MANCHESTER – Police Chief Nick Willard had to pull the plug on SPIKE network crews filming Manchester police in action for the popular COPS reality TV show, after public outcry lit up social media over the weekend.
Soon after news of the filming was posted on the “Manchester Information” Facebook page late Friday night, hundreds of critical comments began pouring in, as aldermen weighed in directly with the chief and mayor.
On Sunday morning, Willard notified aldermen and others via Twitter that he “discontinued any filming and MPD will not be a featured department (on COPS).”
Reached by phone on Sunday, Willard said SPIKE crews had been on two ride-alongs with police officers, but that none of the material would be used. He said he was able to reach the right people at the cable network on Sunday to confirm the cancellation, and that the city is under no further obligation.
“They were very understanding,” he said.
Willard said he had notified Mayor Ted Gatsas of the plan to authorize the filming, and that he had the mayor’s support. “I guess it was a bigger issue than we anticipated,” he said.
Gatsas on Sunday said he had supported Willard in allowing the filming, but agreed with the reversal.
“I support the chief, and his decision to pull it,” Gatsas said. “It shows his compassion for the community and his responsiveness to their concerns.”
Willard said Manchester police had entertained many requests recently for media coverage of the police in action, and had previously approved ride-alongs by crews from ABC and FOX, as well as local media. “This was just one of many requests that we’ve entertained,” he said of the COPS filming.
But many in the community were concerned about more publicity that would put the city in a bad light, after the non-fatal shooting of two officers and national coverage of the opioid epidemic.
“Once I considered that side of the equation, I thought the citizens of Manchester already know what an outstanding police department we have, and that should suffice,” said Willard. “I only agreed to (the filming) because of the immense pride I have in the officers, and how incredibly they conduct themselves. It is so contrary to the national narrative about law enforcement these days.”
Willard announced his decision late in the morning on Sunday, about two hours after an email exchange with Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur.
Levasseur had emailed the other aldermen on Sunday, just after midnight, expressing his concern about the COPS filming.
“I hope this is not true,” he wrote. “We already got enough bad publicity around the world about the heroin in this city, and then two police officers being shot. If this COPS show is going to be filming here, I don’t know how that helps us at all. Hoping it’s just a dumb rumor.”
At 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Willard responded that, “the show will be filming MPD officers in the coming months. I will avail myself to you or any other member of the board if inclined.”
Then, less than two hours later, at 11:06, Willard tweeted his decision to cancel the whole thing.
“I often speak of the support I get from the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen, so this support was in furtherance of trusting my judgment,” he wrote. “However, I have since heard from many in the community, both residents and businesses, who have expressed concern that the show would have a negative impact on the city’s image, which is the very last thing I would want.”
Willard said his hope was to showcase the work of the Manchester police, whose “courage, bravery and compassion is on display every shift, every day.”
“The Manchester Police Department has nothing to hide,” he said. “We’re proud of what we do and the way we do it, and I was looking at it from that prism. Crime is down 20 percent in Manchester, so this narrative that Manchester is a crime-ridden city is not accurate.”
Willard said he is confident the residents of Manchester appreciate what local police are doing, even if it doesn’t make national TV.
That was something Levasseur agreed with.
“As much as I appreciate the fine work our officers do, we already know the fine work they do,” he said. “The only thing we need to do is impress ourselves.”
The 29th season of the gritty SPIKE-TV reality series, which initially aired on FOX, premieres on June 4.
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