Why would a police department agree to let a TV network tag along for a behind-the-scenes documentary series?
The better question, these days, is ``Why not?"
When a network like Spike declares its intention to highlight the lives of officers, you can bet it's not going to come back with ``The Shield." Of course, that's why ``The Shield" is generally gripping and ``Boston PD," the four-part series that premieres at 10 tonight, is merely decent documentary TV.
If you enjoy watching tough guys acting sensitive, you'll get it in abundance here. What you won't see is anything truly unexpected; Spike trades fictional high drama for heartfelt discussions of post-traumatic stress, plus slow-motion demonstrations of the process at work. ``Unfortunately, a lot of the job is sitting," one officer says at one point. Another, after a criminal is quietly nabbed, turns to the camera crew with a smirk.
``Anticlimactic, right?" he says. ``That's the way we like it."
No amount of overwrought narration -- ``The city of Boston has been shaken by a horrific sex crime," the voice-over says at one point -- can change the fact that this stuff is slow going. Fortunately, the Boston Police Department is filled with likable characters who manage to serve as hooks.
Detective Kevin Guy, a narcotics officer featured in tonight's episode, has fun teaching newbies on the camera crew how to observe the street drug trade. Officer Patricia DeRosa patrols the Theater District nightclub scene without a partner. (Well, she considers her gun her partner.) When men ask for her number while she's patrolling, she asks them for a piece of paper and a pen, then writes ``911."
So it goes, one likable person after another. To its credit, ``Boston PD" does spend time on the death of Victoria Snelgrove, the Emerson student hit by an officer's ``less-than-lethal" weapon during a Red Sox celebration in 2004. But mainly, we hear just how awful police felt.
The department got an advanced look at the finished product, a Spike spokeswoman said, to make sure the show didn't compromise any investigations, legal cases, or confidential sources. The Boston police didn't change a thing.
There's nothing wrong, of course, with humanizing officers. And ``Boston PD," if watched by the right people, could well go a long way toward community relations. Police departments around the country should take note: A human face is always more effective than a public relations officer.
Joanna Weiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.