A&E's LIVE PD is building trust and dramatically improving community relations

by SHERIFF LEON LOTT June 21, 2017

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A&E's relatively new hit television series, LIVE PD, has quickly become one of the most popular programs, nationwide. Best of all, the program has proven to be a boon for the almost-exponentially improved relationships between the participating law-enforcement agencies and the communities we serve.

Billed as "unfettered and unfiltered live access inside a variety of the country's busiest police forces, both urban and rural, and the communities they patrol on a typical night," the series' producers accompany law enforcement officers on everything from routine patrols and high-speed chases to suspect-pursuits on-foot, to domestic disputes and drug raids. And the Richland County Sheriff's Dept. (RCSD) is one of six of the program's participating agencies, nationally, since LIVE PD premiered on Oct. 28, 2016.

How has the RCSD benefited from LIVE PD?

First, the A&E crews document the action "live" via dashcam, fixed-rig, and hand-held video cameras, bringing everything into viewers' living rooms, two nights a week. LIVE PD viewers are able to see and virtually experience, not only how challenging our work is, but the professionalism that the RCSD - and the other participating agencies - bring to the unusually-asymmetrical dynamics of enforcing the law and protecting all of our citizens.

Second, there is the transparency and honesty of the documenting camera. The lens doesn't lie. The public is allowed to see how we talk to and interact with the citizens, and they with us. Viewers are also encouraged to post comments about what they are observing live on social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Third, LIVE PD viewers are seeing us being a friend and an aid to nearly every single person we encounter on the street. And that's not simply because we have the cameras trained on us. It has always been this way. Though, without viewer-observation, few see as us as the able friends we truly are.

And lastly, as far as the RCSD is concerned, one of the unexpected benefits of LIVE PD has been how many citizens within our diverse communities, who have perhaps struggled with trusting the police in the past, now see our deputies and other officers as both cops and human beings with the same feelings and many of the same life-experiences as anyone else.

LIVE PD has proven to be a win-win for all involved.

Season one of LIVE PD began with eight two-hour episodes. Earlier this year, A&E extended that to 21 episodes, and the program has since aired beyond the 21. In May, the program "took a two week hiatus" due to a technical glitch in New York, and instead aired previously recorded LIVE PD episodes and previously unaired footage. But the demand was such that LIVE PD was quickly back on the air and "live" again earlier this month.

The popularity of this series may best be illustrated by a "Meet LIVE PD Deputies" party we held at one of our facilities in Columbia, on Sat. evening May 13. The public was invited with everyone being told they would have an opportunity to meet the cast (RCSD deputies all) of LIVE PD. They did. We had a great time. We served pizza. We presented RCSD LIVE PD t-shirts to the first 120 guests. And we had an autograph session.

We assumed on the front-end that there might be a few hundred attending. But we were pleasantly surprised when over 2,500 guests showed up, with some of the guests hailing from as far away as Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The event started at 6:00 p.m., but guests were lined up at 3:30 p.m. Why? They wanted to meet the deputies.

Why is LIVE PD so wildly popular? Unlike COPS - the also-popular prerecorded television series following law-enforcement officers during various operations - LIVE PD is just that: It's LIVE. And that dynamic I believe is what has enabled LIVE PD to become one of the top-watched programs, averaging a million-plus viewers, nationwide, each Fri. and Sat. evening at 9:00 p.m. (Eastern).

What makes the series particularly fascinating for South Carolina fans is that two of the six featured law-enforcement agencies every week is Columbia, S.C.'s own RCSD and the Greenville County Sheriff's Office in the Upstate.

We were selected by A&E because of the great bridge-building work we have done within our respective communities and the reputation we have overall among not only the citizens we serve, but other law enforcement agencies across the country. LIVE PD is also enhancing the trust-factor that is so important to us, as viewers are able to witness and experience what we do and how we do it, unfiltered and in real-time.

LIVE PD has been to key to improved community relations. And community relations are vital to developing that aforementioned trust which results in better crime-reporting, better information, better crime prevention, more crimes solved, and overall enhancing public safety.

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Leon Lott _ thumb 2016Sheriff Leon Lott leads the Richland County Sheriff's Dept., one of the largest law enforcement agencies in South Carolina, and one of six regularly featured LE agencies on A&E's hit TV series, LIVE PD. In 2010, Lott traveled to Erbil, Iraq - at the invitation of the Iraqi government - to assist in the establishment of, planning for, and training at the first-ever Iraqi female police academy.    

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