The Missoula County Sheriff sought to quell concerns from county commissioners Tuesday about a nationally broadcast live TV show's film crews scheduled to begin riding along with deputies this weekend.
Sheriff T.J. McDermott said he had done due diligence to make sure bringing "Live PD" to Missoula County wouldn’t cause undue harm to his office or citizens of the county. At the Tuesday meeting with commissioners, he said he spoke to officials in other places around the country who had worked with "Live PD" and found them to have had positive interactions.
McDermott criticized reporting by the Missoulian that spotlighted some of the issues other cities and counties had with "Live PD," some of which led the jurisdictions to pull out of contracts with the show.
“Another thing that was left out of the Missoulian story is that 'Live PD' is self insured, and they indemnify Missoula County for suits that arise out of the filming of the show,” McDermott said. “There have been suits and I don’t know the specific details of those suits and if those suits are a result of 'Live PD,' which in this case they are insured.”
According to the contract signed by McDermott with the show’s producer, Big Fish Entertainment, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office is protected from legal action. However, the Sheriff's Office agrees in the contract that Big Fish Entertainment controls all aspects of litigation, including the decision to settle or compromise on the Sheriff’s behalf, and the contract does not mention Missoula County itself as being covered.
Patrol Captain Rob Taylor said the show would not broadcast victims of crimes, children or law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions without consent or blurred faces.
“They won’t go in anyone’s house without written permission from the person, they won’t unblur a face without a waiver. These people get the opportunity to participate of their own freewill to the extent that they’re not basically in public being filmed as news,” Taylor said.
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Commissioner Josh Slotnick asked whose faces would be blurred and when.
Taylor responded that without a waiver, everyone’s face would be blurred, besides the officers the crew were traveling with. This prompted Commissioner Dave Strohmaier to ask why a suspect would ever want to sign a waiver to be on TV while having a run in with law enforcement.
Taylor said he didn’t know why, and Slotnick said he was happy to hear everyone’s faces would be blurred if they did not consent.
But McDermott pointed out that during the live portion of the show, faces would not be blurred, and the consent forms Taylor was talking about only applied to pre-recorded segments of the show. He said during the live portion, which is the majority of the show, the cameras would roll nearly live and operate with all the rights to film in public as the news media does.
Slotnick said he was concerned someone who was considered a suspect at the time but later cleared would be harmed by being filmed and broadcast in the moment even though they are not guilty of a crime. McDermott said he was confident deputies involved would work to mitigate issues like that.
McDermott pointed out the show broadcasting suspects was no different than news media publishing mugshots of people charged with a crime despite not being convicted. He also said that producers were most interested in getting rural action, such as calls for service including bears and the rugged scenery of western Montana.
McDermott said the producers want to capture the challenges that deputies face on a daily basis and show how law enforcement operates in a transparent way. He told commissioners the added camera was just another level of transparency, including existing body cameras and dashboard cameras.