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Detroit fire documentary getting caught up in aftermath of police chief scandal. Mayor's office has to set policy. It's an image thing.

BURN Trailer from Tremolo Productions on Vimeo.

Many of you have seen the rather riveting trailer for a proposed documentary on the Detroit Fire Department. Firegeezer, among others, told the story last month about the producers looking to raise money and get the doc shot as soon as possible (click here for the message directly from the producers).

It looks like money may not be the only obstacle in telling the story. In late July Mayor Dave Bing fired Warren Evans, his police chief of a year. Among the reasons cited by Mayor Bing is Evans’ decision to be featured in a reality show called “The Chief”.  According to the Detroit Free Press, “The footage showed the chief holding an assault rifle and declaring he would do whatever it takes to clean the city’s streets.”

Mayor Bing also recently canceled a two year relationship with the A&E series, “First 48”. This one shadows homicide detectives in a number of cities. More from The Free Press:

Critics of Detroit’s participation have said that officers may be showboating for the cameras. They point to the use of a flash-bang grenade in some raids, including the one early May 16 that left 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones dead from a police officer’s bullet.

After that incident, Bing nixed the A&E tagalongs.

It is all about image. Mayor Bing thinks these reality shows (and even an ABC police drama based on Detroit homicide detectives) could be portraying Detroit in a negative fashion. The Free Press article quotes a spokesman for the City of Baltimore who says they are still dealing with negative image problems from the HBO series “The Wire”.

All of this is now apparently having an impact on efforts to feature the Detroit Fire Department in the documentary “Burn”. Crain’s Detroit Business reports that getting permission from Detroit officials could be a problem:

We are re-evaluating our policies and practices as it relates to film opportunities, citywide and inclusive of (the Detroit Police Department),” Karen Dumas, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s chief communications officer, wrote in an e-mail to Crain’s. “We look forward to having practical guidelines in place soon.”

I admit it is a dilemma when you are talking about something as important as a city’s image. But to me it always seems a better idea to fix the problems rather than spend the time, effort and money to manipulate and sanitize the message. While you certainly don’t want showboating for the cameras and having the film alter the reality of something as important as public safety, don’t you think in some cases you will also be preventing a very positive message from being heard and seen by the public?

What I often see in these ride-alongs from Detroit and elsewhere is, despite all of the decay and heartbreak surrounding them, there are still dedicated public servants who get the job done with expertise and compassion. I think of the video a Detroit journalist shot while riding with Engine 23 and the great interviews with the firefighters like Walt Harris, who died in the line-of-duty before the year was out (the video does not seem to be online anymore). Similarly, Firehouse USA’s up close and personal views that included those phenomenal moments with Boston’s Lt. Kevin Kelley, who died last year in the crash of Ladder 26. To me the world would be a little less tolerable without those videos bringing a little sanity and understanding of the bureaucracy and chaos of city life.

Remember, it is what it is. You aren’t going to change it by hiding behind a curtain. And a major TV series or movie shot in city brings money and even jobs. Both, if I am not mistaken, are things that are desperately needed in Detroit, Michigan.

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