Tim Burke: Is ‘Live PD’ a good thing for Pahrump?

I recently tuned in to watch several episodes of “Live PD.”

If you aren’t yet familiar with the show, it’s a reality TV series that follows local police departments from several jurisdictions across the United States.

It showcases real police work being done on the streets by officers. The show is not exactly live, the FCC mandates a slight delay of all “live” shows of this type to bleep out foul language and nudity but the delay is generally only a few minutes removed from the live action.

It’s reality TV in all its glory. Most reality TV shows of this type seem somewhat exploitive. They focus on drama and chaos and play up the grim situations that people find themselves in. It’s riveting TV but it’s like watching a train wreck. You know the train wreck is coming and it will be tragic, but you can’t help but watch it.

A central theme emerges after you watch a few episodes. Alcohol, drug abuse, domestic violence, petty theft, and mental illness are not just Pahrump issues. They are epidemic across the country.

Unfortunately, the TV scenes from Pahrump don’t show our residents’ best side, instead, you see individuals acting irrationally, living in beat-up homes that don’t even look habitable, and yards littered with junk.

But on the show, you see similar communities with the same issues across the entire country. The story lines are similar, they are just in different locations handled by different police departments.

A second main theme becomes quickly apparent when you watch the show and that is how difficult a police officer’s job is. In every department across the country, you see how professional the officers are when they interact with difficult people. They almost always show compassion and courtesy, often to people who don’t deserve it. On the segments with the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, the officers have handled themselves in a manner that reflects positively on the department.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Sheriff Wehrly last week to ask why she wanted her department to be involved in the show. She had several reasons why she felt participating in the show would help the sheriff’s office and the community. Her main goal was to increase the number of good candidates applying to become officers here. One of the primary issues that the sheriff’s office faces, is recruiting new police officers.

Nye County has one of the lowest starting wages in Nevada for deputies. Based on the current collective bargaining agreement, the base for a new deputy sheriff is $14 per hour. That pales in comparison to what Metro pays in Las Vegas. The Nye County Sheriff’s Office must compete against those higher starting wages and yet still try to get the best possible candidates. Retention is also an issue.

The department loses officers to other departments that pay much higher wages, often during their first year with the department. The sheriff stated that based on the early results from participating in the Live PD show, applications for new deputies are up substantially and are coming in from across the United States.

The sheriff had a couple of additional goals she wanted to achieve. She wanted to increase local awareness of the issues that officers face here and she also wanted to increase communication with the residents. She said that it is working. Officers that appear on the show are more recognized in the community and that has increased the positive engagements with local residents.

Having Live PD in Nye County is a trade-off. It is showing our sheriff’s office in a positive and professional light but at the same time showing the less positive aspects of our community.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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