Friday, May 28, 2004

Chief cancels 'Cops' after 2 days

Infighting at City Hall leads Streicher to halt filming

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati councilwoman Alicia Reece discusses Cops during a news conference Thursday.
Cincinnati Enquirer/STEVEN M. HERPPICH
Cincinnati tuned in again Thursday for another episode in the ongoing drama between some City Council members and the police chief - this time over reality TV and the city's image.

The Fox TV show Cops filmed Cincinnati police for two days before Chief Tom Streicher Thursday canceled the deal that would have kept producers here filming officers for eight weeks.

Some council members the day before objected to the filming, saying they feared it would portray the city poorly.

Streicher would have had final approval before anything aired but decided even that concession wasn't worth another battle at City Hall.

"Personally, I think it's the loss of a golden opportunity to showcase the police department,'' he said. "But why be in the midst of another controversy?''

During Wednesday's council meeting, Councilman Christopher Smitherman said no one needed to see Cincinnati officers "hog-tying'' African-Americans. Keith Fangman, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Smitherman should apologize because Cincinnati officers don't hogtie suspects.

Smitherman has repeatedly butted heads with Streicher, calling the chief insubordinate; questioning how many officers hail from the chief's alma mater, Elder High School; and reminding the chief that he is his boss.

Cops officials were furious about the decision, saying they had never had an invitation rescinded before, Streicher said. Officials from Langley Productions, which produces the 15-year show that has filmed officers in 140 cities and several European countries, did not return phone calls Thursday.

Fangman said Smitherman, Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and Councilman Pat DeWine objected because they knew the program would show police in a positive light - and therefore wouldn't fit with their anti-police agendas.

"Any imbecile who has watched the Cops show knows that they go out of their way to portray police in a very positive light,'' Fangman said. "These three remind us of some schoolyard crybabies who, if all the attention isn't focused on them, throw a temper tantrum and ruin it for everyone.''

Reece said her only concern was the overall image of the city, which is still reeling from race riots three years ago that sparked an economic boycott and a federal investigation into the Cincinnati Police Department.

"I don't know if we want to put our fate in the hands of an editor in California,'' she said. "This is about the entire city of Cincinnati and how the entire city would be portrayed.''

She said she was out of town most of Thursday and did not make any phone calls to pressure anyone to cancel the deal.

Councilman David Pepper said he's concerned that canceling the show is sending the message that the city is embarrassed by its police officers. He has ridden on patrol with many officers and said he's been impressed with their work.

"You see professionals doing a very hard job that not very many people want to do,'' said Pepper, chairman of council's Law and Public Safety Committee.

His only concern was not about how officers would behave, he said, but whether the city wanted to air its crime problems publicly. With 31 homicides this year, the city's on pace to match the 26-year record high set in 2003, when 75 people were killed.

Cincinnati's rejection of Cops was met with surprise by departments elsewhere. In Palm Springs, Calif., officers would be happy for the crews to come back for a fourth time, Sgt. Dennis Graham said. Cops filmed its first officer-involved shooting in that city last year.

Most officers don't like anyone riding with them, especially members of the media, Graham said. But they loved having Cops.

Mayor Charlie Luken and City Manager Valerie Lemmie both were supportive of the chief's decision to have the show filmed in Cincinnati. It was Streicher's call, Lemmie said, but he consulted them first. Luken was out of town Wednesday, so Reece ran the council meeting.

Smitherman said decisions that have an impact on Cincinnati's image should be made by Lemmie and Luken, not Streicher.

"Sensationalizing a small part of what good police officers do on a daily basis is not helpful for our community-police relations,'' he said.


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