized Headlong’s previous seasons, Taberski’s structural investigations yield important insights into our relationship to law and order in this country.
If you’re like me and haven’t watched Cops in years, listen to this podcast instead and scrutinize why we ever watched it at all.