Balto. County plans expanded cable TV use

Local channel to highlight police work, suspects in crimes, traffic reports

July 20, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County plans to use its cable television channel to try to get out the vote, cut crime and help commuters.

The County Council began televising its meetings over the county's Comcast cable network five years ago, and planning board meetings have been broadcast to Comcast's 210,000 county subscribers for the past six months.

The council, which under federal law has jurisdiction over the franchise, plans to increase the number of public programs sponsored by county agencies in the months ahead, said Thomas J. Peddicord Jr., council secretary.

"The idea is to get the word out on what's going on in Baltimore County," he said.

Comcast, based in Philadelphia, won a 10-year renewal of its Baltimore County franchise about two years ago. As part of the negotiations, Comcast agreed to increase access to the county government's Channel 2, Peddicord said.

Comcast will begin taping a Baltimore County police version of "America's Most Wanted" next week with a program that will offer safety tips and descriptions of criminal suspects.

Bill Toohey, a Police Department spokesman, said the half-hour program will begin airing next month and likely run every week. The first five minutes will describe suspects being sought and the crimes they might have committed.

The rest of the show will be divided into two segments. The first will warn people of a seasonal crime trend, such as "deception burglars" who work their way into homes posing as utility workers in the late summer and fall, Toohey said. The second segment will focus on a particular facet of the department, such as officers who work in schools, he said.

Shows also will provide safety tips, such as encouraging people to register burglar alarms with police, Toohey said.

"I think it'll give people a chance to learn something about their Police Department," Toohey said.

The County Council this fall also plans to televise a bulletin board of activities and meetings organized by county agencies, and traffic advisories for rail and highway commuters courtesy of the state Mass Transit Administration.

County agencies are submitting proposals to the council about ways they might use the channel.

Doris J. Suter, administrator of the Board of Elections, wants to use the channel at election time to explain how voting machines work and advertise the locations of polling places, their hours and procedures for voting by absentee ballot.

"We don't do anything like that now," Suter said.

The county collects about $5.5 million each year in franchise fees from Comcast, which pays for use of rights of way the company needs for lines and equipment, county officials said.

Comcast's rates for full standard service, which includes 80 channels, are scheduled to increase Aug. 1 from $38 a month to $40.

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