CBC Digital Archives

'COPS,' Canadian style

You are being watched. From street corners and roadsides, bank machines and satellites, video cameras record our every move. For police forces, photo radar, street surveillance, cruiser cams and tiny cameras have become efficient crime-fighting tools, gathering irrefutable proof of criminal activity and deterring would-be lawbreakers. For others, video surveillance is an uncomfortable erosion of civil liberties, the unblinking eyes of Big Brother.

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The men and women of Canadian law enforcement have a new TV show, but you won't find it on the air. It's on view in 47 police vehicles in the Vancouver area: cruiser cams and wireless microphones recording accidents, arrests and more than a few speeding excuses. According to officers, the successful program increases officer safety, ends arguments and provides excellent courtroom evidence. Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? 
. The television program Cops debuted on the Fox network in 1989. One of the very first reality TV programs, the show's "video-verité" technique featured cruiser cams and TV camera crews on "ride-alongs" that show the nitty-gritty of daily police work — sans scripts, actors or narration. In nearly 400 episodes, the show has profiled police work in over 104 different American cities and has filmed in Hong Kong, London, Central and South America, Moscow and Leningrad.

. According to Cops producers Paul Stojanovich and John Bunnell, the show's legal affairs department has very strict guidelines regarding when they can show a suspect on air. "Many times you can't show someone when they're in a public place, or if they had a conviction, without their permission," Stojanovich said in an online interview. "Many times we will seek permission from police officers and offenders to have them appear."

. "You'd be surprised at how many offenders want to be on television, either to be sure their side is stated, or for their fifteen minutes of fame," Bunnell says.
. In return for cooperation with the show, Cops gives "charitable gifts to various law enforcement organizations, and we've begun purchasing dash-cams for law enforcement agencies who don't possess them."
. A mostly Canadian spin on the format, To Serve and Protect is now on the air (2004).

. Activists, human rights groups and the general public also frequently use video cameras to film police activities. In several famous international cases of "little brother watching back," videotape was used to expose police and state massacres near Acapulco, Mexico and in China's Tiananmen Square.

. In 1994, an Eaton's department store camera caught two Montreal Transit police officers apparently beating a man they had detained.
. The most famous incident of videotaping police impropriety was the March 31, 1991 amateur videotape recording of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King being beaten by LAPD officers. The April 29, 1992 criminal charge acquittals of the police officers involved sparked off rioting that left 53 dead and caused $1 billion in damage.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Evening News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 22, 1993
Guest(s): Mark Hepburn, Peter Smidt
Reporter: Alyn Edwards
Duration: 3:17

Last updated: February 7, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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