New Tampa cops takes tasers and worse on A&E's 'Rookies'
He was shown taking a taser hit and disarming a woman accused of indecent exposure, all in the name of serving the public as one of the newbie cops learning the job in A&E's new unscripted show, Rookies.
Still, while former officer Hugh Herndon insists that participating in the show didn't cause him to leave the department, he acknowledges it speeded up his decision.
“There was the added pressure of every mistake being recorded and scrutinized in more detail for the sake of filming,” said Herndon, a teacher at Freedom High School in Tampa who took a shot at joining the force in 2006.
“I think (without the filming) I might have stayed on longer, but the result would have been the same,” said the 28 year old, who eventually decided his training as a teacher – where you are taught never to physically tangle with students – left him too uncomfortable with physical altercations on the streets to continue. “I wasn’t failing,” Herndon said. “But when I realized law enforcement was not what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to be a hindrance to whomever I was riding with that day.”
A&E’s Rookies documents the trials of young police officers starting their first, 12-week series of street patrols in Tampa and Jefferson Parish, La. And accepting the physical part of the job can be the toughest issue for young recruits, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
“Often people who break the law put up a fight,” said McElroy. “One of the biggest misconceptions about the job is that people think respect for the badge might overcome that.”
Rookies’ first episode unfolds in Tampa, where the struggles of Herndon and fellow rookie Anthony “A.J.” Cafaro are presented verite-style – like Fox’s classic unscripted law enforcement show Cops – showing the two handling everything from an indecent exposure case to a murder by stabbing. Herndon recalled riding around with his training offer and two Rookies staffers in his car, followed by a “chase car” with several more people from the show, causing quite the spectacle when they showed up for the simplest calls. Watch Cafaro try a stop and search here.
Training officer Britt Martinez, who is shown coaching Cafaro on his first day, said the cameras initially added an extra level of anxiety, as new officers worried about their mistakes landing on national television. And after an error, producers would often call the officer to the side and ask questions, leading them to stew even further.
“It’s hard enough to learn this job, then you have all the cameras in your face,” she said, noting that her probationary officers – Martinez avoids using the term “rookies” – eventually got used to the scrutiny. “In some of the downtime, I just to tell them to relax…you’re doing okay.”
In tonight’s episode, Herndon seems to do well, helping swiftly subdue a woman accused of indecent exposure and quickly sniffing out a practical joke set up by his training officer to test observational skills. Cafaro doesn’t fare so well, shown struggling to learn radio signal codes and accidentally coats his face with fingerprint powder while dusting a crime scene.
The two recruits’ stories are presented almost as a made-for-TV fable, with Herndon soaring while Cafaro stumbles. By the episode’s end, viewers learn Cafaro decided within two weeks to leave the force, concluding after his first day, “if this was every day, f--- this; I’ll leave it to someone who can grin and bear it.”
What viewers don’t learn: Herndon left the force a few months later, after more than six months’ training and schooling, returning to the teaching job at Freedom High he had left in 2005.
For executive producer Adam Reed, the struggle to survive the first few weeks was a key attraction in developing the show. Herndon and Cafaro were the only new officers to leave among six profiled in the show’s first season.
“When you see someone who worked as Best Buy one week and then they’re working as a police officer, its amazing,” added Reed, who also developed A&E’s unscripted show about the offstage life of Kiss bassist/leader Gene Simmons, Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels.
“I don’t think people know what it takes to become a police officer,” added Reed. “I think their expectations were made little more real when they saw their first dead body or got involved in their first scuffle. You can only learn so much in a classroom, and that’s really what this shows.”