ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — Over the last few months, Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies — and the public they interact with — have been in front of the camera for “On Patrol: Live”, a reality TV show similar to “Cops.” Now, a citizen review board is taking a look at the impact the show is having on the department and the community.

The Sheriff’s Office Advisory and Review Board is opening up the topic for public comment. On October 14, they’ll be holding a public comment session during their 11:00 am meeting that day.

Whether or not to participate in reality TV

Earlier this year, KRQE News 13 reported that the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) was one of a handful of law enforcement agencies across the country planning on being part of the “On Patrol: Live” TV show. At the time, BCSO said they hoped the show would capture the daily work of sheriff’s deputies, not just the action-packed elements of the job, like police chases.

Episodes that have aired during the program’s first season don’t show all the daily work, such as routine paperwork. But some scenes with BCSO do show relatively low-key interactions, such as traffic stops and sheriff’s deputies arresting a person with a warrant. Neither of those examples involve chases, a staple of the “Cops”-style police reality show genre, but “On Patrol: Live” broadly includes some pursuits. BCSO says they continue to receive “overwhelming support” on social media regarding the show.

This isn’t the first time local law enforcement has been featured on reality TV. Nearly two decades ago, the Albuquerque Police Department formerly participated on the show “Cops.” That was before then-mayor Marty Chavez banned the show in 2004, saying that it negatively highlighted the city’s crime.

But by 2014, “Cops” was back, this time highlighting BCSO. At the time, Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson told KRQE News 13 that whether or not reality TV was filming in Albuquerque didn’t change the fact that there’s crime here. And Bernalillo County Commissioner Debby O’Malley (District 1) spoke against the show.

KRQE News 13 asked O’Malley Tuesday if she supported BCSO’s involvement in “On Patrol: Live.” She says she doesn’t see any benefit in the show.

“I don’t think it serves any beneficial purpose,” she says. “So I don’t see the reason behind it.”

Now, the future of “On Patrol: Live” is under review. The Sheriff’s Office Advisory and Review Board is asking whether the show is “a distraction for deputies, and therefore a liability” and whether it is appropriate for BCSO to be involved in the promotion of a for-profit show. They are also looking to address whether the show is broadly beneficial for the community.

The review board posing these questions is a separate entity from BCSO. Created in 2020, the board has the goal of improving “public transparency and accountability with respect to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office,” among other things. Already the review board has been involved in getting sheriff’s to wear body cameras, something Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III had previously resisted. A state law took effect in 2020, forcing all of New Mexico law enforcement agencies to wear body cameras.

Reelz, the company behind the show, notes on their website that no law enforcement agencies receive direct payments for appearing in the show. But in some cases, departments will get a licensing fee for the use of their logo. And a spokesperson from BCSO tells KRQE News 13 the department might be reimbursed for overtime hours used during filming. News 13 is waiting on a public records request to confirm that.

In the past, “On Patrol: Live’s” earlier iteration called “Live PD” faced scrutiny for allegedly censoring police footage. The company behind Live PD’s production, A&E, rejected those claims. Now, Reelz notes that police departments do not have creative control over “On Patrol: Live” footage, but the company also says that “departments have the right to review and request editing of [“On Patrol: Live”] footage that could potentially endanger citizens and/or the safety & security of police officers, and/or compromise departmental operations.”

Vehicle imagery

Also under review is the use of unique logos and images on BCSO vehicles. The images, selected by cadets in the training academy, represent class mascots, according to BCSO. But some online discussion suggests that the public isn’t always sure what the symbols mean.

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A selection of images show the unique logos on BCSO vehicles. Images from BCSO.

A tweet about the markings brought the situation to light for the review board. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, BCSO officials told the board the images were intended as recruitment tools.

Whether or not the images are likely to attract candidates that the community seeks is one of the questions the review board will consider. Board members are also expected to address whether or not any of the logos appear to support political or conspiratorial groups and whether the images “convey the ethos of ‘protect and serve’.”

Some responses to the original tweet suggest divisive interpretations of the imagery. One commenter wrote, in part, “This feels militaristic.” Others noted that they viewed the alteration of a Zia symbol as disrespectful. A spokesperson for BCSO says the images “represent comradery.”

“The cadets [who created the images] represent our community and come from various and diverse backgrounds,” BCSO Deputy Felicia Maggard told KRQE News 13. “We would never promote any symbolism that may cause division in the community we serve.”

Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty (District 5) told KRQE News 13 that she noticed the logos on the vehicles were generating a stir on social media. She says the logos are “off-putting to some people.” But, Pyskoty says the Sheriff’s Office should be for everyone.

The review board will allow up to two minutes per speaker of public comment. To participate, members of the public can sign up online or call 505 468-7352.