Commentary by Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press: We still don't know what happened the night 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot, but if a certain TV show had its way, 2 million people might have witnessed the whole thing.
We still don't know what happened the night 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot, but if a certain TV show had its way, 2 million people might have witnessed the whole thing.
That's the audience for a hot episode of "The First 48," a reality show on A&E that follows cops during the 48 hours after a murder is committed. A crew from this show was filming when Detroit police, looking for a murder suspect, burst into that duplex on Lillibridge, a gun was fired and a little girl died.
Let me repeat a few words from that sentence: police, murder, gun, died.
And now one more: filming.
Do those really belong together?
What on earth is a television crew doing in this mix? This is real life. Real bullets. Real blood. Real funerals. That may be the vicarious thrill for people watching at home, but last I looked, police do not exist to provide characters for the A&E Network.
How could that crew not impede the process? There were two cameramen on Lillibridge that night, sources have told the Free Press. Even if they only take up space in the squad car, they are in the way. Even if they ask one question, they are in the way.
And even if they do nothing but point and shoot, they are in the way. Because anyone who thinks being filmed for TV doesn't play in the minds of the subjects has never been filmed for TV, or is working for A&E.
"We have had embedded reporters a number of different times for a number of different initiatives," Assistant Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee told me this past week. "So it's not unusual."
Beg to differ. But it is unusual. At least this kind of access. "The First 48" gets to be on the scene. In the squad cars. Outside the home when the cops burst in. They film officers at their desks, on their lunch breaks, during interrogations. They ride along to victims' houses, film suspects squirming, family members weeping.
They also have cops miked for sound. And the cameras roll as they approach a suspect's door.
"Don't you think that might make your officers act a little differently?" I asked Godbee.
"It's a fair question," he said.
It shouldn't need to be asked.
We may never agree on much in this case, but we should agree on this: We do not need reality TV on the tail of our police force. Some argue it keeps them honest. I argue they're supposed to be honest.
So why are the cameras there? The show does not pay for access, according to Herschel Fink, the lawyer representing A&E, who also represents the Free Press on First Amendment issues and other legal matters. If that's true, then it must be about ego. Thinking the show will portray police work in a positive light — or maybe a heroic one.
And that's when cameras mess with your head. Look. You're either a cop because you believe in the work or you're not. The chance to be seen on TV is at best a distraction and at worst could be an incentive for unwarranted behavior. No one knows, for example, how often Detroit police throw a flash-bang grenade through a window as they did on Lillibridge, but because that TV show was filming, many will claim it was an attempt to look macho.
This should never be an issue. Police are heroic enough. Get the cameras out. "The First 48" has run for nine seasons — nine seasons! — meaning tens of millions have sat and viewed it.
That's pathetic. One of Detroit's biggest problems with crime is that nobody turns in suspects and nobody wants to talk to the cops. How can so many want to watch TV murders, but so few want to help stop real ones?
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via e-mail at email@example.com.