Public service announcement turns Baltimore officers into celebrities

Comedic `Cop for a Day' spot promotes department

July 16, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police officers Clanett Boone and Mary Ann Miller can't work undercover. Not because they have grown tired of the spontaneity and rush, but because they fear being recognized and blowing a bust, or worse.

Boone and Miller star in the comedic "Cop for a Day" public service announcement airing on local television.

Neither officer had acted before, but the spot's frequent appearance has made them recognized throughout Baltimore -- they can't go anywhere without getting stopped, asked for an autograph or teased by colleagues about their celebrity.

Their lives may never be the same.

The commercial features Boone and Miller as beat police officers. They ask a civilian, portrayed by actor Ned Corrigan, "How would you like to be cop for a day?" Going along, the civilian dresses in blues, teams up with the officers, and experiences everyday public safety dilemmas.

He's frightened by a dog that guards a home, chases a suspect on foot through an alley, responds to a domestic dispute, tinkers with a kid's bike, writes a ticket, and helps deliver a baby. But he begs off the job after he's challenged to enter a crime scene and accost an armed robber.

"I quit," he says.

"How would you like it if we quit?" asks Miller.

"I wouldn't," he answers.

Boone and Miller are the only nonactors in the 60-second PSA, completed in 14 hours more than two years ago.

They wore no makeup and wore their uniforms, including bulletproof vests.

"The whole commercial was like we were on an actual call," said Boone, who patrols the Northwestern District. "That was real sweat on our foreheads; no one sprayed us down with water. And during the domestic abuse scene, we really got bruised. Those actors were serious. Even the dog was an actor."

Before the PSA was produced, 40 officers were called to headquarters, many of them having no idea they were showing up for an audition.

When they were handed scripts and told to act, Boone and Miller fell right into character, though they did not audition together. They had not met before. Now, when they see each other at Central Booking and Intake Center or on the street, they hug and joke like old friends.

"They were an incredible find," said Donna Slaughter, the commercial's senior supervising producer. "We could not have hired actors that would have done a better job."

"What I really got out of this commercial was recognition and notoriety," said Miller. "Upward command staff don't know you by name, just sequence number, but the commissioner and mayor know us by first name now."

Boone, who has been on the police force for 19 years, has been star struck since the taping. He says he's waiting for that call from Hollywood so he can retire and act professionally.

"I would love for something to come out of this," said Boone, 45. "If I get that right phone call, I'm out of here. They treated you like you were a star. It was the most fun I've ever had."

Miller, 34, also has enjoyed the spotlight, unveiling the tape in front of her family during a Fourth of July celebration two years ago. "It's the funniest thing when you first see yourself on TV," she said. "My family and colleagues loved it, and people are still asking me if I'm a real cop."

Miller, an 11-year officer who works for the violent crimes squad, isn't disappointed about having to leave her undercover post as driver for a unit that collects and traces guns.

"I don't mind that I can't go undercover anymore," she said. "I was kind of glad because of the demanding shifts I had to work. I could never make any plans because I could be called in at anytime."

The PSA is part of a plan endorsed by police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier to market the Baltimore City Police Department and promote a positive image of the police force, said Robert W. Weinhold Jr., department spokesman.

The officers were also featured on four city billboards to highlight diversity within the police force.

The department worked with national ad agency W. B. Donor of Baltimore to produce the PSA, which would have cost as much as $150,000 if it were a commercial. Actual costs were not available.

The commercial won a gold ADDY advertising award and continues to receive accolades.

"Anytime you can get seasoned, 30-year veterans to laugh as hard as they were [at the PSA's unveiling ceremony], you know you've done something right," said Weinhold. "Officers appreciated the fact that they were highlighted, and citizens, upon seeing the PSA, gained a greater sense of appreciation for the difficult job that officers have."

"By making this commercial, it shows what we do: help people," Boone said. "A lot of people don't think police officers do anything except eat doughnuts and drink coffee. We're showed in the light we should be showed in."

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