Along the thin blue line

October 12, 1995|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,SUN STAFF

The frantic voice of police Sgt. Michael Dunn calling for help blares from the television set. "I've been shot," he is heard repeatedly shouting to his dispatcher in a tape of a 1979 incident.

"The first shot hit me dead center in the chest," the sergeant explains. The announcer on Baltimore's Cable 44 television program later adds: "The bulletproof vest saved his life."

It's not a news program, but a public relations initiative by the Baltimore Police Department. Called "Behind the Badge," the program is written and produced by Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a department spokesman.

Three shows have aired since the series began this summer -- including the dramatic vest story showing an officer with his chest wounds and a demonstration of bullets hitting the protective clothing. Other shows featured a profile of the department's Youth Choir and a fast-paced segment on the Central District's bicycle patrol.

While Agent Weinhold and his boss, public affairs director Sam Ringgold, readily acknowledge that the show tries to promote the good side of the department, the office also is trying to tackle some complicated topics.

Agent Weinhold said he wants to do a story on the training academy's "Shoot, Don't Shoot" program, which trains officers when to use deadly force.

Further, he wants to turn his cameras on inside a police officer's home, to show the stress the job brings to family life.

"These are very real issues that oftentime the public doesn't think about," said Agent Weinhold, who started in the public affairs office two years ago and worked in patrol for seven years.

The officer, who now spends much of his time answering questions from reporters, said the show can help erase the barriers between the department and the community.

"We try to understand our neighbors better," he said. "Using the cable show as our vehicle, they can understand us better. I've lived it. I've had my wife worrying about me on the street. I've had to answer questions from my kid: 'Why do you take a gun to work, and have you killed anyone?'

"I am called out to crime scenes to explain tragic situations to the public," Agent Weinhold said. "However, to report on the positive stories involving the youth in Baltimore is a very refreshing angle."

Mr. Ringgold, who has a biweekly radio show on V-103 (WXYV-FM), said the television show is an "opportunity for us to tell our story. There are a lot of positive things going on in the department."

One example was the grand opening of the Agoraspace Center earlier this month in Northeastern District. It is believed to be the first such center -- a European-style multipurpose open-air sports arena -- to open in the United States.

Mr. Ringgold said he understood why local media didn't cover the event. There was a high-profile murder in Baltimore County, and it was the last weekend before the mayoral primary. But, "we will cover it," the chief spokesman said.

In the segment on the youth choir, Agent Weinhold opened with the youngsters singing while he said: "There are new voices around Baltimore, and they are bringing sweet sounds to the communities they serve."

On location with the bike patrol, Agent Weinhold showed the officers pedaling through alleys and stopping to meet children. He also showed officers breaking up a confrontation in front of a store.

"This highlights some of the positive things that we have in our Police Department," said Linda Foy, the producer for "44 Minutes," which airs on Cable Channel 44 about 18 times a week. "With daily news, we get all the negatives."

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