Stanley’s Last Stand

We joined Stanley Roberts for his final People Behaving Badly, as he looked back on 20 years as S.F.’s most beloved and hated TV reporter.

Everyone loves KRON-4 News’ People Behaving Badly, but no one ever wants to appear on it. If you’ve yet to be caught behaving badly, you may be in the clear; Stanley Roberts just taped his last ever Bay Area People Behaving Badly segment before he takes his act to KHPO in Phoenix — and SF Weekly joined for the occasion.

Stanley Roberts started at KRON-4 as a photojournalist exactly 20 years ago this week, and created the People Behaving Badly segment in 2006. The nightly local news piece that busts low-level scofflaws like shoplifters, errant Uber drivers, city workers asleep on the job, and San Franciscans drinking or peeing in public has since gained a worldwide cult following, racked up tens of millions of YouTube views, and has established Roberts for more than a decade as the Bay Area’s favorite journalistic jester.

Twelve years later, his tenure is coming to a close.

“This is my last day. What could possibly go wrong?” Roberts laughs.

We embark on hunting bad behavers in Roberts’ white Ford Escape with a “Hang Up – Quit Behaving Badly” license plate holder. His car has not one but two dashcams recording at all times.

“In case shit goes sideways,” he explains.

Roberts operates as a lone wolf. There is no camera crew, and he is outfitted in the exact same clothes he wears in every segment — a signature red flannel shirt, and a custom-made People Behaving Badly baseball cap that was a gift from the California Highway Patrol.

We’re joining this same highway patrol today, and Roberts’ assignment is to catch distracted drivers blabbing on their phones on US Route 101 in Marin County.

“I don’t shame people,” Roberts says of his unique line of work. “You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.”

As we arrive at the CHP office, Roberts hands SF Weekly the bright orange safety vest required of civilians riding with highway patrol. This is from Stanley’s personal stash of helmets, fire gear, and even body armor that he wears in a range of potentially dangerous situations with law enforcement.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans,” he says.

But being Stanley Roberts comes with its own set of dangers. Roberts has been physically attacked more than a dozen times over the years, and once had a $100,000 bounty placed on his head (albeit on Craigslist).

The hashtag #FuckStanleyRoberts is still quite active on both Instagram and Twitter. “There used to be one called #187StanleyRoberts, but I got Instagram to take it down,” he says, citing the fact that 187 is the California penal code classification for murder.

“Some people claim that they hate me — I call them ‘fans in denial.’ They’ll ask for a photo, and just before the photo is snapped, they put their middle finger up,” Roberts says. “The funny part is they’ll tweet how I made them take a photo with me. They won’t mention all the nice stuff they said to me, like, ‘Man, the stuff you do is great.’ Then on Twitter, it’s ‘Fuck you, Stanley Roberts.’

“I get threats all the time,” Roberts adds. “I had a lady call up one day and say I physically assaulted her. That never happened. But they do anything they can to avoid being on TV.”

Roberts is greeted as a rock star by the highway patrol officers, all of whom drop everything to shake his hand and bid him farewell. He has a unique relationship with law enforcement, who see him as a catalyst for keeping people on better behavior.

“You can do enforcement when you write one person a ticket for speeding, but that one person has a ticket. You’ve educated one person,” Roberts explains. “But when you put a camera into the mix and you broadcast it to thousands and thousands of people, maybe millions, you educate more than one person with that ticket.

“Some people say to me, ‘I’ve learned from you and I’m a better driver’,” he adds. Then “there’s the other end of the spectrum where they say ‘Go fuck yourself.’”

As we set out in a CHP cruiser, Roberts displays an eagle eye for spotting distracted drivers.

“He’s got a phone in his hand!” he shouts to the patrolman behind the wheel. “Green! Green!” he yells when seeing a distracted driver in a green Prius.

Inevitably, several drivers insist they were not on their phones. “It’s funny how people deny being on the cellphone,” he says. “Then you tell them we got you on video.”

Roberts’ final segment was classic, but it is unlikely drivers on their phones will gain the notoriety of his annual expose on people peeing in the streets at Bay to Breakers.

“I don’t go there for the purpose of catching people urinating in public,” he claims, though that is exactly what happens every year. “It started with a huge mess in the park. I did a piece about how bad it was and they put a fence around Alamo Square. They were bringing their own toilet paper roll into the bushes and just going for broke.”

Roberts was threatened with lawsuits by the urinators he filmed, as he has been each year since. “They tell me I don’t have the right to videotape them, but I do have the right,” he insists. “If you don’t want to talk, don’t talk.”

Roberts’ last San Francisco People Behaving Badly is now complete, and aired Monday night. He’s now heading to Phoenix, which has its own unique set of bad behaviors.

“They average one fatal crash every nine hours. That is unprecedented,” he says. “Their biggest problem is red-light runners. It’s so bad that the Lord has sent me to Arizona to save them from their evil ways. Either that, or I’m going to hell. Because Arizona is hot.”

But Stanley Roberts’ indelible mark will remain. “I’ve made some major changes in the Bay Area,” he says at the end of his last shift. “Changes in how they design a roadway, and in enforcement, what they look for.”

And he figures to continue receiving threats and harassment in his next chapter. “There’s been so much violence against journalists,” Roberts says. “I’m too dumb to know to not go by myself, I just want to go.”

The show’s name People Behaving Badly will remain the property of KRON-4, but will not retain Roberts’ inimitable deadpan comic narration. Most of us watched People Behaving Badly for its fabulous entertainment value, but the threat of being caught and exposed on a humorous TV news segment probably conditioned us all to behave a little better.

And for that, the Bay Area will miss Stanley Roberts. Badly.

Related Stories