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‘Cops’ least of our worries

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Many of you will turn on your televisions tonight to watch the bad boys, bad boys on “Cops” do what they do best: be bad.

But bad in colorful, creepy, confounding and entertaining ways, much in the same way people-watching at a Wal-Mart on a Friday night is entertaining.

This badness is followed up by the goodness of dutiful police officers and deputies who risk their lives and their patience to talk rationally and sl-o-w-l-y to these bad boys (and girls) before hauling them away in handcuffs.

That’s pretty much the show, and it has been thus for 25 seasons and more than 900 episodes featuring the bad and the good (and, arguably, the ugly) in 140 cities, including Albuquerque. The only thing that has changed about this rawest of reality shows, now in its 26th season, is that it airs on Spike TV instead of Fox.

Oh, and that Albuquerque hasn’t been featured on “Cops” – other than in constant reruns and countless YouTube videos – since then-Mayor Marty Chavez rolled up the welcome mat more than a decade ago, saying he didn’t feel the city benefited from a reputation as a crazy town of kooky crime involving cross-dressing cads and bereft women bearing giant attack parrots, both featured in Albuquerque “Cops” segments.

But, hey, Albuquerque as a meth capital à la “Breaking Bad” or a place where folks in witness protection programs go to disappear as in “In Plain Sight”? Let the cameras roll!

You may have heard that Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston announced last week that he is ending the county’s cold war with “Cops.” Filming begins April.

It’s a “public relations” thing, he said, a way to showcase his deputies’ good works.

Not surprisingly, not everybody is enthused.

Mayor Richard Berry reiterated that the filming of the show is still not welcome within the city limits, and City Attorney David Tourek has warned “Cops” producers not to use “Albuquerque” in episode titles or advertisements.

Who knew we could copyright a city name?

Bernalillo County Commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Maggie Hart Stebbins also hit the roof, sending Houston a letter asking him to reconsider his agreement with “Cops,” saying new businesses will be scared off if they learn via the show that we have crime and danger here.

Do they really think that is a secret?

What are we trying to hide here? Albuquerque, like everywhere else, has crime and danger, bad boys and bad girls – some who are or have been cops themselves.

Consider:

  • The New York Times published a story Feb. 14 about the selection of Gorden Eden as chief of the Albuquerque Police Department, which it described as “troubled” and struggling to emerge from a Department of Justice inquiry and a “departmental culture that fosters brutality.”
  • A video of last October’s harrowing cross-town shoot-out with gunman Christopher Chase, who had “COP KILLER” tattooed across his knuckles, went viral across the country after APD released it Feb. 6. The video includes the images of an officer’s bullet-torn leg and a gaping sheriff’s deputy moments after she was shot.
  • A crazy chase near Taos last October between State Police and Tennessee mom Oriana Farrell and her minivan full of screaming children sparked national outrage when a dashboard camera video revealed that an officer had fired three gunshots at the minivan and another officer had smashed in the passenger window as Farrell attempted to flee. Farrell, who said she was visiting New Mexico, had been initially pulled over for speeding..
  • The murder trial of former Albuquerque police officer Levi Chavez last summer made national news not just because he was accused of killing his wife in 2007 but for the multitudes of affairs he and other officers were having, as revealed in testimony. Then-Chief Ray Schultz raised even more eyebrows across the country by explaining the randiness of his officers as simply “nature at play.”
  • And now, just this week, 12-year-old Alex Madrid of Albuquerque is dead, his 15-year-old friend Brandon Villalobos is charged with murder and we are left again to ponder what has gone so wrong for our children.

Then, there’s the unsolved mystery of the 11 women buried on the West Mesa. Mary Han. Omaree Varela. DWI. The police shooting. The police shooting. The police shooting – I could go on.

I tend to agree with Houston’s premise that “Cops” highlights how hard the majority of men and women in law enforcement work to protect and serve in this climate of crazy. If televising those efforts serves as a pat on the back, then it is richly deserved.

“Cops,” along with us in the media in general, also provides a modicum of transparency – the nation’s largest lapel camera, if you will. If televising the operations of an agency shows us how our officers and deputies are doing their jobs, then it is richly needed.

Certainly, “Cops” presents the seamier side of a city for its entertainment value, and there is no getting around that. Still, it is delusional to think that banning “Cops” from our city streets will make those streets seem any safer or improve our street cred across the country.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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