County commissioners
Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson speaks Monday, April 5, 2021, in favor of a reality show that would chronicle his department. (Matt Patterson)

Less than a year after television shows Live PD and COPS were canceled amid criticism that the programs were exploitative and racially insensitive, Oklahoma County commissioners approved a contract this morning for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office to be featured in a reality series that will chronicle the department’s day-to-day activities.

Sheriff Tommie Johnson requested that the show’s production company have access to his department. District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert voted against the item, while District 2 and District 3 commissioners Brian Maughan and Kevin Calvey voted for it.

The agreement with Los Angeles and Manhattan-based Good Caper Productions will be for one year, with the option for a second year. The department will allow the production company to record its activities, including arrests.

Johnson supports show idea

Johnson said the idea behind participating in this show is to highlight the work of his department. During Monday’s meeting, several citizens spoke critically of Johnson’s proposal.

“I understand their concerns with casting people in a negative light, and I will tell you that my vision for the production of the show is completely different from what their perception is,” Johnson said. “I stand by the quote, when I say as a department, as an agency, as law enforcement, as a profession we have to invest in our community to unconsciously give them permission to invest in their own safety. That’s what I see this show doing. This isn’t COPS. It’s not Live PD. This is us working together with our community building these relationships, finding ways to keep our community safe together. That is my vision of the project. That’s the way I see it going.”

Blumert said she understood Johnson’s point but was still voting against the project.

“I will tell you, I’m going to vote, ‘No,’ but I do believe — I hear you,” she said. “I don’t think you have bad intentions with this, but I do have concerns about filming people while they are being arrested.”

Both COPS and Live PD were canceled last year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the wave of national protests that followed. Critics view those programs as exploitative of people who are filmed during arrests or encounters with police.

Citizens speak out against show

Prior to Monday’s vote, several spoke out against the production company being allowed to film deputies and those they encounter in the field. It’s also possible some scenes could be filmed inside the troubled Oklahoma County Jail.

Sean Cummings said the show’s producers will ultimately have control over what appears on screen, not Johnson.

“They own that footage in perpetuity, and they can sell it worldwide and manipulate it,” Cummings said. “You have no rights in this contract. These guys are all about money, they’re not about you. And if you read through their stuff, I’m not even sure they’re on your side.”

Nicole McAfee, who works on criminal justice issues with the ACLU of Oklahoma, said the production will show people in their worst moments.

“It’s really hard for people to provide consent given the power dynamics of that scenario,” she said. “There is so much potential harm that can be done, especially when they are only showing arrest and pre-trial (footage) and not following up on the status of conviction. It can affect the rest of their lives negatively.”

Criminal justice reform activist Jess Eddy said he would help organize against the production if it is allowed.

“We advocated in Tulsa last year for the dissolution of that contract with Live PD,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge problem. If that contract goes through, we’re going to make a major effort to organize the community to oppose that.”

A look at Good Caper Productions

With offices in Los Angeles and New York, Good Caper Productions is an arm of iTV, a popular broadcast network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 2018, the company has produced content for Netflix, the History Channel, AMC, Fox and TLC, among others.

The company produced Killing Fields about a cold case in Louisiana. In 2019, the company produced Taken At Birth, a show about 200 illegally sold babies born in Georgia in the 1950s.

Last year, True Life Crime premiered on MTV. The docuseries explores violent crimes committed against young people.

In a 2018 story from The Hollywood Reporter, the company is mentioned as an up and comer in the growing world of crime television.

“Good Caper Content (run by Kathryn Vaughan) will cater to the growing number of buyers for crime programming, as CEO David George looks to give his company’s many acquisitions better brand identity in a busy market,” the article states.

Last year, the company announced it would be creating a docuseries around human trafficking.

Commissioners vote to retain Oklahoma County jail trust

Also on Monday, all three Oklahoma County commissioners voted against dissolving the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, also called the jail trust. The item, buried on a lengthy agenda, would have dissolved the controversial body that now oversees day-to-day operations at the jail.

Calvey, who also sits on the jail trust, moved that the commissioners not dissolve the trust, which was agreed to by Blumert and Maughan.