COPS filming in Fort Myers stirs up mixed emotions

Posted at 6:28 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 06:14:45-05

Filming of the national hit show COPS has finally begun in the City of Palms. It's been one month since gaining the city's approval but it's being met with mix-reaction. Some people fear it will hurt how the area is perceived, especially as a tourism draw. 

Fort Myers residents like Shirley Sirbert says she's not thrilled about the spotlight.  "It's already affecting the community," Sirbert said. "I don't understand what good will come from it."

Another resident, Alicia Benjamin, agrees.  "They're only going to show the bad parts in Fort Myers in the Dunbar community. Not the good parts." she said. 

Other people, like Willie Robertson, tells Four In Your Corner he is indifferent. His focus is to help build up the city by starting a new business in the Dunbar community.   "I figure if you're not doing anything wrong, it's nothing to worry about," Robertson said. "My focus right now is to launch this business and pour in to the community I grew up in."

In January, County Commissioner, Cecil Pendergrass on behalf of the Tourist Development Council sent Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson a letter, expressing the council's concerns about the national show. 

This is an excerpt from the letter:

"As members of the community involved in the hospitality industry we question participating in television shows that do not reflect us in a positive manner. We are not in support of a national show focusing on potential negative aspects of what is overall extremely safe destination. 

Any efforts to portray our community in a less than favorable light should be discouraged so as to uphold the positive image of our area. 

We look forward to working with all our community partners to ensure that Lee County sustains its positive image on the national and international stage."

Kirsten O'Donnell a spokesperson with the City of Fort Myers says the decision came down to the Fort Myers Police Chief.

"The City of Fort Myers has partnered with COPS many times for over the last 10 or 15 years," O'Donnell said. "They reached out and asked if they could do another round of filming."

O'Donnell couldn't say what the show will be focusing on but said Mayor Henderson was originally hesitant about COPS filming in Fort Myers. After the mayor met with Fort Myers Police Chief Diggs, he felt it could potentially have a positive affect in the city.

"It shows that the city has an effective, proactive police department," O'Donnell said. "It also is a great recruiting tool to bring in future police officers to the City of Fort Myers." 

Viewers have expressed concern the filming of the show COPS may entice people who feel like they have nothing to lose to commit crimes just to get on the show. When Four In Your Corner asked O'Donnell how the city would respond to these concerns, this is what she said,

"COPS is not a documentary show, COPS in many ways is an entertainment show and Chief Diggs has the final say in what actually makes it on to the air. In addition to the fact that anybody who is arrested or featured on the show has to sign a waiver to sign off, Chief Diggs also has to sign off on it."

O'Donnell says Police Chief Diggs gets to see the footage and interpret it before it makes air. 

"He gets to view it not only through the eyes of a Chief of Police but also through the eyes of a citizen of Fort Myers and of Lee County but also as a potential visitor to the county," O'Donnell said.

Four In Your Corner reached out to the production company behind the COPS tv show. Producers declined to comment until the filming is over.