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Bowen: Is 'Live PD' tarnishing Pasco's image?

ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times Live PD producer Scott Mislan, right, puts a microphone on Pasco Sheriff\u2019s Deputy Mark Pini before the start of A&E\u2019s Live PD show in March. Some Pasco commissioners are now questioning the value of Pasco\u2019s exposure on the national cable television show.
Published Aug. 21, 2018

The summer bucket list included reading more 20th century authors: Ernest Hemingway. Joseph Heller. Kurt Vonnegut.

Check.

Cops and criminals in the 21st century made plenty of appearances, too. Authors John Sanford and Ace Atkins are favorites.

Check.

But, at the urging of an acquaintance, I added a new task to the summer entertainment to-do list: Watch the A&E television show Live PD.

Check.

And then, check out.

I spent 90 minutes over two nights viewing the show that follows on-duty officers doing their jobs in real time. It apparently has its fans, drawing more than 2 million viewers one evening in July.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office was one of eight departments featured the evenings I tuned in. Here is a sampling of the action from other locales:

• There was a sandwich-eating woman arrested on a warrant.

• A driver, with a bucket of beer on ice in his vehicle, blew 0.0 on a Breathalyzer test. He got to leave in his own truck.

• A man was arrested for shoplifting. He got to leave in the back seat of a cruiser.

• And, there was a man inadvertently displaying the crack of his backside when he turned away from the camera during a police interview about a reported stolen motorcycle.

Officers in Warwick, R.I., El Paso, Texas, Richland County, S.C., and Greene County, Mo., got most of the face time. A guy in Missouri got the buttocks time.

The only televised Pasco call I saw was a complaint from a woman who said her husband/boyfriend had thrown a piece of chicken at her.

The lack of air time, if you ask some Pasco commissioners, might not be such a bad thing. Commissioners Jack Mariano and Kathryn Starkey, in particular, don't like what they're seeing on the show in terms of Pasco County's image and reputation.

"I see Live PD as completely the opposite affect of what we're trying to do,'' Mariano said at a recent commission meeting. "I mean I support the Sheriff's department ... but I just think the image that we're getting is just not helping the county.''

Starkey recounted a conversation with a bank vice president who told her a family friend decided against moving to Pasco County because "they didn't like the perception of what they were seeing.''

"I do think we have to be very careful of the image that we've worked so hard to create and as we're working on bringing businesses here,'' said Starkey. "We need to be very mindful of the image we're putting out there.''

To which, the Sheriff's Office says, the crime is occurring whether or not the TV cameras are rolling.

Chase Daniels, the assistant executive director of the Sheriff's Office, pointed to the Aug. 2 road rage shooting in Lutz in which a couple was shot after they flashed their lights at an approaching vehicle that didn't have its headlights illuminated.

"Live PD wasn't on that call, yet that crime still made national news. People are still talking about it,'' Daniels said.

The show, he said, allows viewers to see the empathy displayed by deputies as they answer calls. That personal interaction between officers and the public isn't documented in straight news accounts about crimes and arrests, he said.

The recent arrest of Marques Andre Johnson, 33, who performs as rap music artist Andre Roxx, ignited a different debate. Deputies arrested Johnson after he declined to identify himself during a traffic stop in which he was not the driver. It sparked complaints that deputies were hot dogging it for the Live PD cameras.

It's an interesting claim considering the footage hadn't aired on the program. But the actions of everyone involved certainly are open to personal interpretation if you watch the recording Johnson made of the encounter and posted on social media. Johnson said his constitutional rights were violated. The Sheriff's Office said deputies acted properly. I suspect a court of law will be asked to give a ruling on that in the future.

These aren't conversations exclusive to Pasco, incidentally. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that local departments in Connecticut, Oklahoma and Ohio had ended their affiliations with Live PD after government leaders decided the national spotlight on criminal activity overshadowed the positive aspects of their communities.

And Mariano told of his own conversations with elected officials from other locations who disparaged the program.

"They were kind of laughing at us that we were doing it,'' he said.

It's easy to see why. After 90 minutes, I'd had my fill and will return to other forms of entertainment.

Frankly, we might all be better off if we muted the television and opened a book.

Reach C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

RELATED: Pasco a hit on 'Live PD.'

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