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Help Stanley Roberts Make ‘Caught Misbehaving’ Independent!

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Photo from Stanley Roberts’ GoFundMe

We live in an age of Karens. Cell-phone videos of people acting like entitled, boorish, and shockingly racist assholes are so in-demand that reporter Dion Lim of ABC affiliate KGOTV has said it might be time to take a break (Her producers, for whom such clips no doubt yield tons of clicks and views, might disagree). But while the viral documentation of people acting like stupid jerks may be tabloid-y and even occasionally unfair, there is one man who was there long before anyone ever heard of Permit Patty, and he looked at his job as a public service. He didn’t shame people to get them fired; he leveraged that shame into helping make a better world for all.

That man is Stanley Roberts.

A longtime fixture of KRON4 for his “People Behaving Badly” segments — in which he would catch motorcyclists exiting freeways via the on-ramp or bust public urinators at Bay to Breakers — Roberts won local notoriety as a tireless advocate for decency, calmly confronting scofflaws who the rest of us would probably just give a middle finger to.

Narrated in his signature mellifluous, yet slightly-put-out intonation, “People Behaving Badly” segments were always a delight to watch. They delivered a sort of comeuppance-by-proxy to everyone who ever cut you off, and the reactions are priceless. Some people sheepishly admit guilt, some protest their innocence in spite of video evidence to the contrary, while others totally flip out. He’s been threatened, he’s had the cops called on him, and he’s even been on Jimmy Kimmel.

Roberts decamped for Phoenix’s KPHO in 2018, citing the Bay Area’s high cost of living. A dispute with KRON4 over intellectual property means “People Behaving Badly” isn’t available on the internet, so he retooled it as “Caught Misbehaving” — but earlier this year, he was laid off. This time, the station let him keep the rights, and now he’s launched a $300,000 GoFundMe campaign to make “Caught Misbehaving” an independent production, hopefully with a national reach.

We spoke with Roberts by phone from his home in Arizona about his crowdfunding campaign, the Karen phenomenon, people who profit off his labor, and a whole lot more.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

So you’re launching a GoFundMe, but first: Why did you leave the Bay Area for Phoenix?

This is the weirdest thing for me to have to do, but the only thing I can try to do to take control of my creative ideas. I couldn’t afford to live in the Bay. I moved to the Bay Area in 1998. Rent was $1,500 bucks for a 2BR-2BA at a place called Avalon Bay apartments in Pacifica, and all of a sudden, I watched these places go for offer $4,000 and it just got out of hand, paying union dues to do your job, health care, transportation, rent, gasoline.

You had to delete your YouTube when you left.

Let me give you the play-by-play. When I announced at KRON4 that I had been offered a job in Phoenix, their response was that they had just trademarked the name, so “You can’t leave. If you’re going to leave, you have to turn over the content to us.” I had 88,000 faithful subscribers, but they said, “You need to delete your videos.” I said I would do that, but in the process of moving, someone said, “Hey, your videos are gone.” They weren’t just gone; KRON had called up YouTube and basically told them I stole the idea, and they deleted the entire account without me saying anything.

I owned the copyright from the federal government — and even though KRON had never put me under a contract, under California law the inventor is the owner even when it’s for hire. I was going to delete the videos anyway, but I warned people that “there’s a chance they’re going to be taken down, so if you want something save it now.” It was very stressful.

So you’re hoping to produce them independently?

I hope so. This is an expensive undertaking. I’ll say it again: This is an expensive undertaking. It sounds like we can shoot videos and be good to go, but it’s not easy. I need insurance, I need health insurance, and I need to pay $1,100 bucks a day for security. A real retired officer charges you that much per day, and you have to do a minimum of 12 hours.

There’s editing software and equipment. I could give it to someone else, but I’ve been burnt. This isn’t about making money. This is about creative control. This is about the record musician who decided that everyone is profiting off his work. People don’t know this, but there were a lot of driving schools that were profiting off of the segments, making money hand over fist to train people to drive. Everybody was making money off this except for me. I’ve been called by many different law enforcement agencies saying, “Your videos were used as training videos, and then when they went away, we couldn’t train people.” I’ve had cops calling me about laws they didn’t even know existed!

Over the last few months, as we’ve witnessed the rise of Karens — and Kens and Kyles — I keep thinking, “Damn, Stanley Roberts would be the ultimate Karen-buster.”

The irony of this whole thing is people think the reason we have this Karen phenomenon is me! I strongly disagree, because the difference with the Karens is they don’t have their facts right. I’m looking to see if there’s something going on here. The very first one was BBQ Becky and she was right. They shouldn’t have been barbecuing in that area — but that’s not a 911-call-able offense. Someone barbecuing in the wrong spot does not warrant that. She was wrong to do that, and she’s even a meme now.

But I don’t understand how people are so quick with their cellphones! When I see something, it takes me three minutes to see where the record button is. How the hell do you record someone that fast, that you catch it? We don’t get the entire facts. We hear a narrative that we want to hear, and what I’ve told people is the narrative that goes out first is the one everyone believes, and once it’s out it’s out. That works for everybody, including law enforcement.

But I’ve had the cops called on me so many times for doing my job. All these Karens and Kens will call the police saying I’m robbing a bank. In San Francisco, they called the cops that I’m holding an officer at gunpoint. It was a camera, not a gun.

Did you ever lie in wait all day for segments that never ran because the station thought they would be too controversial?

I had stories that were never published. Remember the example of the car in Fisherman’s Wharf where the guy pooped on a police car? They let me put that on the internet, but not on TV. They just didn’t like the idea that someone smeared poop on a police car, and that was it.

You’re originally from Camden, N.J., a city that was notoriously dangerous but then restructured its police department. You have a good relationship with law enforcement, so how do calls to defund the police register with you?

There is a confusion about what “defund” means. Some people think it means “disband.” No more cops. Let’s be honest: There are some people there that need to be policed. That’s a fact. Do people remember the [1997] North Hollywood shootouts? Google it. I was nominated for an Emmy for that. I was one of the only journalists that were included in the crime scene because I ended up in the middle of the shootout — by accident. They showed up with armor-piercing bullets and the cops had nothing do defend themselves but handguns. [Cops] just want to — hopefully, in most cases — do their job and not die at the end, and people don’t want to be killed by the police if it’s not something that’s required, like you’re ready to kill somebody. We need to have the amount of protection we need to be on the streets safely, so whatever they need to do to fix whatever program they think is broken, but “defund” doesn’t mean “dissolve.” Who are you going to call, the post office when things are bad? Even the bad guys call 911.

I deal with stupidity and traffic and safety, and every time there’s a situation where cops are involved, people send me videos: “Look what happened here!” It’d just be 15 seconds, there’s no beginning and end, and I need to know the entire story! It’s important we know the facts for anything — and be careful for what you wish for.

Crime comes to you, though, sometimes.

They go hand-in-hand. I always laugh. Because people think, “You’re not going to catch me!” —and then five minutes later, they forget I’m there. And I catch them. A lot of times, I’m there for 20 minutes before I even started shooting video — and also people never look up. If I shoot you from on top of a building, I know you’ll neer see me.

What makes you proud?

When a city official reaches out to me and says, “Thank you, we’re going to get this fixed.” When I worked in the Bay, I used to get all kinds of tips. The biggest was a copy of a letter for an interoffice memo from SF City Hall a long time ago. I don’t have it anymore. It said, “We have a problem at this intersection and we need to get it fixed before Stanely Roberts finds out.” Once I did a story about a red-light camera in Oakland near Oracle and it was like, OK, I stood there for four hours watching this intersection, and I couldn’t see why they need a red-light camera, so my story said this wasn’t about safety, it’s about revenue.

If this works out, any chance you’ll move back?

I miss the Bay Area. I miss the ocean. If I can turn this into a decent enough company, I would love to take up a place to be there on a regular basis. I’m not gonna lie to you: I didn’t want to leave the Bay Area. My first person to donate was from Ireland, and yesterday someone donated $1,000, which is the biggest so far. I want to bring not just me out there, but have teams in different cities at some point, looking for problem areas. We’re going to open up tip lines and a Patreon page, so you can see stuff you can’t see on YouTube. The station I left was kind enough to give me the rights to “Caught Misbehaving,” and keep the artwork, I have an LLC called Mr. Badly Productions, and my niece made this character for my personal use and another one with Mr. Badly.

The original concept was not supposed to be me on camera, but some random dude showing you stuff that’s messed up. I’m too ugly for camera, and the story is not about me — but I appreciate the love that I’ve gotten. Dude, it’s like I never left! Remember the song E-40 did? There were many songs written about me, some I gave a thumbs-down to because they were just clowning me — but the Bay Area has shown me nothing but love. From law enforcement and from civilians, nothing but love. Now I’m back, and hopefully I’m better than ever.

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Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is a total gaylord who was the editor of SF Weekly for kind of a while. His goal is to get to every national park before he turns 40, but they're starting to get really remote now.

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