When Addy Perez learned she would be the newest Richland County deputy on “Live PD,” she watched the show’s first season to see what she was getting into. That left her with two words: “Oh, crap.”
“I had no clue what the show was,” Perez said of joining the A&E documentary series during its second season. “Never watched it, never heard of it. So, when they asked me to be part of it, I had no clue what it was.”
But when a suspect took off running during Perez’s first patrol on camera and she grabbed him to keep him from climbing over a fence, she also grabbed the hearts of fans who call themselves Live PD Nation, quickly going from rookie cop to household name.
Like many officers on the show, Perez has become somewhat of a celebrity, traveling to New York to cohost two episodes in the studio, garnering more than 40,000 Twitter followers and even her own page on the Internet Movie Database that lists her as an actress on the show.
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But there is no acting on the show, which is currently in its third season, and Perez doesn’t see herself as a celebrity.
“Because at the end of the day, I’m still a law enforcement officer and I’m just working,” she said. “When the cameras are not with me, I’m just working to answer calls, help out.”
‘I wanted to be different’
Despite growing up in The Bronx in a family steeped in law enforcement and military service, Perez said she didn’t want to be a cop but rather a veterinarian.
“I wanted to be different,” she said. “I wanted to see if I can be successful without the military and without law enforcement.”
Perez ended up joining the U.S. Army Reserves in 2008 before she finished school, serving in Afghanistan and Texas before coming to Fort Jackson in 2014 when she was accepted as a drill sergeant leader in the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy.
The trees, open air and manners of South Carolina were a welcome change from the busyness and aggression of New York City, Perez said.
“Nobody is ever nice up there,” she said. “It’s calm (in South Carolina). It’s peaceful. There’s air, there’s trees. I’m from The Bronx, where it’s a little hectic and it’s been hectic for a while.”
After two years at the academy, Perez left but stayed in the reserves and got a job as a veterinary tech at an animal shelter.
“I got tired of the nit-picking and not having a standard,” she said of the shelter job. “They got really sloppy. So I just put in an application (with the sheriff’s department) and, it was meant to be.”
‘Big shoes to fill’
In April, just over a year after Perez joined the sheriff’s department, she was assigned to the department’s Community Action Team.
The team of highly-trained officers specializes in community policing methods, and each deputy represents a certain area of the county and is familiar with that area’s specific law enforcement issues.
Perez learned she wouldn’t just be accepting a spot on the team — she would be filling the spot left open by Investigator Chris Mastrianni, a former CAT deputy who left the team when he was promoted to investigator. Mastrianni also was one of the original Richland County deputies on “Live PD,” and remains a fan favorite even months after he left the show for his promotion.
“You’re taking Mastrianni’s spot, so you’ve got big shoes to fill,” Perez recalled Sheriff Leon Lott telling her.
Perez saw what Mastrianni accomplished in the Region 2 area, which includes inbound Decker Boulevard from Fontaine Road, Forest Acres and Arcadia Lakes, and hopes to take it a step further.
“I work with him still on the side,” she said. “He’s been teaching me along the way, and I’ve been taking all the knowledge that he’s been giving me to improve what he was doing on the Community Action Team.”
Parallels between military and law enforcement
Being on the special team has made Perez a better officer, she said, from attending regular community meetings, to listening to and addressing residents’ concerns, and working with children and their parents.
“A lot of parents cannot be parents these days,” she said. “I try to put some reality checks into their kids that what they’re doing is kind of wrong, and also putting some sense into the parents as well that they need to start taking control of their kids, because a law enforcement officer shouldn’t have to come into the house and teach you how to be a parent.”
Perez doesn’t have children, but said being a drill sergeant for 17- and 18-year-olds in basic training has similar functions.
“Kids are looking for parents, as much as it doesn’t look like they need one,” she said.
There’s often overlap between military and law enforcement service, and Perez can take experiences from one and apply it to the other. She specifically noted combat breathing and combative techniques that she learned from the Army.
“If it wasn’t for me doing military combatives with the Army, I probably never would have gotten that guy on the fence,” she said.
‘I used to live in my car, too’
There’s another, more difficult, experience Perez doesn’t like to talk about but has referenced on the show.
“I went through a hard time, and I think everybody’s been going through a hard time,” she told The State. “They don’t have a permanent home.”
During an episode that aired Oct. 5, Perez responded to a call at a Columbia apartment complex about couple people living in their car in the parking lot.
“It’s a hard time right now, you know? Just going through a hard (expletive) time,” the man told Perez on camera.
But, Perez does know.
“Look, I’ve been there,” she told the man during the episode. “I used to live in my car, too. So, trust me, I understand the struggle.”
The couple did not want to go to a shelter because they wouldn’t be able to stay together. Perez gave them some bottled water, told them about the resources available to them and implored them to use the shelters and resources.
“At least there you can kind of relax and plan it out, and then when you talk to those in the shelter, you can have options and get employment and things like that,” she said. “You’ve got to think about the bigger picture. That’s how I did it.”
Perez told The State she was homeless for a while after returning from Afghanistan, and often slept in her car with her dog, Tango.
“I stepped up to the game plate,” she said. “I used the resources that were available to me, even if it was sleeping on somebody’s couch. But you know what, I didn’t give up. I made sure that I pushed forward, used what I can and I was able to get into the position I am now.”
‘We’re not robots’
A clip of the emotional exchange on the “Live PD” Twitter page was met with tweets of praise and empathy from the show’s fans, and even from Perez’s fellow officers.
Since coming onto the show, Perez has twice appeared in the New York studios with cohosts Dan Abrams, Tom Morris and Sean “Sticks” Larkin. Her most recent appearance there was a surprise visit on Nov. 10.
“I actually felt very comfortable,” she said of her first time in the studio during a broadcast. “I would not mind doing that full-time.”
But for the officers who have been transformed into celebrities because of the show, Perez said it’s not about the fame but rather showing what the beat is like for law enforcement officers and agencies around the country.
“A lot of people who go into law enforcement have gone through something,” she said. “And that’s what the community and the world don’t understand is that, we’re not robots. We are already going through something, and we are here to give back.”
And giving back is what Perez had in mind when she agreed to be on the show.
“I basically said, ‘I thought about it, but you know what? If this improves the image of women, if this improves the image of minorities — somebody from New York, you know, coming from a different state — if this helps a little bit of everything, then I’ll help out and do the show,” she recalled. “... It has nothing to do with fame, it has nothing to do with signing posters. But if I can improve it and give some motivation and inspire others, I’ll do that.”