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No Go for Police-Community Meeting Webcasts

Among the many issues that Ward 5 resident Robert Brannum gets involved in, he has a special duty to stay on top of crime and public safety as the chair of the Fifth District Citizens Advisory Council, a group of residents who work closely with police commanders on crime issues. (The Fifth District covers neighborhoods mostly in Ward 5; every one of the city's seven police districts has its own CAC and they hold monthly public meetings).

Brannum is also known as the kind of community activist to want to forge ahead and push the envelope. So when planning last month's CAC meeting, Brannum had an idea: why not do a live webcast so that residents who couldn't attend in person would still be able to participate? To him, the idea seemed perfect as a way to reach out to a broader group of residents and to use technology to do it. Also, Brannum was aware that Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has embraced the use of more technology in policing. The chief has urged residents to use the city's text message tip line and has personally weighed in on debates on neighborhood email lists.

The meeting would be held at its usual place, the Fifth District police station headquarters in the 1800 block of Bladensburg Ave NE. In a mass email to neighbors, Brannum was clearly excited about the new approach: "While this is an experiment in 21st century technology, it is hoped it will be used to open community dialogue and participation, rather than to enlarge the distance in human contact and to dilute personal conversations between neighbors. Let's see."

Or...let's not. Just hours before the meeting, Brannum got this email message from Fifth District Cmdr. Lamar Greene. "I have spoken to [Assistant Chief Diane] Groomes, she stated that the Chief is not authorizing this until MPD has protocols in regards to this type of web cast.  Therefore we will not be able to conduct the broadcast from an MPD facility until further notice and her approval."

Brannum heeded that directive from Lanier and called off the web simulcast for that meeting. But days later, he sent a follow-up email to Greene, copying Chief Lanier and Assistant Chief Groomes. "Commander Greene, How soon will the protocols be set? When will MPD meet to set protocols? Who can I meet with to start the process?" Brannum sent another email days later to the same group, plus Yvonne Smith, who works in the police department's executive offices. "How soon can we get together to start the process?"

Brannum has kept up the questions and said an IT official from the police department has reached out to him to see about how to move forward with the live webcasts. Meanwhile, Brannum will lead the May meeting of CAC tonight at the Fifth District headquarters at 7 p.m. The meeting will not be broadcast live on the internet.

--Theola Labbé-DeBose

By Theola Labbé-DeBose  |  May 28, 2009; 9:48 AM ET
Categories:  Browse By Writer , Crime and Public Safety , Theola Labbé-DeBose  
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