Commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Maggie Hart Stebbins sent a letter to Sheriff Dan Houston on Saturday, saying that they recognize the Sheriff’s Office’s work, but don’t think it should be highlighted in this way.
“The show’s sensational focus on criminal activity sends a message nationwide that Bernalillo County is a dangerous place to live and do business,” the letter reads. “That damaging image undermines all the positive aspects of our community that we work so hard to promote.”
Houston told the Journal he had received the commissioners’ letter but declined to comment, saying that he would release a statement today.
The letter quotes an anonymous Albuquerque resident who says that the last time “COPS” filmed in Bernalillo County it gave people a negative impression of the area.
“Everywhere we go, we are asked by strangers who learn we live in Albuquerque, ‘I’ve seen Albuquerque on “COPS.” How do you live in such a crime-ridden place? I never even want to visit there. It’s like living in Mexico, isn’t it? Aren’t you always afraid for your life?’ ” the letter reads.
Mayor Richard Berry said he does not encourage the filming of the show, and said the Albuquerque Police Department will not participate.
Berry said he has directed city attorneys to send a letter to the show’s producers making it clear that APD will not make any of its officers available for interviews, even if they participate in joint operations with sheriff’s deputies shown on film. The letter will also ask the show to leave Albuquerque’s name out and call it “Bernalillo County COPS.”
“We understand they have a First Amendment right to do what they want,” Berry told the Journal on Friday. But “we won’t be cooperating.”
The commissioners said in the letter they are also concerned that residents won’t want to report crimes if they know a camera crew could show up.
“That is particularly concerning in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes where victims may be less likely to call 911 if they think their case will show up on national television,” the letter reads. “We urge you (Houston) to consider whether the damage to our community is worth the modest benefit to your department and reverse your decision to invite the show to Bernalillo County.”
Journal staff writer Dan McKay contributed to this report.