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Opinion: Lights, camera, action - and Miranda rights?

In June 2012, I succumbed to the hype and joined with millions of others to watch Nik Wallenda attempt to cross over Niagara Falls on a high wire.

A few minutes into the walk I realized that, because so much of the promotion had been about the fact he could fall off and die at any moment, a little part of me would feel cheated if he made it across alive.

Disgusted by my own human nature, I rushed to change the channel.

I got that same vibe recently while watching the new show “On Patrol: Live,” which broadcasts live every Friday and Saturday night and claims to be “the most-watched show on cable.”

“Anything can happen,” the promo touts as video footage shows a police officer wrestling a man to the pavement. The show feels a little like the NFL Network’s Red Zone channel, as it jumps from one law enforcement agency to another all across the country, including the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department.

Just like the Red Zone is always looking for the game with the best action, “On Patrol: Live” is always looking for the most dramatic moments, a high-speed chase, a violent attack or, at the very least, a stream of red-faced anger and profanity.

Viewers can only hope for the Holy Grail, a police shootout.

Host Dan Abrams and former officers Sean “Sticks” Larkin and Curtis Wilson provide the color commentary and expert analysis.

The show offers the promise of chaos and calamity at any moment. And, there are times of real danger and excitement. But most nights are a sad parade of the intoxicated, the mentally unstable and ordinary folks going through the worst day of their lives and having it shared with the rest of the country for our amusement.

Normally, TV programs need to get a release from the people they show. But apparently driving with a broken taillight means we forfeit all rights to privacy.

The show is an improved update of “Live PD,” which aired on the A& E Network from 2016 to 2020. It’s not a coincidence that the old show was canceled following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and the national call for police reform that followed.

Nor is it a coincidence that the new show was born in the backlash of that call for reform with a new passion to “back the blue.” Which is fine. TV follows the trends.

The show attempts to always present officers in a positive light. And, it purports to give us a look behind the scenes. But, it’s certainly not an unvarnished look.

During my days as a reporter, I did ride-alongs with two different police departments. Both times, I felt like the experience was performative. Everyone was aware of my presence, and all were on guard. Both officers had done this several times before, and had a well-rehearsed message that they never strayed from.

Neither time did I come away feeling like I had seen the full picture.

Now, imagine how much more performative that experience becomes when you add TV lights and cameras.

Law enforcement was never meant to be entertainment. The most successful police and sheriff’s departments are those that prevent crimes before they happen, and defuse situations before they spin out of control.

Nobody would watch that.

Walt Rubel is the former opinion page editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News. He lives in Las Cruces, and can be reached at:

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