Reality TV show COPS could start filming with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office again this summer

Most likely, Langley Productions' reality show COPS will be back this summer to film with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office — both at its downtown precinct and at the police department that it operates for Spokane Valley.

If the Board of County Commissioners approves the contract's risk and liability language on June 18 (shortly after the Inlander's press deadline), filming would start on July 16 and continue for eight weeks.

COPS is a documentary TV series that embeds film crews with police officers during patrols, arrests and other activities. Filming is free to the county and helps promote the sheriff's office locally and nationally, Spokane County Undersheriff Kevin Richey says.

"We believe that it shows the deputies out there doing the good work for the community that we know that they do," he says. "It has been in the past a good recruiting tool for prospective applicants who are out of the area. We have lateral applicants who mentioned that they saw us on COPS."

Richey says that recruiting has been difficult for the past few years, but numbers are beginning to pick back up.

COPS first aired on Fox Network in 1989. In 2013, Fox canceled the show, but it got picked up by the Paramount Network that same year. In 2020, amid anti-police sentiment after the murder of George Floyd, Paramount dropped COPS. Then, in 2021, the show was rebooted on Fox Nation, a streaming service.

The Spokane County Sheriff's Office has filmed with COPS at least three times, and the department first appeared on the show in 2006. The most recent local filming was in 2020.

Spokane County deputies began wearing body cameras in the beginning of 2022.

"Now that we have cameras, anybody can see those actions through a public records request," Spokane County Commissioner Amber Waldref tells the Inlander. Waldref expressed concerns about the show during the Board of County Commissioners briefing meeting on June 11. "You can see everything an officer has interacted with over the course of his or her week rather than cherry-picked incidents that are highly dramatic."

COPS has been critiqued nationally. The podcast Running From Cops found the show portrayed more arrests for violence, drugs and sex work than actual crime rates. It's also been criticized for glorifying violent policing and disproportionately showing arrests of people of color. According to the show's contract, officers and citizens may refuse to be filmed at any time.

"If they're being filmed or if you see them on TV or on their streaming service, then they've given consent," Richey says.

Waldref says she wants to help attract quality applicants to the sheriff's office but isn't sure that COPS is the best way to do that. Her biggest concern is for community members.

"It's filming folks under arrest, usually in some of their most challenging moments in their life," she tells the Inlander. "I don't know if that is the best way to show Spokane County and everything we have to offer here."

County Commissioners Al French and Josh Kerns supported filming the show during the briefing meeting last week.

"With the crime rate being what it is across the country, knowing that there's a community that actually still arrests criminals is probably not a bad thing," French said.

"Well, I mean, they're arrested," Waldref responded. "They're not convicted yet."

"I say go for it," Kerns said. "I think it's great. We've done it ... we haven't seen an issue with doing it. Go for it." ♦

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Eliza Billingham

Eliza Billingham is a staff writer covering food, from restaurants and cooking to legislation, agriculture and climate. She joined the Inlander in 2023 after completing a master's degree in journalism from Boston University.