Tishaura Jones, the city's treasurer, is criticizing police participation in a reality TV show.
This month, the reality TV show The First 48 Hours
begins shooting in St. Louis, following homicide detectives in real time as they attempt to solve the city's most serious cases.
But at least one mayoral candidate isn't happy with the city's upcoming moment in the spotlight. City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who is vying to replace outgoing mayor Francis Slay in February's election, says she has serious concerns about the show's presence in St. Louis.
"In light of what's going on nationwide with relationships between police and the community, I don't think this is a good look for us at this time," she says. "I would like to see them pull the plug."
But Police Chief Sam Dotson defended his department's participation, saying that the show's willingness to follow detectives as they work over weeks and even months on a single case will highlight the important work his officers do.
The city's crime problem, which includes a murder rate among the highest in the nation per capita, is common knowledge, he says. The show will present the flip side. "This will show we have some of the most qualified, skilled detectives working anywhere in the country," he vows.
He also notes the potential for greater transparency. "Having a third party watching over your shoulder as you work a case from start to finish can only be a good thing," he says.
Dotson says he's gotten numerous offers in his tenure as chief to have the department participate in reality TV programming. He accepted this offer only because the show has a longstanding track record — and because numerous detectives told him they are fans. "They said it's the best show they've seen that captures what it's like to be a homicide detective," he says.
The show has filmed everywhere from Miami to Detroit, but not without some controversy. A lengthy story in the RFT
's former sister paper, the Miami New Times
, charged in its headline "The First 48 makes millions off imprisoning innocents
In the story, writer Terrence McCoy details a case where Miami Police got the wrong man
— leaving him to languish in jail for twenty months before charges were finally dropped. The real killers meanwhile walked free.
The tragedy inflicted upon this wrongfully accused man, however, is only the latest injustice in this show's history. In Detroit, city police shot a 7-year-old girl in the head in a bungled attempt to catch a suspect on The First 48. In Houston, another man was locked up for three years after cops wrongfully accused him of murder within the first 48 hours. And in Miami, according to a New Times examination of court records, at least 15 men have walked free of murder charges spawned under the program's glare.
The story later goes deeper on the Detroit case:
On May 16, 2010, after First 48 videographers expressed a desire to achieve a "good show" and capture "great video footage," police stormed a duplex in an impoverished neighborhood, according to a federal lawsuit. It was past midnight. All the streetlights had suddenly gone black. The cops were hunting for a murder suspect. As cameras rolled and dogs bayed madly, city police fired a flash-bang grenade through a front window.
"Police!" one officer cried. The grenade exploded next to a living-room couch where a 7-year-old girl, Aiyana Jones, slept. From the patio, a cop lowered a submachine gun and fired into the house, striking the girl in the head. Upon entry, however, the cops realized they'd raided the wrong house. Their suspect lived next door. The officer who fired the gun, Joseph Weekley, was indicted for manslaughter and awaits trial. First 48 producer Allison Howard pleaded guilty last year to obstruction of justice after she lied about "copying, showing, or giving video footage she shot of the raid to third parties," Detroit prosecutors said. The episode was never aired.
Shenanigans like that concern Jones. She also fears that witnesses will be only more intimidated by the presence of TV cameras — and that the show will only air the city's "dirty laundry."
As treasurer, she says, she was contacted by producers hoping to film a show following parking enforcement officers. "I didn't think it would be a good idea for us to be featured that way," she says. "I said no."
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