'Cops': Arresting Scenes From Moscow

A drunken driver is pulled over. As he gets out of his car, he passes a member of an American film crew here to shoot a one-hour special for Fox Broadcasting's "video verite" TV series "Cops." Video camera to his eye, co-producer Andy Thomas is catching the arrest on tape. Until the suspect walks past and shoves the camera into his eye, that is.

"The police knew we wanted to get close-up shots, so they stood back to let us get in," Thomas explains with a grin.

The scene is reminiscent of one on the first "Cops" show shot in Broward County, Fla. In that instance, a suspect escaped from a police car on foot and the arresting officer raced off after him--also on foot. Meanwhile, they were tailed by a puffing cameraman who was capturing the fact that the police "are only human" on tape.

In both instances, the incidents occurred because the police failed to restrain their suspects. And in that lies the contradiction the Fox crews are discovering in their comparisons of how police forces in the United States and the Soviet Union operate.

"Everything is different. Everything is the same," says Thomas, now sporting a cut under one eye as his "red badge of courage."

"The Soviet system is incredibly different in terms of organization, systems and attitudes," says executive producer John Langley, who created the series with executive producer Malcolm Barbour. "The biggest difference, and this may be a cultural difference, is how polite, how incredibly polite the police are here. Even when someone resists arrest, they are polite. They use minimal force."

In fact, when pulling over a speeder, one white-gloved officer saluted the driver as he emerged from his car.

But recalling a drug bust he was on in Leningrad, Langley says he finds similarities. In Boward County and Leningrad, there were children in the homes that police raided. They watched as their parents were arrested.

"The real victims are the kids," Langly says.

Fox viewers will have an opportunity to judge the systems for themselves when the special is aired in July.

The seven episodes of "Cops" that aired last winter and covered the operations of the Broward County police force, received good reviews from TV critics and police forces. The series has no scripts, no actors and no narration. It is simply filmed on locations of drug busts, homicides, armed robberies and prostitute sweeps.

"It's shot as it happens. It's as pure as you can get in documentary film making," says Langley.

The Soviet special is being taped by six camera crews--three American and three Soviet--working in Leningrad and Moscow. The idea to film in the Soviet Union was contributed by two former Soviet citizens, Yuri Spilney and David Gamburg, president and vice president of the Los Angeles-based Spilney Films. Spilney arranged for Moscow's Soyuzkinoservice camera crews to work on the production.

Getting permission to shoot in the Soviet Union was easier than in the United States, Barbour says.

"When I met with the representative from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (which operates all of the police forces in the Soviet Union), I was ready with my spiel," he says. "But I didn't need it. The general said, 'I looked at your show. I liked your show and we'll do it.' "

"We were skeptical when we first came here," says Langley, who with Barbour also produced the Geraldo Rivera specials "Sons of Scarface," "Innocence Lost" and "American Vice."

"We didn't really believe they would let us have access to everything with no restrictions. But we have found that the biggest barrier here is our language. They have been extremely open with us and extraordinarily cooperative."

When the producers found they needed to coordinate their crews faster to get to the scene of a crime, and wanted to present other filming problems to the Leningrad police, they were accommodated with a meeting with 20 colonels to discuss their problems.

And they were allowed to plug into the police communication system so that they could dispatch a camera crew immediately upon hearing of a crime.

So far the crews have been on the scene of stabbings, domestic disputes--one where the husband died--drug busts, drunk-driving patrols, speed traps and even a visit to the police academy to see how Soviet cops are trained.

Among the differences between the systems:

-- The lack of guns. "We come from a more violent society with more drugs and more guns," Langley says. Even though each Soviet police officer carries a gun, it is less visible. They wear them under their jackets. "The image is less intimidating," Thomas says. And there are fewer guns among the public, who do not have the access to them that Americans do. "Criminals steal guns from the army and from citizens who have them from the Second World War or who have been given a handgun in an awards ceremony," explains Capt. Alexei Kubata of the Moscow police force. "Cameramen, who normally wear bulletproof vests on shoots in the U.S., felt they weren't necessary here," adds Thomas, though Kubata said he knew seven Moscow police officers who were shot last year.

-- The centralized operation of the police forces here. "It's very efficient," Langley says. "There's a lot more Soviet police in large cities here than in our big cities. And they are well organized. A national police force idea is something that we should perhaps take a look at. In the United States, it's hard to get departments to cooperate. They protect their own turf."

Did filming affect how Soviet police officers behaved? "Much less than in the United States," Langley says with a laugh. "It was a new experience. They can't believe it's happening."

Says Thomas: "The police (in either country) have too much work to do, too much responsibility to pay attention to the cameras. In fact, cameras in a heated situation tend to cool things down," he says. Especially in domestic disputes: "No one wants to be seen on TV slugging their spouse with a frying pan."

The Soviet segment of "Cops" may be "the most realistic thing people see on the Soviet Union," Thomas says. The show's unique documentary style "consciously goes out to break stereotypes and preconceptions," he says. "Viewers will see homicides, but they'll also see that Soviet drivers are afraid of taking their driver's tests too. There's a commonality of experience."

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