'End of an era' in D.C. police public information office
You may not remember seeing two officers standing in the background during dozens of televised news conferences about high-profile D.C. cases, but they were there.
You may not recognize their names from hundreds -- if not thousands -- of newspaper, magazine and internet articles detailing shootings, fatal car crashes and every other type of criminal mayhem documented by the media.
But for reporters who cover the District and residents who found themselves seeking public documents from the D.C. police department over the past 20 years or so, there was a good chance you spoke officers Kenny Bryson and Quintin Peterson.
For the more than 20 years, this pair anchored the Metropolitan Police Department's Public Information Office as low-key subordinates in a high-profile office. On Friday, Bryson, Peterson and their colleague Barbara Jean Gooding -- a 39-year civillian employee herself -- will answer their last phone calls and retire.
Collectively, they have fielded calls about cases of international interest -- such as the shooting of President Reagan in 1981 and the disappearance and murder of Congressional intern Chandra Levy in 2001 -- but also worked lesser-known cases, particularly during the violence of the crack cocaine wars.
They were rarely the lead face or voice for the department in such cases, but day-to-day the trio were on the front lines of ongoing tension between a demanding press corps seeking immediate answers in cases that all too often lacked any resolution, immediate or otherwise.
"I will remember always having to deal with one crisis after another and answering only God knows how many questions," Peterson said this week. "It got so bad that at one point I’d answer my phone at home, 'Public information office, Officer Peterson.'”
Peterson, 54, leaves the department after joining the department 28 years ago, seeking a steady career after failing to make it as a fiction writer after college. He spent six years on the streets in patrol before an injury from a car accident sent him to PIO.
Once there, he found his writing ability would serve him well as his boss, Sgt. Joe Gentile, who ran the office for more than three decades, let Peterson craft carefully written statements about crimes, arrests and departmental incidents.
He learned the craft of giving media enough information to make deadlines, without offering too much information to jeopardize cases or get the office into legal trouble, Peterson said.
He later returned to fiction writing, self-publishing several novels, a poetry book and submitted a short story "Cold as Ice" to the 2006 anthology of crime fiction, "D.C. Noir," edited and compiled by author George Pelecanos. The skills also landed Peterson a gig as the department's consultant and technical advisor to dozens of movies, such as "The Pelican Brief," "Minority Report" and "True Lies."
Another of his short stories, "The Kingsley Affair," will be published in a compilation, "Bad Cop, No Donut," which is scheduled for release in June.
In retirement, Peterson said he will continue writing crime fiction, works he has culled from mulitple cases and personalities he has met on the streets and in uniform. He is currently working on his own compilation of short stories about the darker side of life in the Nation's Capital, entitled, "The Secret City."
His creative dreams also include trying to work on screenplays and finding a producer for a play, "The Cheapest Hope," about a black family trying to find a new life after the suicide of their husband and father.
"The plan is to write full time -- [go] from the cop who writes crime fiction to the ex-cop who writes crime fiction," Peterson said.
Bryson never thought himself the writer Peterson is, but considers himself part of a good team -- Peterson with written words and Bryson working the phones.
"'Q' was the writer and I had the voice," Bryson said.
He came to the office in 1991, and found a home because of his respect for the men and women who risk their lives and those who lost it in the line of duty, he said. Bryson loved representing them and trying to put the best face he could on the work officers did everyday.
His memories run to dangerous days, like in November 1994 when a gunman sprayed bullets into police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW, killing a homicide detective and two FBI agents during the rampage. Bryson said he still feels for the families of all officers who served in the line of duty.
During his time, Bryson was also a mainstay of the D.C. Crime Solvers program, helping to organize fundraisers and awards ceremonies for the organization that offers cash rewards for tips that help police make arrests.
Bryson plans on finishing his Masters degree in criminal justice and hopes to be able to teach soon after, he said.
For her part, Gooding, 63, had been the person in the office that lasted the longest, but she never carried a gun or a badge. She arrived in search of a secure career, never knowing she would be there nearly 40 years.
The office offered her much more than job security for the North Carolina native, as she never knew what event in the streets of the District would change her day's work routine. Cases like the Reagan assassination attempt or the Freeway Phantom cases, a string of serial abductions and slayings of young girls and teenagers in the 1970s, brought Gooding a sense of purpose she said other office jobs never could.
"All those cases will stick out in my mind," she said. "I found it to be the most exciting job ever. No two days were ever alike."
She also found a family among those officers she encountered inside the municipal building at 300 Indiana Avenue NW. Unlike Peterson and Bryson, Gooding plans to kick back, relax and have fun with her friends for the time being.
Peterson said he will miss working with Bryson and Gooding, but finds them leaving together fitting.
"If you work long enough that you just become a dinosaur. That’s the way of the world," Peterson said. "They’ve got a whole new team in there. It’s a young department now, and that's the way it should be."
"It’s the end of an era," he said.
-- Clarence Williams
April 23, 2010; 10:17 AM ET
Categories: Clarence Williams , The Criminal Mind
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