While some long-running international police shows are being cancelled over sensitivities around how they depict minorities, New Zealand police and TV producers say their shows are different.
The American police show Cops was cancelled after 32 seasons this month, amid global protests responding to racist and violent policing in America. Critics said Cops, and other police reality shows, were encouraging aggressive policing for entertainment purposes.
Crime experts here say New Zealand’s police shows are not representative of reality and are for entertainment purposes. A 2012 analysis of 15 episodes of TVNZ’s long-running Police Ten 7 showed the young, male and Maori were overrepresented.
But TVNZ and Police Ten 7 producers say the programme films calls as they come in, without judgement, and that it’s an accurate snapshot of how Kiwis interact with police.
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“As it’s observational, this programme doesn’t cast judgement on arrest rates or prison statistics, but if it causes viewers to think about this issue more closely, that wouldn’t be disappointing for those involved,” a statement from TVNZ and Screentime said.
In its 14 years on air it had increasingly reflected New Zealand society by showing an “exponentially” diverse police force.
“For example, in last week’s episode the show profiled a serious case led by a Detective of Indian descent whose first language is Punjabi. Police Ten 7 has also been hosted by a highly experienced Tongan Detective Sergeant for the past six years. When it comes to the individuals the police are interacting with, ethnicity is only explicitly cited where necessary to engage viewer assistance in an investigation.”
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TVNZ also airs Highway Cops and Motorway Patrol. New Zealand police said its shows were focused on ensuring communities were safe, deputy chief executive of media and communications Jane Archibald said.
“The format and content of New Zealand Police’s shows is different to the kinds of shows we see overseas. Our investigative shows, such as Police Ten 7 and Cold Case, seek information from the public to assist with some of our most serious unsolved cases or apprehending our most dangerous offenders.”
She said police had oversight of what made it to air, but the cases were selected based on the seriousness of the crime, and the risk to the public.
However, Trevor Bradley, a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute of Criminology, said a student’s 2012 thesis found different .
The student analysed every Police Ten 7 episode for a year, 15 episodes, and in the “ride-along” section of the show she found the depiction of police officers’ gender was the only thing that came close to reflecting reality.
The age and gender of offenders was distorted, with young people and men over-represented, and M?ori were over-represented while New Zealand Europeans were under-represented. M?ori and Pasifika offenders were more often linked to violent offending than any other ethnicity and serious crimes, like sexual assaults and murders, were not represented at all in that segment of the show.
Bradley said the crimes shown also did not reflect reality, with property offending under-represented and drug and antisocial behaviour and violence over-represented.
“The point is not to educate the public, it’s to entertain.”
While the show tried to give the impression it was “organic” Bradley said people needed to realise reality shows were very heavily edited.
“It’s not a representation of the reality of crime.”
As of 2017, 582 arrests were made as a direct result of Police Ten 7 and information provided by viewers also helped police build cases that lead to another 332 arrests.
A clip from the show went viral in 2009 after footage of police officer Sergeant Guy Baldwin telling an alleged car thief eating a meat pie to “always blow on the pie” made international headlines.
Canterbury University criminologist Greg Newbold said police did a variety of work, it just didn’t make good television.
“A M?ori or Pasifika [person] is more likely to be arrested for violent offences and more likely to be under the influence of alcohol than white, middle class people.”
Having been on a ride along with the police, Newbold said the show didn’t accurately depict what a policing shift was like.
“Majority of police work is boring, dull and routine…what you see on the TV is the exciting stuff and that’s where the greatest source of misconception would come in.”