“US Cops” cleans up: in movies, series, documentaries or in simple videos. No matter where, the portrayal of the American police is almost always the same. Action, an often merciless to brutal approach to the suspected perpetrators and often a bitter facial expression. Especially through the media, this image is pushed and spread, so that the normal viewer almost has no choice but to believe this portrayal.
But as so often, this supposedly true image is not questioned, but accepted and often further fueled. But as is so often the case, there are two sides to this coin. Very rarely, compared to the negative reporting of the mainstream media, the other side and the actual “everyday life” of the American police is accompanied and made available to the general public.
“US Cops” – A documentary
By pure coincidence we also came across a troop of young men who wanted to illuminate exactly this image of the American police from the said other side of the coin. With the aim to show the everyday life of police officers as it really is, far away from the “normal” reporting. And being nice as they are, they answered a few questions about the shooting and the project in general.
The idea to accompany US police officers at work and to create the documentary “US Cops” out of it is also, or mainly, based on the very one-sided reporting and the desire to put the police officers in a different, better light. Also, the fact that after operations with a fatal outcome, the accusation of racism is directly related to the entire police force was an incentive to realize “US Cops”.
To achieve the goal, they have accompanied individual police officers and in the end the documentary will be seen in the “first-person perspective”, all without voice-over, to create a picture as close to reality as possible for the viewer. The focus should be on the hard work of the individual police officers, but also on the police force itself. Besides all these things, it’s also about the training of police officers in America, how it can happen that police officers empty entire magazines in operations and how exactly such decisions must ultimately be made individually by each police officer.
The differences between everyday life in America and Hollywood and Germany
Of course, we also wanted to know whether the actual work of the American police can be compared with the one we know from movies and series and whether such a comparison is even possible. But in the same breath, how it compares with the German police. In terms of the comparison with the Hollywood movies, the everyday life of the police officers is not so action-packed, in comparison with Germany it is the opposite. In “US Cops”, similarities, but also, above all, differences between the various police departments become clear.
It is true that the acts and emergency calls for which the American police officers are called are very similar to those here in Germany. But in the U.S., the legislation is completely different than here, there are completely different instructions for action in different situations, and the willingness of the American population to use violence is also statistically much higher.
The reappraisal of police errors
Particularly in view of the incidents of the last few years (the death of George Floyd is just one example) and the media coverage of what is “going wrong”, we asked ourselves whether the work of the police has changed in general, as far as we could see during the filming of “US Cops”, and whether, and above all how, such things are also dealt with within the police. In the police department that the team was allowed to accompany, there was a complaints office for exactly such cases.
In the U.S. police, everything is strictly logged, so that any misconduct on the part of the officers can be quickly uncovered and clarified. Dash and body cams are also used for every operation, the recordings of which are then uploaded to a cloud and can be viewed by internal investigating authorities at any time.
Here, too, the legal situation is quite different from that in Germany. While it is very difficult here to obtain police recordings, whether in the form of audio or visual material, media law in the U.S. is much broader, so that the media can request the recordings at any time. But the training of police officers is also adapted and changed by extreme situations (again, the example of George Floyd) so that such cases do not occur in the future. Another American feature are the teasers. These store the data of the use, how often it was actuated and from which distance etc. Thus also here the use can be controlled, stored and evaluated later.
From the point of view of the team of “US Cops” – The positive features of the police
By closely accompanying the police officers on site, the team behind “U.S. Cops” was of course able to experience everyday life first-hand and thus paint a somewhat different picture of the authority. While here, due to one-sided reporting and the like, we mainly get to see what goes wrong with the American police, we naturally wanted to know what particularly positive features stood out during the accompaniment. It quickly became clear during the interview that the answer to this question was not so easy, since this aspect was not the focus of the project. Rather, the aim is to get as neutral a perspective as possible on the work of the police officers.
What the team remembers, even in retrospect, is the tact of the individual officers in the situations and the quick reaction to rapidly changing events, as well as the ever-present work ethic of the officers. The cops don’t have an easy job in America either, yet they try to go into each case with the same basic attitude, despite the circumstances of understaffing and single patrols.
The team also noticed that (and this will be similar here) there is always collegiality among the officers. In contrast to Germany, however, according to the team’s image, the police in the U.S. have arrived in the middle of society. As an example, our interview partner mentions here that it is unusual for a police officer to have to pay for his own meal in a restaurant during the break; often, citizens present would do this voluntarily.
The time with the US police officers
When asked how they experienced the time and work with the police officers during the filming, we got the answer “very fun and relaxed.” Before filming was allowed, the appropriate and necessary contact was established. In the department, he said, one was always greeted nicely and then assigned relatively quickly to the official car of the “youngest” officer. The official himself, with whom the team was allowed to ride along, had been working in the department for just under a year and was very open and motivated towards the team. He quickly got over his initial caution towards the German camera team.
For “US Cops,” the team also asked the well-known “Germinator,” but he initially declined. By chance, as we learned in the interview, they met him during the tour and he spontaneously agreed to explain the work of the police in more detail.
The project in general
Besides all the questions about specific parts of the project, the project as such was also part of the conversation. What kind of regulations, like wearing a bulletproof vest, did the department have, what was allowed to be filmed at all, and in general what had to be taken care of during the shoot.
The only requirement from the department was that the necessary paperwork, such as a disclaimer, was filled out and signed. The disclaimer in this case means that the department is not liable for any damage to the equipment or personal injury. Bulletproof vests, on the other hand, were voluntary and not provided by the department. Since in Germany bulletproof vests can only be purchased with a valid press card, they had to be purchased on site. What also had to be observed in addition to the paperwork, of course, were the instructions of the respective officer with whom the team of “U.S. cops” was traveling in the official car.
With regard to the question of whether there were situations in which the team was prohibited from filming, we learned that this (similar to here in Germany) is primarily decided by the person being filmed. In public, everything may be filmed in the USA, in private houses with the permission of the person who exercises the domiciliary rights. In supermarkets, stores or the like, filming is basically difficult, which is why in “US Cops” you only get to hear the corresponding sound in such scenes.
Also, in America it is not forbidden in principle to film rescue operations (such as the resuscitation of a victim), in such a situation the team deliberately decided not to film out of respect for the victim. But: It would have been possible in principle.
Trailer for the first season and other projects
On YouTube, the trailer for the first season of “US Cops” can be seen for some time. According to current information, the first episodes will be released on October 23, 2022. A second season is also already set. While the first season accompanies the ground unit of the police authorities, the team for the second season got the commitment for the ground unit as well as the flight squadron of the police in Alabama. This squadron will then be split into two parts, one part in the helicopter squadron and one part in the Oxford ground unit.
According to our interview partner, the second squadron is supposed to top the first one, but it requires a lot more effort and planning. The team will be enlarged and accommodation will have to be changed to a mobile home in order to be more flexible, since a shooting day lasts about 15-16 hours. In total, a one-month stay in the States is planned for the shooting of the second season.
Besides “US Cops” there is also the idea to shoot a similar documentary with a fire department as “US Fire”, as a kind of counterpart to the current project. The idea is still in its infancy and exists only in the mind, but what is not, can still be. Also a project together with the “Germinator” floats as an idea in the heads, but is currently not (yet) in planning.