The Gray Line Tour

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 26, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / June 26, 1999

Many people appear to find it hard to understand, but I like police officers.

As a breed, they are hard-working, dedicated and generally nice guys to be around. They’re personable, love to have fun and know how to enjoy life.They appreciate their families, care about strangers and have a passion for making this world better for all of us, despite the inadequate pay. Insome ways, they’re a lot like reporters.

On Thursday, this newspaper gave me a special treat – a Louisiana Press Association seminar on crime reporting in Baton Rouge, where a group of newspaper reporters convened with a good representation of law enforcement people to discuss mutual interests and concerns.

One of the biggest concerns was about access to information. Police do nothave it as a high priority to accommodate press in most regards. “Yourdeadline doesn’t mean a whole lot to us,” said one sheriff who attended.

However, it was conceded that in many cases, the press can be exploited to the greater good of serving and protecting the public.

So-called “ride-alongs” have been the subject of recent federal court action. In these, media representatives have sometimes come along onarrests, especially drug raids, into private homes under the umbrella of the police warrant.

This was ruled as an invasion of privacy, but the issue is yet to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, press lawyers arguing First Amendmentrights.

Police at Thursday’s seminar complained about “terrible conduct” by people on both sides, police and press, with the harshest criticism directed at television reporters. One example was that of a TV cameramancaught rearranging items at a traffic accident to make a “better shot.” Asone Louisiana State Police spokesman said of reporters at traffic accidents and crime scenes: “They hate you all. They don’t want youaround.”However, the seminar generated a common understanding that for reporters to work effectively with police, courtesy and the development of a trust-building personal relationship with law enforcement officers is the core to good police reporters.

Wednesday’s seminar was capped by a tour of the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab, where we looked at how they reviewed physical evidence and drug analysis toward the solving of casework from agencies across Louisiana. This “gosh-wow” tour enlightened reporters on updates intechnology and techniques to keep one hop ahead of the criminal element.

Everyone among the crime reporters in attendance had horror stories to tell about treatment by police but all in all, the experience was friendly, professional and certainly educational on both sides.

It reinforced my view, held since childhood, that police are truly the good guys with the shared desire to make communities safer and better for everyone. People were respectful on both sides and the day was a lot offun.

The seminar also generated some pretty neat story ideas. Keep reading.

Copyright © 1998, Wick Communications, Inc.

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