Crime report makes for an arresting radio program

Growing audience shows enthusiasm for broadcast by city police officer


May 14, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The weather has been forecast, the traffic snarls reported. The morning radio hosts banter for a minute or two, then they cue a peppy tune and cut to Annapolis' newest drive-time personality: Officer Hal Dalton.

Dalton, a 25-year veteran of the city police force, dishes out the details of a burglary on West Street, a scuffle in Eastport and a drug arrest in Parole that occurred after neighbors called in to complain. He finishes the audio police blotter by delivering his crime tip of the day: Mark your valuables with your name or driver's license number.

A blend of news report and community outreach, Dalton tallies the number of calls for police service and frequently encourages his listeners to call 911. His segments feature wanted robbers, suspected burglars and, once, a malicious and destructive rodent.

"It does get humorous sometimes," Dalton says of his daily crime report, which is drawing a growing audience throughout safety-conscious neighborhoods in Annapolis.

The neighborhood watch log, broadcast weekdays at 8:20 a.m. on WNAV 1430 AM, has become so popular that people who can't be near their radios when it airs are signing up to receive Dalton's morning report via fax and e-mail.

"It's exploding," says Annapolis police Lt. Robert E. Beans. "Officer Dalton has quite a following."

Annapolis government officials say the neighborhood watch report is one of the most visited features on the city's revamped Web site (www.annapo, which was launched earlier this month. Every day, several more residents subscribe to receive the report via e-mail, says Jan Hardesty, a city spokeswoman.

"The people love it," she says. "Everyone wants to hear about the crime du jour."

Dalton's voice is smooth and gentle. Usually, he is the consummate straight man. When Dalton smiles, even he seems surprised.

It makes the occasional humor in his reports all the more unexpected.

In a recent broadcast, Dalton described a burglary at a business, with details of how the company owner found his office in disarray, with papers scattered everywhere.

Detectives, Dalton deadpans, have a suspect in the looting: a squirrel. He encourages residents to be on the lookout for the "four-legged furry suspect."

Reporting on another burglary, Dalton says police are searching for "a suspect believed to be human."

"I like to have fun with it," says Dalton, 48.

Dalton spent 20 years on patrol before he was assigned to the department's community services section. He has been on the air since last year, after he and Officer Eric Crane met with station officials to explore ways to better publicize safety issues. They came up with the idea of Dalton's daily reports, called in from police headquarters.

An early riser, Dalton is in the police station by 6 a.m. most days to begin his preparations. Fueled by 44 ounces of diet cola (he's not a coffee drinker) Dalton reviews the stack of reports left from the overnight shift. He grabs a printout of the dispatch records and begins highlighting calls of interest.

Dalton keeps an eye out for crime trends - a rash of thefts from cars in a certain area, for example.

It would be a chore to many, looking at an endless stream of burglaries, missing dogs and parking complaints.

But for Dalton, this is an important process. It's his material.

"People are really interested in what's happening in their communities," he says. "They want to know about arrests, about drug activity, of things to be on the look out for. Everywhere I go - especially at community group meetings - people tell me they want to know more about police activity."

Carol Yarrow, a feng shui practitioner in Annapolis, appreciates the reports, adding: "It keeps me informed ... with tangible, factual situations."

Even before the report was made available by subscription this month, Dalton had been sending the radio scripts by fax and e-mail to anyone who asked - more than 200 total.

"It's great because it encourages feedback," Dalton says. "We want an open line of communication with all the residents."

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