Danny Brown on how LIVE PD police departments help each other
But for Lt. Danny Brown, crime fighting began long before the lights of the “Live PD” cameras started shining on him and other deputies at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s been a blessing. It really has,” Brown, 46, said of the success of the show, which is nearing the end of its second season. “There’s no way I pictured it was going to be this big.”
Years before his newfound fame on the A&E documentary series, Brown — a native of Little Rock, Ark. — joined the U.S. Army to pay for college, over the course of his career serving tours in Germany, Bosnia, Afghanistan (twice) and Kuwait.
He came to Columbia in 1995 as a military police officer at Fort Jackson and was nearing the end of one of his tours of duty when he met Sheriff Leon Lott at a military police ball on base in 1999.
“I think I want to come check y’all out,” he recalled telling the sheriff. “Six months later, I was working here.”
Getting over the nervousness
Against the backdrop of simmering tensions between police and communities following a rash of high-profile officer-involved shootings, “Live PD” premiered in 2016.
“There was a lot of conflict going on across the country, a lot of misunderstandings and conversations that weren’t happening,” Brown said. “This show couldn’t come along at a better time.”
Brown and other officers initially were hesitant when presented with the concept of a show that followed law enforcement with live cameras on their shifts.
“We were like, there’s a lot of people that make mistakes on a daily basis in their jobs,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t have it broadcast to the nation when you make those mistakes.”
They got used to the cameras trailing them, and in addition to delivering monster ratings — and an additional 60 episodes during its first season — the show has allowed law enforcement to put their work into context and explain to viewers why they do what they do, Brown said.
“Lt. Brown is one of those cops that ‘falls into guns, drugs, and chases,’” Lott said. “He has that ability to recognize bad guys. That’s a gift, not all cops have. I believe the viewers see that side of him as well as his compassionate side.”
‘I could see tears rolling up in his eyes’
One night in February, Brown forgot about the cameras when he nearly hit a pedestrian who bolted into a crosswalk in front of his cruiser as he drove through Five Points.
The man was a suspect in a shoplifting from a drug store minutes earlier. Cameras showed Brown pull bottles of lotion from the man’s pants pockets and several packs of socks from his shirt and jacket.
“It turned out he was having some issues,” Brown recalled. “While I was there talking to him, I could see tears rolling up in his eyes. This guy’s going through some stuff.”
After a commercial break, Brown was seen walking up to the man carrying a grocery bag with the items he had tried to take.
“I know a lot of stuff’s going on,” he said, handing the bag to the man. “I can see it in your face, I can feel it in your heart.”
The deputy had used his own credit card to cover the cost of the stolen merchandise. He told the suspect his story wasn’t “matching” with what store employees said.
“You need that stuff,” he told the man before sending him on his way. “It’s all handled. You’re legit now.”
That moment on the show stuck with Brown.
“It was one of those times that I felt connected to somebody on the show,” he said. “You kind of get jaded after a while (working in law enforcement). It gets to the point where you just assume everybody’s lying.”
‘That guy saved my life’
Brown might not have lived to help that stranger in Five Points if it weren’t for the actions of another stranger during a 2012 call that took a terrifying turn.
While chasing a drug-dealing suspect in the Bluff Estates area off Bluff Road, Brown tried to Taser the suspect, who pulled the metal prongs out of him before the shock could take effect, he recalled. The foot chase resumed, over fences and through a backyard until the two men were again struggling on the ground in a driveway.
“I didn’t realize it was his grandma’s driveway,” Brown said. “There was a barbecue or party going on, and I was the uninvited guest.”
As he struggled with the suspect, Brown said he could see several men approach them from the home, some of them carrying bricks and one of them carrying a metal fence pole with a chunk of concrete stuck to the end.
“They weren’t coming to help me,” Brown said. “There was no way they were coming to help me.”
The deputy and suspect continued struggling on the ground, during which Brown said he felt something poking his leg and then saw something silver fly past his head. It was a screwdriver that the suspect’s father was trying to stab him with, he said.
That’s when a utility employee, who was working on some lines nearby, stepped in.
“This guy, out of the middle of nowhere, comes down,” Brown said. “He got in between me and the crowd ... and kept them away from me.”
Brown was able to get to his feet and hold the crowd at gunpoint until backup arrived. Unknown to him, the suspect’s father had picked up his Taser during the struggle. They arrested around a dozen people from that call, after backup arrived.
“That guy saved my life,” he said of the utility worker, who was later honored by the sheriff’s department. “That’s one that still sticks with me. I probably should be dead right now.”
Using fame for good
When he’s not patrolling the streets of Richland County, you might find Brown unwinding by fishing, flying radio-controlled planes or taking in an Imagine Dragons concert.
Besides Imagine Dragons and Jason Aldean, Brown said one of his favorite performers is the band Evanescence, which started in his hometown of Little Rock. Lead singer Amy Lee’s voice was particularly calming while he was serving in Afghanistan, he said.
“You have intense days where you need to calm down,” he said. “You pop in some earphones and a nice, soothing voice always helps out.”
Since the show has become a hit, Brown has gotten used to requests from fans for autographs or selfies when they see him in public —even when he’s 2,700 miles away from Richland County and wearing plain clothes.
“We use the show to get that initial conversation going, and it’ll lead to other things like: Do you guys have a crime watch in your neighborhood? What kinds of problems are y’all having? What do you need?” he said. “They want to come up and get a picture — yeah, but they’re gonna get talked to also.”
Brown chuckled explaining how his 13-year-old son pulls the bill of his baseball cap down over his face when people recognize his dad in public.
“There’s times I can see he’s still really proud of me because he has that smirk on his face,” he said.
The show’s fans on Twitter have dubbed him “Lt. Dan” after the character in the Tom Hanks movie “Forrest Gump.”
“They called me ‘Running Man’ a couple of times,” he said. “I am nowhere near as fast as (Chris) Mastrianni. I’m not as fast as I used to be; I’m getting kind of old.”
Opening dialogue with community members isn’t the only way officers are using their “Live PD” fame to do good, Brown said. They’ve raised money for fundraisers auctioning off autographed items or ride-alongs and other outings with the officers.
‘If it’s gone tomorrow’
The lineup on the show has changed since it premiered, and Richland County is now the only original agency still on the show as the network has brought in new agencies to show viewers other parts of the country, while other agencies have ended their time on the program over concerns of the potentially negative image it casts on their communities.
Brown disagrees with that notion.
“We’re showing people that we are working on the issues in the communities,” he said. “I think just the humanity side of our department is what’s kept us going.”
An A&E spokesperson said they have no plans to stop working with Richland County, though.
“We love the show,” Brown said. “If it’s gone tomorrow, we are still going to work the exact same way that we always have.”