Former TV Journalists Using Cameras For Police Training
By Heather Ratcliffe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
Few things rattle cops more than watching a fellow officer fall, even if it''s a stranger on videotape.But police say such gut-wrenching scenes, increasingly available because of the widening use of dashboard video cameras in patrol cars, can provide valuable lessons on how to survive.
"When you hear an officer''s last words screaming for help on the radio, that really wakes you up," said Maryland Heights Police Chief Tom O''Connor.Today, police departments across the world rely on a duo of former St. Louis broadcast journalists to deliver those lessons.Don Marsh and Ron Barber, former anchormen and reporters, have stepped out of the local spotlight and into some measure of international fame -- among police officers.
For nearly 10 years, Barber and Marsh have produced emotionally charged training videos that often are too graphic for public consumption.Their Brentwood-based company, called Line of Duty, sells its products to about one-third of police departments in the United States, and a dozen others around the world."I feel pretty proud of what we have accomplished," Barber said. "We are making a difference. We''re not just reading a four-minute news script on another murder or fire."Both Barber and Marsh began their careers in broadcast journalism about four decades ago.Barber worked as a reporter and anchor for several television and radio stations before he turned to producing educational and training videos.Marsh earned 12 Emmy awards during his commercial work in St. Louis. The men met in 1976, when Barber joined KTVI (Channel 2), where Marsh spent most his career.The two first partnered in 1982, when they hosted the first reality-based video series for police called "L.E. Net."The series gave Barber the idea for creating a similar series for firefighters, called "American Heat." Barber and a partner, former television reporter Stephen Ray Almer, sold the company in 1990 to a firm based in Texas.Soon after, Barber and Marsh joined forces again to create a St. Louis cable show similar to "America''s Most Wanted."The local program, called "Crime and Law Enforcement Web," highlighted the area''s most-wanted fugitives. It was instrumental in capturing more than two dozen. But interest from sponsors fizzled."A wake-up call"Barber and Marsh went back to the drawing board.That''s when the two saw a video clip of a police shooting that was recorded by a small camera mounted in a police car."A mutual light bulb went off in our heads," Barber said. "We realized that ''cruiser cams'' were the future."Barber and Marsh designed a monthly training video series based on critical incidents caught on tape. Included are interviews with the officers involved - the ones who survived - to talk about what they learned.The producers relied on a technical expert, retired St. Louis police Sgt. Richard Simpher, to offer analysis of police tactics."We hit them right between the eyes," Barber said.Maj. Ed Delmore, assistant chief of the Collinsville police, said it does exactly that."It''s designed to give officers a wake-up call, and remind them that the next traffic stop can be deadly," said Delmore, whose department has been featured in several videos. "When you consider the kind of training you get, it''s very inexpensive.A year''s subscription, which includes monthly videos of 30 to 60 minutes, costs $865. Additional videos, on specific issues such as racial profiling, animal abuse, domestic violence and terrorism, can be purchased for $95 each. The company also makes shorter videos for supervisors to show during roll calls, at $19 to $49.One of their first tapes was of the shooting death of a South Carolina state trooper, Mark Coates. It shows Coates fall and die after being shot during a traffic stop.The gravity of what they saw captured the attention of police officials across the country, and gave Line of Duty a jump start."It''s very real," said Lt. Nick Zingo, a training instructor with the Los Angeles Police Department. "It''s not like watching an episode of ''Law and Order.''"We''re not seeing something that''s cleaned up and sanitized," Zingo said. "It''s one thing to talk about what to do in a shooting, but it''s another to see it."Many other training videos use re-enactments for officers to dissect and discuss. Line of Duty uses real videos obtained from police and news media cameras."In re-enactments, you can never really catch emotion and tension associated with a real incident," said O''Connor, the Maryland Heights chief.Marsh and Barber said the success of their videos also can be attributed to the way they deliver the message, with cops talking about their own mistakes. "Police will listen to their brethren - people who have walked in their shoes," Marsh explained.Building trustBarber and Marsh usually wait months before they ask for a department''s internal video of an incident, especially if it involves a fallen officer. Usually any court cases or internal investigations must be completed first.Commonly, departments seek permission from a fallen officer''s loved ones. "Some families absolutely do not want it shown, while others want to cooperate to help save the lives of other officers," Barber said.Officers who have taken a life often have trouble talking about the incidents even years later, Marsh said.But Barber and Marsh have built a trusted reputation among law enforcement agencies that may reject the mainstream news media.For example, reporters across the country wanted to interview Sgt. Sam Chapman of the Hanahan Police Department, in North Carolina, after the world saw video of a suspect running him down during a pursuit in December.He turned down nearly all requests, including those the CBS "Early Show," NBC''s "Today" show and Montel Williams'' show."He told me that if folks from Line of Duty called, he would do it," said Hanahan Police Chief Donald Wilcox. "He was interested in telling his story if it was being used for training purposes."Marsh and Simpher interviewed Hanahan earlier this month."Line of Duty breaks down the incident into parts," Wilcox said. "The officers talk about what went right and wrong and how they would do it better."Said Zingo, of Los Angeles, "Officers are always looking for ways to prevent tragedy, because we could be the subject of the next video."Among the loyal customers are large police departments, such as those in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade County and St. Louis. Line of Duty also sells to much small departments in places like Georgetown, Texas, and Hibbing, Minn., and Beacon, N.Y."We often receive mail from officers who say our training video helped to save their life," Marsh said. "They are taking actions that they learned from Line of Duty."Perhaps the most difficult lesson of all is that it is impossible to anticipate or eliminate all an officer''s perils.A Line of Duty video in 1998 featured Deputy Anthony Cogdill, who with a fellow officer in North Carolina''s Buncombe County, shot a man who drew a gun on them. Cogdill said on the tape that a combination of training and a gut reaction kept him alive that day.But five years later, Cogdill was killed when a truck driver on drugs crashed into his patrol car during a traffic stop."These videos bring home the reality of our situation," O''Connor said. "We see that sometimes officers don''t survive."