Relentless camera followed 'Rookies' cops

Hugh Herndon doesn't believe that participating in A&E's new unscripted TV series Rookies caused him to leave the Tampa Police Department.

But Herndon, who left a high school teaching job to try working as a police officer in 2006, does say that his first weeks under the watchful eye of the show's cameras helped speed his decision.

"There was the added pressure of every mistake being recorded and scrutinized in more detail for the sake of filming," he said, recalling how producers constantly asked about the difference between his old job teaching at Freedom High School and law enforcement.

"I think (without the filming) I might have stayed on longer, but the result would have been the same," added Herndon, 28, 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.

A&E's Rookies documents the trials of young police officers starting their first series of street patrols in Tampa and Jefferson Parish, La. Along the way, they tackle everything from taking Taser shots as part of their training to accidentally locking their keys in the car on a call.

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.

Training officer Britt Martinez, who coached 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.

New officers rode with a training offer and two Rookies staffers in the patrol car, followed by a "chase car" with several more people from the show.

After an error, producers would often call the officer to the side and ask questions, leading them to stew 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 the term "rookies" as too disrespectful — eventually got used to the scrutiny.

For executive producer Adam Reed, the struggle to survive was a key attraction:

"When you see someone who worked at Best Buy one week and then they're working as a police officer, it's amazing," said Reed, who also developed A&E's unscripted show about the offstage life of Kiss bassist/leader Gene Simmons, Gene Simmons' Family Jewels. "You can only learn so much in a classroom, and that's really what this shows."

Rookies debuts at 10 tonight on A&E

Relentless camera followed 'Rookies' cops 10/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 10:04pm]

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