'Homeland Security' Show An Incomplete Picture
While the show provides a unique and informative look at the work of homeland security employees, very little distinguishes it from similar reality programs about law enforcement or government programs like "Cops" or the Discovery Channel specials. The show also leaves several questions unanswered, and may suggest to viewers that some of the department's rank and file are too eager for action.
Last night's episode focused on the efforts of Customs and Border Protection officers at the San Ysidro, Calif. U.S.-Mexico border crossing and the Blaine, Wash. U.S.-Canada border post. It also profiled Transportation Security Administration officers at Los Angeles International Airport, BORSTAR officers patrolling near Tucson, Ariz. and the International Mail Center in Carson, Calif.
The show's producer Arnold Shapiro recently told the Hollywood Reporter that, “I love investigative journalism, but that’s not what we’re doing.” Indeed, one incident at the San Ysidro border crossing demonstrates the show's imbalance. CBP officers stop a vehicle allegedly carrying a man wanted on charges, leading to a case of mistaken identity, since the man in question has the same name and birth date of different individual.
“Why are you guys doing this? You always get my husband confused with someone else," the man's wife asks officers.
“We have to take every precaution that we can," an officer explains to viewers.
But how often does CBP mistakenly identify potential criminals? What happens to those families? What did the family in this situation think of how they were treated? No such answers were provided.
The show's audience might also conclude that the Blaine, Wash. border crossing seems staffed with officers eager for action.
Officers respond to a possible case of radiation. Cameras show officers leaping from their office desks and running out a door towards the car.
"It doesn't take much to make a dirty bomb," one officer suggests. But following a commercial break, viewers learn the car was merely driven by a person who had undergone medical treatment. Such incidents account for "99 percent" of radiation readings at border crossings, according to the show.
Later, officers discover a car carrying more than $700,000 worth of cocaine. In the process of finding the contraband however, a female officer tells cameras that the car is "hopefully" stocked with drugs, barely containing her excitement. Hopefully? Why hopefully? Because you hope you didn't mistakenly rip apart a car? Or because you want to take drugs off the street? Clarification might have helped.
One of the show’s best aspects is that it demonstrates how grossly misinformed some travelers are about security procedures, a common frustration among DHS employees.
Norah, a Swiss belly dancer, arrives in Los Angeles with no money or hotel reservation, claiming she's merely visiting. CBP officers eventually realize she's seeking employment as a dancer and send her back to Switzerland. At the U.S.-Mexico crossing, a young man does not understand why he cannot carry smoking pipes across the border.
“Do you want to get penalized, or do you want to abandon them?” an officer asks the teenager.
“If I get punished can I still take them?” he asks.
Shapiro promised a "heartening" look at DHS employees that "makes you feel good about these people who are doing their best to protect us." Such emotion was evident towards the end of the episode.
"When these people come through here, they're my responsibility," a TSA officer at Los Angeles International Airport says with tears in his eyes as passengers go through security checkpoints. "When my kids fly, they're my responsibility. I'm going to protect my own. Yeah, I get emotional." It was a powerful reminder that the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- which began at airports -- eventually led to the creation of Homeland Security.
Previews for upcoming episodes suggest viewers will see much of what they saw last evening: cars stuffed with drugs, illegal aliens attempting illegal border crossings, false alarms and excited officers in pursuit of potential problems. Is the show likely to draw large audiences every week? Television history suggests it could: "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted" have aired for more than 20 years, Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" specials scored huge audiences and "Wheel of Justice" segments on local television news programs draw loyal crowds. The Department of Homeland Security however would be wise to seek methods other than prime-time television entertainment programs to win the hearts, minds and trust of Americans.
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