31 July 2010

As Detroit Stars in TV Cop Shows, Officials Worry about City's Image

The Detroit Free Press

From reality TV shows to a new, fictional ABC crime drama, Detroit is getting the Hollywood treatment lately -- but not everyone is enjoying the spotlight.

Mayor Dave Bing already ended the Detroit Police Department's two-year relationship with A&E's "First 48" -- a reality show highlighting the first hours of homicide investigations. Last week, he said he was stunned when he saw a teaser featuring then-Police Chief Warren Evans promoting a proposed reality TV series, "The Chief."

But it isn't just reality shows that are raising eyebrows. City officials plan to meet Tuesday about the ABC-TV fall show "Detroit 1-8-7," a fictional series focusing on homicide detectives in the city.

"Folks in Detroit certainly have reason to be concerned," said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Baltimore and its police department served as backdrop for the acclaimed HBO series "The Wire." The last episode of the five-year series aired in 2008. But O'Doherty said the city still is battling some negative perceptions it helped create.

"There's no question that 'The Wire' has created negative perceptions about the city of Baltimore that are unfortunate," O'Doherty told the Free Press.

Bing said Evans' decision to participate in "The Chief" promo was among the reasons why he insisted that Evans resign last week.

"I was upset because, No. 1, I was blindsided by it," Bing said. "I knew nothing about it. And I didn't want our city depicted like that."

The footage showed the chief holding an assault rifle and declaring he would do whatever it takes to clean the city's streets. Evans hasn't been available for comment since he resigned, but previously has said that transparency was his goal in allowing news media access.

Ralph Godbee, appointed by Bing as Detroit's interim police chief, said a national, police-focused think tank soon will help evaluate departmental policies and procedures, including whether participation in such TV projects is wise.

A&E has followed detectives in 16 cities, including Birmingham, Ala., for "First 48," according to the cable network's Web site.

Johnny Williams, a sergeant with the Birmingham Police Department, said public response has been overwhelmingly positive to the show.

"It's highlighting how hard our detectives work and what they have to go through to solve cases," Williams said.

Critics of Detroit's participation have said that officers may be showboating for the cameras. They point to the use of a flash-bang grenade in some raids, including the one early May 16 that left 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones dead from a police officer's bullet.

After that incident, Bing nixed the A&E tagalongs.

Williams said showboating isn't a problem in his department.

"Our chief wouldn't tolerate it, and our detectives know that," he said.

Bing said he isn't trying to sugarcoat Detroit's troubles by nixing reality TV crime shows. "I know we have problems," he said. "Crime is a major issue here. But I don't want to promote that."

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