Texas bans reality TV cop ride-a-longs

Legislation passed in the wake of Javier Ambler, who died after a police chase filmed by Live PD

Everything’s bigger in Texas, but reality TV cop shows have gotten too big for the state. 

Texas passed a law this week banning law enforcement from working with reality TV shows such as Live PD and Cops, according to the Austin-American Statesman. Even though both shows are no longer in production, the legislation bans any future program from doing so. The bill was signed into law this week by Gov. Greg Abbott and passed easily with bipartisan support. 

News programs and documentaries are not affected by the legislation. 

The move came after Austin-area resident Javier Ambler II died after a police chase through Williamson and Travis counties with Live PD crews in tow. Ambler crashed his car in the 2019 incident as police tasered him, resulting in his death. Live PD footage from the chase was erased, leading to tampering charges against a former sheriff and a Williamson County general counsel. The footage never made it to the air. 

Williamson and Travis counties are in the Austin designated market area, or DMA. Williamson County signed a deal with Live PD in early 2018 and started filming in November of that year. The relationship was often rocky, even becoming bizarre at times.  

In a statement, the Ambler family said: “Javier Ambler was killed because Williamson County deputies were encouraged to produce exciting reality television instead of simply protecting and serving the public. As a consequence of this unconscionable decision by the county and its sheriff, a beloved father and son was senselessly killed.”

Javier Ambler

The bill in part came in an investigation by the Statesman and Tegna-owned ABC affiliate KVUE-TV into Javier’s death. Both Austin outlets also uncovered some violent arrests staged just for the cameras, including using a “no-knock” warrant to arrest a man by dragging him out of his father’s house and arresting him on live TV. 

Both Live PD and Cops were canceled last summer in the wake of protests surrounding George Floyd’s death. Live PD was A&E’s highest-rated show while Cops, a former longtime Fox staple, was dropped by the Paramount Network. The latter program was a subject of a podcast series in 2019 called Running From Cops, investigating how the show was made, which revealed some interesting tidbits – including suspects coerced into signing releases into appearing on camera. 

Reruns of both shows were pulled from syndication and cable networks. Locally, Weigel’s The U had rerun rights to both shows and pulled them three weeks after George Floyd’s death. 

Texas became the first state to ban reality TV crews recording law enforcement, though it remains to be seen if this legislation would spread to other states. It’s a bit surprising given Texas is a hardcore red state and support for law enforcement is strong. But even officers in Texas admit their jobs would be made easier if the cameras weren’t around. 

Already, Live PD was kicked out and subsequently banned from other locales including Tulsa and Bridgeport, Conn. Although both Live PD and Cops have tagged along with Lake County (Ill.) and Cook County Sheriff deputies respectively in the past, the Chicago Police Department has never participated in either show, stating police work shouldn’t be viewed as entertainment. Currently, there is no legislation pending on banning reality TV shows from filming law enforcement in Illinois, Wisconsin, or Indiana. 

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