'Armed & Famous' celebrities taking their cop jobs very seriously
By Christopher Rocchio, 01/04/2007
The five celebrities patrolling the mean streets of Muncie, IN in the upcoming CBS reality series Armed & Famous have not been taking their jobs as reserve police officers very lightly.
"It's an outrageous concept, but they're taking their jobs as serious as possible," said the show's executive producer Tom Forman, who spoke with reporters in a Thursday conference call that also included former CHiPs freeway patrolman Eric Estrada, one of the show's celebrity participants, and Muncie Police Department Chief Joseph Winkle.
In addition to The Surreal Life 2 roommate, Armed & Famous also features professional skateboarder and Jackass star Jason "Wee Man" Acuna, The Osbournes star Jack Osbourne, former WWE wrestling champion Trish Stratus and singer La Toya Jackson as they work their way through police training and find themselves on patrol in Muncie, a city of nearly 70,000 residents located 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis and home to Ball State University. The seven-episode series premieres on CBS on Wednesday, January 10 at 8PM ET/PT.
Before any celebrities were chosen for the series, Forman said he made sure those interested were in it for the right reasons and not a paycheck.
"When you watch the episodes, you'll see the celebrities involved had something to either learn or prove, which is the reason they decided this difficult, life-changing experience was right for them," said Forman.
Winkle said before they were issued guns and badges and put on patrol during the department's graveyard shift from 6PM to 2AM, the five celebrities had to pass an exam that tested everything from their physical strength to street smarts. He said any person with a criminal background, regardless of if they are a celebrity or not, cannot work for the department, and Forman added each celebrity also passed a psychological test. Winkle gave the example of Osbourne, a former substance abuser with no formal criminal record, doing an "unbelievable job" as an officer.
"His life experiences make him a very good officer on the street," said Winkle. "As a former substance abuser who's been through rehab, (Osbourne) speaks from experience as somebody that's been down that road before and has come out the other side a better person."
Estrada said the only time he was scared during the series' filming -- which is still ongoing and will end on January 11 -- was on the first day when it was made clear that if the job wasn't taken seriously by the celebrities, they'd "be on a mule back to California."
"I didn't want to fail so it scared the life out of me," he said.
Estrada illustrated the seriousness of the job when he explained how he had to draw his weapon while chasing a career burglar who was caught in the act of stealing a vehicle. When Estrada said he asked the suspect to put his hands outside the vehicle, only one was visible.
"In eight seconds my heart was in my throat because I didn't know what was in his other hand," said Estrada. "It ended up being clear, and when he decided to run we let the K-9 handle it."
However Estrada said his gun was fully loaded, and since he and his fellow celebrity officers were trained in firearms and procedures, he would have used it to protect himself, as well as civilians or other cops.
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"Every time you put the uniform on it's dangerous, especially when you're working the graveyard shift," he said. "But I also don't particularly want to shoot anyone, and your instinct is to not fire first."
Estrada said he and the other reserve officers learned firsthand just how effective some other forms of defense can be, as he got a taste of what being hit by a stun gun feels like during training.
"It blew big time," said Estrada. "Imagine sticking a fork in an electrical outlet and holding on. But using it is a good deterrent that saves lives."
Forman said the training the celebrities received was the same as if they were just normal people who signed-up to be a reserve police officer in Muncie. Estrada added that each of the celebrities also signed a liability waiver.
"To know the seriousness of how we took this, we signed away liability -- so if we get hurt it's on us, if we hurt somebody it's on us. That's the bottom line, that says it all right there," said Estrada. "If there were any doubts they weren't taking it seriously, they wouldn't be here," added Forman.
Rather than staying in a posh townhouse or mansion in Muncie everyone involved with Armed & Famous, including cast and crew, have been staying in a hotel that is about to be renovated. Putting in 20 hour days as they go for briefings and patrol one of four Muncie districts with veteran officers as their partners, Forman said he has been surprised by the way the celebrities have carried themselves.
"It's more inspiring than I ever thought it would be," said Forman. "I appreciate how hard they've all been working. We've been laughing at the (reality) shows where celebrities have to show up and do the rumba twice a week, while these five celebrities are on the street and making a difference." "It's like nothing I've ever shot before... a show that we thought was going to be very funny in fact has a ton of heart."
After a special Thursday, January 11 at 8PM ET/PT broadcast of the show's second episode, Armed & Famous' five additional episodes will air Wednesdays at 8PM ET/PT beginning January 17.