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TV show 'Cops' has long history featuring Hillsborough deputies (w/video)

Deputy Jarrett Hall from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office speaks with a woman who says she used her dentures to assault her father during a taping of the TV show "Cops" that aired last week. [Spike TV]
Deputy Jarrett Hall from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office speaks with a woman who says she used her dentures to assault her father during a taping of the TV show "Cops" that aired last week. [Spike TV]
Published Jul. 1, 2016

It's a spring night in Seffner and Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Jarrett Hall has to find a woman's false teeth.

It may be puzzling as to why they're no longer in her mouth, but Hall has already sorted that part out. She said she punched her father with her dentures in her hand. He said his daughter hurled them toward him, but only hit him by accident.

"You don't know why her teeth are out of her head?" the deputy asked a witness.

Cue Bad Boys, the Reggae song synonymous with the TV show Cops.

The father had a small cut above his nose. He assured the deputy his daughter didn't mean to do it. The scene played out while the camera focused on the deputy.

For the next few minutes, Hall was the show's star.

Soon the camera moved to the father, who took out his own false teeth to demonstrate to the deputy how everything went down. No one wanted to press charges, and the deputy determined the denture incident was an accident.

"They had consumed quite a bit of alcohol," Hall told the camera in a segment broadcast on the show's YouTube channel. "So what they were lacking in teeth they were making up for in alcohol ...

"Dentures were flying, emotions were heavy."

That was just one of the scenes the Cops cameras captured as it followed the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office around in April and May. In fact, the Sheriff's Office has been a longtime cast member of the show, ever since its third season back in 1991.

Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the agency was the second Sheriff's Office in Florida to be featured on the show after Broward County. Cops started its 29th season in June.

The show has been a frequent visitor to the bay area. During a 2002 episode, a Cops producer suggested that a Tampa police officer dress as a clown in a series of prostitution stings. In 2013, Hillsborough deputies found a stash of the narcotic painkiller Oxycodone and followed a shooting suspect. In 2014, the show followed Hillsborough detectives working undercover in another prostitution bust.

His agency may be a frequent guest star, but this was Hall's first appearance. The 31-year-old deputy's episode premiered Saturday.

The show remains beloved by many law enforcement officers, who say it depicts what they have to deal with on a daily basis.

"There's nothing polished about it; there's nothing fabricated," Hall said. "It is raw footage of what we do."

It may be one of the longest running shows in history, but it still has its critics.

Fox canceled the show in 2013 and the cable network Spike TV picked it up and started airing new episodes. But that year a group called Color of Change started a petition calling for the cancelation of Cops, saying in a statement that shows like it "tend to over-represent whites as police officers and under-represent Blacks and Latinos as authority figures." Instead, the group criticized the TV show for depicting people of color as criminals.

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In 2014, the TV show's crew suffered a fatality when a stray bullet struck an audio supervisor during a restaurant robbery in Nebraska. That was just before Cops was scheduled to film the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for the first, and so far only, time, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. After a slight delay, crews filmed the Pinellas segments.

"They know what they're doing and that law enforcement is a risky business," Gualtieri said.

The TV show's producers did not return calls for comment.

Both the Hillsborough and Pinellas Sheriff's Offices said Cops' crews showed up prepared. They wear body armor and sign liability waivers. They sit down with deputies before they go out into the field as the Sheriff's Office lays down ground rules.

Carter said deputies let the crew — usually one person holding the camera, the other collecting sound — know when a scene is secure.

Hall said that while the camera crew followed him around, he was focused on the people he was helping — not the camera. If people asked about the camera, Hall said he redirected their focus on why they needed a deputy in the first place.

Afterward, it's up to the Cops crew to get those who were filmed to sign waivers so the footage can air on TV. Law enforcement plays no part in that.

Once the footage is edited for TV, producers send a copy to the law enforcement agency. Carter said deputies check it out to make sure it won't affect any pending court cases.

Gualtieri said that while he could "veto" a segment, he couldn't tell the show how to edit the footage. He said when he watched the Pinellas segments, they were accurate and he had no issues.

Carter said the show boosts morale. It's hard to find a deputy, officer or trooper who hasn't watched it before, she said.

If Cops asked, the Pinellas sheriff said he'd welcome the show back to his county.

"It's like a virtual ride-along for a citizen," Gualtieri said.

Times senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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