Sheriff Knezovich decries 'cancel culture' after the axing of controversial A&E cop reality series Live PD

click to enlarge In a Live PD clip titled "Hothead Hogtie," Spokane County sheriff deputies confront a "suspicious person" about why she was walking on the wrong side of the road, and when she remains uncooperative, hog-tie her and lug her to their vehicle. - LIVEPD SCREENCAP
LivePD screencap
In a Live PD clip titled "Hothead Hogtie," Spokane County sheriff deputies confront a "suspicious person" about why she was walking on the wrong side of the road, and when she remains uncooperative, hog-tie her and lug her to their vehicle.

Live PD — the controversial A&E reality show that often starred Spokane County residents being arrested by local sheriff's deputies — was supposed to come back to Spokane this summer, according to Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

But not anymore. On Wednesday, A&E canceled Live PD in the wake of the international protests calling for sweeping police reform after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, a black man.

“Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them," A&E says in a statement. "And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments.”

Knezovich wasn't happy.

"We live in a 'cancel culture' right now," Knezovich says. "It seems we're vastly eroding our freedoms ourselves. We're taking away our own constitutional protections. Any viewpoint, any voice that is counter or different is wiped out. Live PD, well, it doesn't fit today's narrative. Live PD showed that, in the vast majority of police contacts, things go well."

Constitutional protections, of course, are what gives platforms and publishers like A&E the right to choose what to air or not air on their network, including canceling Live PD. But "cancel culture" generally refers to a broader phenomenon of companies responding to outrage on social media about controversial views, statements or actions by firing or penalizing those being called out.

"It's sad to watch networks bow to the pressures of the keyboard," Knezovich says. "But that's the society we live in now. ... OK, so you're going to what? Expunge any favorable reference to police work or police officers from the cultural landscape of America?"

In the last two weeks, a stream of TV critics have published essays critical of police-oriented TV shows, accusing them of effectively being "copaganda" by portraying police officers as square-jawed heroes. Even Paw Patrol, the cartoon kids show with a canine cop, has come under some not-entirely-satirical criticism.  
("Save Paw Patrol," Knezovich writes in a text message to the Inlander.)

But shows like COPS and Live PD were controversial long before this moment — including in Spokane.
It was former Spokane City Council legislative assistant Adam McDaniel's birthday when COPS was canceled.

"That was his birthday present," says former City Council President Ben Stuckart.

McDaniel was the council assistant who led the charge against shows like Live PD and COPS back in 2018.

"It was about protecting the folks who were being shown as a character on these shows, and making sure they had the opportunity to consent," McDaniel says.

McDaniel says he was channel-surfing and came across a Live PD scene of a Spokane County deputy responding to a suicidal man.

"We will never know whether he'll be able to get health or counseling, or whatever was putting him in this position, or whether he ever got it resolved," McDaniel says. "But we do know that we got to witness one of the worst days of his life." 

He says he found research showing that reality-based TV shows overrepresented violent crime, overrepresented minorities as perpetrators of crimes, and overrepresented the number of arrests that actually ended with guilty verdicts.

So in 2018, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance that added new regulations on reality-based TV shows filming in Spokane, including requiring a business license, liability insurance and written consent from all those captured in the footage.

Stuckart argued it wasn't censorship, because it wasn't really news. It was a reality show.

"They’re cutting and editing and giving the police departments the ability to say what’s going to be on air or not," Stuckart says.

And there was another concern: Live PD was making Spokane look awful, precisely when the community was trying to recruit new businesses and investment.

On the other hand, it was making the Sheriff's Office look great. Spokane sheriff's deputies became minor celebrities in the Live PD Twitter world, with fans cooing over the hunkiness of some of the law enforcement officers even as they mocked the methheads and drunks of Spokane.  

The show was effectively a recruiting campaign for the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.

"We got a lot of lateral police officers who wanted to come to work here because of the professionalism they saw on that show," Knezovich says.

The fight between Stuckart and Knezovich was captured last year in the Running from COPS podcast, with host Dan Taberski describing Knezovich as "the most serious man" he's ever met and Live PD's biggest cheerleader. 

"This thing has tapped into something that I can't explain," Knezovich told the podcast. "I've never seen anything like it before. Not in 28 years." 

Taberski's podcast is a multi-episode critique about the problems with COPS and Live PD, pointing out that Live PD sometimes films suspects without their consent. Besides, he says, drunk people can't give consent. 

"What's a person got to do to not be filmed by Live PD in Spokane these days?" Taberski asks.

He had interviewed a Spokane woman who was filmed by Live PD shirtless in her bra — Live PD blurred her face, but her friends still recognized her — who says she's been targetted repeatedly by Live PD's producers.

"Live PD — the extreme left tried to get rid of it for a long time," Knezovich says. "Ben Stuckart's resolution was part of that pressure to get rid of it. They did the same thing in Missoula, Montana."

Live PD had been repeatedly sold as a show that was about transparency, that gave people an unvarnished look at what day-to-day policing looked like.

"Shocked & beyond disappointed about this," Live PD Producer Dan Abrams said in a tweet. "To the loyal #LivePDNation please know I, we, did everything we could to fight for you, and for our continuing effort at transparency in policing."

In fact, there were complaints about Live PD actually being transparent. As the Austin American-Statesman reported, Live PD cameras recorded 40-year-old black father Javier Ambler last year in Texas as sheriff's deputies repeatedly tased him, while he begged for mercy and told them about his heart condition and how he couldn't breathe. Ambler pleaded "save me" before his death. 

But that footage never aired on Live PD. Instead, producers destroyed the footage after 30 days, as outlined with the contract with the agency.

The footage was recorded on the officer's body camera. But if it had happened in Spokane County? Spokane Sheriff's deputies still don't have body cams.

"I'm hoping that all this will now change that dynamic for us. I'm hoping this will finally get the funding we need to get body cameras," Knezovich says.                          

But none of the events of the last few weeks has caused Knezovich to doubt his previous praise for Live PD.

"'Oh, it's making us look bad.' No, maybe it's exposing exactly the way things are, and you're afraid you might have to fix the problem. It's easier to just keep it shoved under the rug," Knezovich previously said on Running from COPS. "'It shows people at their worst'? No, it shows what we're dealing with. It shows what society is dealing with."

Of course, the end of COPS and Live PD isn't the end of live and raw broadcast interactions between police officers and the citizenry. It just that now it's often the protesters against the police who are controlling the camera angles and the editing.

And they're showing a cacophony of brutality, from drive-by pepper spraying to police driving their vehicles into protesters.

"I don’t think the 75-year-old man being pushed down with blood coming from his head would have made it on Live PD," Stuckart says.

85th Annual Greek Festival @ Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Sept. 23-25, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • or

About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...