A white pickup stops behind a Two Notch Road convenience store, and a passenger tosses out a beer can that nearly hits Deputy Chris Mastrianni as he approaches the truck.
“Nice try, buddy,” Mastrianni tells the passenger, sticking his foot out to stop the beer can rolling across the ground.
Deputies learn during the traffic stop that the driver was out celebrating his birthday with his brother, the passenger. His hands cuffed behind his back, the driver looks directly into a camera and declares his love for a woman named “Kiesha” while his brother asks in slurred sentences to be given sobriety tests.
“What can I say?” Deputy Kevin Lawrence says as he walks back to a patrol car. “Friday night.”
It’s another night on patrol with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, one of several agencies around the country whose officers are followed by the cameras of “Live PD.” The live-action A&E documentary series puts viewers in the passenger seats of patrol cars and gives them unedited, real-time access as officers respond to calls during their shifts.
“You are literally a passenger in that car,” said Shelly Tatro, an executive producer for the series. “You be the judge of how something went down or how something was handled or not handled or whether somebody should have been arrested or not arrested. You’re just along for the ride.”
The show’s initial eight-episode run has been extended at least twice since its October debut, and Friday night will be the 44th episode. A&E also has extended the broadcasts from two to three hours, and the show is now live Friday and Saturday nights.
At a time of heightened scrutiny for law enforcement and increased tensions between police and communities, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the show offers the increased transparency demanded by the public.
“You can’t be more transparent than being live,” he said. “It’s giving citizens an opportunity to see what police work is really about and also personalize our officers. They get to see just who these officers are – moms and dads, husbands, wives and kids.”
‘Not edited, not scripted’
Developers got the idea for “Live PD” in fall 2015 after reading about officers live-tweeting on patrol, according to Dan Cesareo, founder and president of Big Fish Entertainment.
Cesareo said there was hesitation among police chiefs and sheriffs when producers pitched the idea of cameras filming their officers live.
Not in Richland County, which was one of the original agencies on the show.
“They didn’t even have a name for it at that time,” said sheriff’s Lt. Curtis Wilson, who appears on the show regularly. “It seemed like something that was groundbreaking. It’s a way for the community and citizens to see what we do, real-time, real-life, not edited, not scripted.”
Cesareo said they try to present viewers with a cross-section of law enforcement agencies in America of different types, sizes and locations. In addition to Richland County, police and sheriffs’ departments in Louisiana, Texas, Utah, Connecticut and Maryland are currently featured, along with Arizona state troopers.
“It’s representative of the sheriff departments across the South and how they deal with policing more sprawling, unincorporated areas,” Cesareo said of selecting Richland County.
Another South Carolina agency got in on the action in March, when “Live PD” cameras began following Greenville County sheriff’s deputies on patrol.
Viewers follow officers through a gamut of calls on the show, from traffic stops and crashes to burglaries and shootings to K-9 searches for armed robbers. The show jumps from city to city during each broadcast, going to wherever the action is while hosts in the New York studio offer commentary and explanation on what viewers are seeing.
‘I’m not an actor’
Each broadcast follows certain officers from each agency. Lawrence and Mastrianni are among the fan favorites on the show, with Twitter dubbing Mastrianni as “Fastrianni” and Lawrence as “K-Law” or “Mr. Chill.”
“I didn’t think this show would be as popular as it is,” Lawrence told The State newspaper. “I never would have thought that in a million years. It’s gratifying to know that people actually still respect law enforcement and the job that we do.”
Lawrence said he likes the show’s concept because it paints a bigger picture of what police do and allows them to explain the reasoning behind their actions. Having gotten into law enforcement when “COPS” and “America’s Most Wanted” were the hot shows, he said “Live PD” is the new age of police work on television.
“I also have to keep in mind, it’s still a job,” he said. “I’m still in law enforcement. I’m not an actor. People look at it as entertainment, but at the same time I could pull a car over and it could be a murder suspect.”