After a brief and controversial flirtation with livestreaming, the sheriff of one of Colorado’s most populated counties announced his agency will appear on America’s longest-running and widely-criticized law enforcement reality show.
Adams County Sheriff Rick Reigenborn on Jan. 27 signed an agreement with the producers of the newly resurrected “Cops” to take part in an unspecified number of episodes. He announced the agreement Feb. 12 in a video on the Adams County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
“We appreciate your support, we hope and encourage you all to continue to join us as we go with ‘Cops’ in the very near future,” he said in the video.
The announcement follows Reigenborn’s recent and apparently short-lived pivot to livestreaming. Reigenborn streamed four episodes of “Running the Road,” which showed him on patrol in Adams County.
Reigenborn’s livestreaming garnered local news attention when he arrested a man after participating in a lengthy pursuit, which may have violated the agency’s policies.
Attempts to discuss the “Cops” contract with Reigenborn were unsuccessful. Adams County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Adam Sherman last week said Reigenborn was not available Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for an interview about the “Cops” agreement and his livestreams.
“The sheriff is unavailable the next few days and I am not sure he is interested in being interviewed,” Sherman wrote in an email Wednesday.
Sherman did not respond to questions sent Thursday about whether the sheriff will continue his livestream, how many “Cops” episodes the department will participate in, when the show will be filmed and when it will air, and whether the sheriff consulted with anyone else in the county government or community before signing the deal.
The agreement between the sheriff’s office and Langley Productions, obtained by The Denver Post through a public records request, states the law enforcement agency has the right to “review and comment on completed rough cuts” prior to broadcast for “purposes of accuracy, protection of nonpublic information and investigatory techniques and otherwise for the protection of the public trust.”
The production company agreed to “abide by the determination of the department and to remove or revise portions of the segment as the department deems necessary,” according to the contract.
The film crew will also be “subject to and under control of” the sheriff’s deputy in charge and that the crew will obey the commands and directions of any deputy for “health, safety, security or operational reasons.”
The agreement states neither the Adams County Sheriff’s Office nor any of its employees will be paid for their time or cooperation.
“Portraying excessive force and overpolicing”
“Cops” relaunched on Oct. 1 on Fox Nation, a subscription-based streaming service owned by Fox News Media, after being canceled by its previous network, Paramount, during the 2020 protests of police brutality and racism that followed the murder of George Floyd.
“Cops” and similar law enforcement reality television shows have been heavily criticized by racial justice groups and academics, who say such shows present excessive force as acceptable, disproportionally highlights Black and brown people suspected of crimes and serve as marketing material for law enforcement agencies because the agencies maintain so much control over editing.
“Shows like ‘Cops’ threaten to undo the progress the entertainment industry has brought forth,” leaders of Color of Change, a racial justice organization that has opposed “Cops” for more than a decade, wrote in October in protest of Fox Nation’s decision to resurrect the show. “Its history of portraying excessive force and overpolicing make the show a public relations arm for law enforcement, rather than an accurate portrayal of what happens between Black communities and real police departments in this country.”
Texas lawmakers in 2021 banned state law enforcement agencies from participating in such shows following the death of Javier Ambler II. Ambler died in 2019 after Williamson County sheriff’s deputies chased him for failing to dim his headlights while cameramen from “Live PD” filmed. Deputies used a Taser to shock Ambler, who died as the cameras rolled.
“Live PD” never broadcast the video but destroyed it before it could be turned over to outside investigators, the Austin American-Statesman reported. An investigation by the newspaper after Ambler’s death found Williamson County deputies were more violent when the show’s cameras were rolling.
“Javier Ambler was killed because Williamson County deputies were encouraged to produce exciting reality television instead of simply protecting and serving the public,” Jeff Edwards, who represented Ambler’s parents, told ABC News.
The Denver Post reached out to all five Adams County commissioners to ask whether Reigenborn discussed “Cops” with them before he signed the agreement and what they thought of the decision. Only one, Emma Pinter, responded to say she had no comment. Another commissioner forwarded the questions to the county spokeswoman.
“The board does not have a comment on the sheriff’s decision to sign a contract with Langley Productions,” Adams County spokeswoman Christa Bruning said in an email. “In case you aren’t familiar with the structure, the sheriff is an independently elected office and does not report to the board.”
“See how much trouble I’m in”
Reigenborn launched his own livestream program, called “Running the Road,” on Jan. 1 and had four episodes over the next month. The livestreams, which aired on the Adams County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, showed the sheriff answering calls for service.
“We’re trying to let everyone see what we do on a daily basis, ” Reigenborn said in the first livestream.
During the Jan. 29 livestream, Reigenborn joined a pursuit of a reportedly stolen car that was miles away from where he was driving. The sergeant in charge of the pursuit later called off the chase after it entered Denver and the suspect driver began traveling on the wrong side of the road, endangering the public.
But Reigenborn turned off his lights and sirens and continued to follow the suspect’s car from a distance, the video shows.
He later found the car and the suspect in a neighborhood and arrested the suspect after a foot chase, though the arrest was not recorded by the camera.
“I’m going to jump out and talk to the sergeant and see how much trouble I’m in,” Reigenborn said on the livestream after returning to his unmarked vehicle following the arrest.
“Sergeant didn’t yell at me, I’m not in trouble,” Reigenborn said a minute later. “When a pursuit is terminated by the supervisor, we typically turn and go the other way, But with us being in an unmarked car, and with me being the sheriff, we turned our emergency lights off and we resumed back to normal traffic laws and we observed from a distance. That’s all we did.”
Adams County Sheriff’s Office policy states marked patrol cars should replace unmarked cars when possible, as first reported by 9News. Policy also states that ride-along passengers should be dropped off prior to engaging in a pursuit, which the sheriff did not do.
Reigenborn, a Democrat, was elected in 2018 and is up for re-election in 2022. He promoted the “Running the Road” series on his campaign website.
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