The appeal of “World’s Wildest Police Videos” rests in part, to the aesthetic pleasure and appeal of programming which is reality-based, and carefully packaged. Crime-based television dramas or action films spread the excitement out over an hour or two, filling the time between each car crash or shoot out with potentially boring material as character development, or romantic subplots. “WWPV” pounds out one wild vignette after another, each quickly escalating to an exciting and entertaining climax. The show features car chases, car crashes, police chasing suspects with guns drawn, and intoxicated drivers begging to not be arrested. As soon as one suspect is handcuffed, viewers are treated to the screaming sirens, and flashing lights leading to the next thrilling segment. All of this excitement comes at a fraction of the cost of producing an hour-long drama, as main characters are likely never paid for their participation and generally have little or no training before taping begins.
A single, hour-long episode of “World’s Wildest Police Videos” generally contains between 12 and 15 short segments depicting encounters between the police and a suspect or suspects. The majority of video shown on “WWPV” comes from “squad car cams,” which are cameras installed on the dash of police cruisers. Police departments work with media producers, providing media for national audiences. Other surveillance images and video comes from cameras in stores, courtrooms, and the “drunk tank” back at the station. The most common and usually most exciting type of caught on tape sequence involves car chases that frequently end in collisions that are suspiciously fatality-free. Other common sequences include humorous roadside sobriety tests, foot chases, and suspects resisting arrest. The embellished narration in the show is guilty of smoothing over the mistakes made by the police, making the error sound like it was either the best or the smart thing to do while whatever the suspect does is always stupid and just gets him into more trouble. John Bunnell is so pro cop, he is beyond absurd, and his adjective filled commentary is loaded with BS or NOT!?
Even with all of these available images, the producers are hard pressed to find sufficient quantities of excitement to fill episodes. Many segments are recycled through other Stojanovich productions. In its search for more excitement, “WWPV” recently came under fire in the Washington Post (Kurtz) for showing images of police conducting a drug bust without clearly explaining that the images were staged, simulations. I have personally seen numerous segments with obviously edited video which when combined with the ridiculous narration, become quite laughable. It is amazing how much effort Bunnell put forth in order to make it appear that the police were nothing short of extremely skilled and amazing. Granted, police departments don’t normally have cheerleaders or other groups to sing their praises, but Bunnell really does do an over the top presentation in his attempt at showing the positive side of law enforcement.
The scarcity of truly wild footage forces the producers to maximize the excitement of what they do have. Through imaginative narration and careful editing, mundane video scenes can be transformed into spectacles of conflict between dangerous criminals and well-trained officers. For example, a grainy image of a drunken suspect swinging at an officer becomes the climax of an elaborate story about an idiotically defiant criminal and a fast-acting police officer whose actions protect decent, law abiding citizens. In another segment the Sherriff Bunnell describes two shoplifters fleeing in a pick up truck as “terrorizing the streets” and threatening the lives of everyone around them. The narration and editing are so effective at creating a spectacular story out of initially blurry and shaky images that even nearby wildlife can be transformed into dangerous criminals. In one case, even a runaway horse is described as a hooligan defying police authority.
There are two narrative perspectives often employed in the “Worlds Wildest” series. In addition to enhancing the excitement of the videos, the narration justifies an ever widening range of police conduct. The first is Bunnell’s omnipotent, and exaggerated voice-over. This narration provides the viewers with information about the criminal featured in a given segment that the officers did not know at the time. When an officer has stopped a suspect over for an unspecified or vague traffic offense such as the classic “suspicious driving”; Bunnell explains that the suspect has a warrant out for his or her arrest, is mentally ill, or has just committed a robbery. While this information was likely unknown to the officer when he or she made the decision to pull the suspect over, the narration confirms the officer’s suspicions thereby justifying the traffic stop. Scenes such as this lend themselves to additional elaboration as to the bravery, skill, and supposed intelligence of said police officers.
The second type of narration is disguised as a police officer or helicopter pilot’s comments. Bunnell does not inform the audience as to who is speaking in these segments and there is no other identification of them. If one listens carefully, the same voice is frequently used for the helicopter pilot or officer speaking over the radio in most of the applicable segments. This narration attempts to portray a sense of authenticity by mimicking the types of distorted voices that one would hear in a breaking news report. These voices speak as though the narrated events were unfolding in real time, again providing viewers with information that was most likely not known to officers at the time, yet provided in such a way as to enhance the dramatic effect.