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Tenn. SO reaches out with online video

By Ryan Harris
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble often touts his open-door policy, and he says a tiny digital camera is another window for the public to see into the department.

Sheriff Gobble uses the camera to record an online show called "BCSOtv," broadcast at www.bradleysheriff.com and other video-sharing sites.

"I think I'm the most open, forthcoming (and) transparent sheriff in the history of Bradley County," Sheriff Gobble said. "The Internet is a new communication tool that allows you to communicate directly."

The sheriff's first dozen videos were viewed more than 7,000 times at YouTube.com. The videos are now posted at www.veoh.com.

Another example of law enforcement reaching out online is at the Dalton (Ga.) Police Department, which has an online blog detailing department happenings.

The blog averages 500 hits a day, spokeswoman Kristy Hunter said. She said traffic has doubled since it debuted in September 2006.

Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee and author of the Instapundit.com blog, said more public officials are using the Internet to communicate "without being filtered through the news media."

"There is always a joke about political figures running after a TV camera, and now they don't have to wait for you guys (in the media) to show up with one," he said.

Sheriff Gobble said that's why he launched his Web show last month. He has been in a bitter budget battle with the Bradley County Commission, and he uses a mix of humor and pointed comments on his online show to defend his positions.

"People have not gotten a clear picture of what's going on at the sheriff's department," said Sheriff Gobble, who lost a court challenge for more funding this year. "Our deputies are doing a bang-up, good job with the resources they have ... and this is a good, effective way to educate the public."

The sheriff's latest online offering is a parody of David Letterman's "Top 10" segment where he jokingly offers to use moonshine as an alternative fuel or switch to a fleet of mopeds.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said he didn't find the segment humorous.

"You've got a very serious budget issue, and obviously he doesn't take it very seriously," Mr. Davis said.

Roy Denton, a former constable and political gadfly in Rhea County, Tenn., said he questions whether the sheriff's show could be construed as illegally "using public property as a forum for political advertising."

"YouTube is fine providing that the use is done for things other than political gain," said Mr. Denton, who posts comments on YouTube under the name "WolfEagle 1961."

"Sheriff Gobble does not need to promote himself ... acting as though he is on a reality show or something using county property in the process."

Sheriff Gobble said the show hasn't cost any money. He said the camera is standard equipment and the segments are edited and posted by volunteers.

Copyright 2008 The Chattanooga Times Free Press

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