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Criminal Justice

‘Whitewashing’ Fears as SFPD Reality TV Show Producer Made Films for the CIA

Written by Sarah WrightPublished Dec. 05, 2022 • 4:53pm
SFPD Officers engaged in a standoff in the Mission District. | Courtesy SFPD

If San Francisco police are allowed to open their doors to reality TV producer Eddie Barbini, activists fear the department might be painted in an unduly favorable light.

Supervisor Matt Dorsey has asked for city permission to allow local police officers to star in a show currently dubbed: “Real Streets of San Francisco.”

Barbini’s production company, Topspin Content, is listed as the producer behind the plans for the show.

The firm’s website and Barbini’s own separate website say he has directed five movies for the CIA, among other law enforcement-centered work, which activists fear could lead to police-favoring bias if the show were to be made. 

There is no further information about the films made for the CIA listed on the company’s website. 

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey (left) and San Francisco Chief of Police Bill Scott (right) appeared at Dorsey’s introductory press conference in San Francisco on May 9, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

James Burch, deputy director of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said he’s worried about the show glossing over police violence and whitewashing the work of law enforcement.

“There are a number of producers who work on these ‘Cops 2.0’ shows, and they’re all advancing the same agenda the cops are, which is to paint law enforcement in a light that we all know to be inaccurate and untrue,” Burch said.

Barbini and fellow producer Lia Carney declined to respond to requests for comment at this time but indicated they could speak out in the future.

The company’s first documentary, released in 2019, followed students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in the aftermath of a shooting at the school that killed 17 people. 

Supervisor Dorsey said Topspin Content first approached him about creating a series with SFPD when he worked as the department’s spokesperson, and that he sees it as an opportunity for transparency into the city police, “warts and all.”

“It would be something close to censorship if we were to say no or withdraw our support,” Dorsey said. “I think everyone has the right to bring public scrutiny to public offices.”

San Francisco has required documentarians to get permission to work with city agencies in the past. Earlier this year, SF Animal Care and Control got permission from the city for a docuseries called “Live Rescue.”

If approved as-is, the contract would grant the company access to city property and allow SFPD employees to appear on screen with permission from the chief of police. The company would also have to comply with rules outlined by the San Francisco Film Commission, which regulates movie production in the city and charges use fees.

“I’m very concerned for the people of San Francisco, the people who are going to be the focus of this entertainment,” Burch said. “We don't think the plight of the folks of the city of San Francisco are entertaining at all.”

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