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Police turn to TV to help nab fugitives

Boston’s ‘most wanted’ criminals now broadcast on Comcast cable blotter show

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 16, 2010

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For years, shows like “America’s Most Wanted’’ let television viewers tip off police about criminals and fugitives from the comfort of their couches.

Now, Boston police want to replicate the success of such shows.

Recently, Boston police started posting the names, charges, and brief narratives of the alleged crimes of the city’s “most wanted’’ on local television.

It is called the Boston Police Blotter. In two- to three-minute segments, a fugitive’s mug shot and criminal charges are described by a stone-faced Boston police officer. The program is available through On Demand, a Comcast cable television service that also features other local programming, such as historic plays by the Red Sox, brief interviews with Paul Pierce, and dating profiles of single Bostonians.

Police said the blotter is another tool, like the department’s online blog, that can be used to get more information out to the public.

The program would be available to most of Comcast’s 1.6 million subscribers in the Boston area.

“We’re hoping that utilizing this innovative initiative will assist the department in reaching additional eyes and ears out on the street,’’ said Elaine Driscoll, department spokeswoman.

The segments are accompanied by the kinds of graphics and dramatic music familiar to any loyal viewer of shows like “Cops.’’

Frightening music is spliced with the sound of police sirens during each segment introduction, which also features the yellowed, faded backdrop of mug shots.

“Have you seen this man?’’ Officer James Kenneally, a police spokesman and the host of the program, says in the beginning of one segment, as the picture flashes of a 32-year-old man wanted for gun possession.

Staring straight into the camera, Kenneally describes crimes like armed robbery and stealing license plates in the same grave tone.

The most serious offender featured on the blotter so far is Keron Pierre, 24, wanted in the shooting deaths of three people, who were killed in March 2009.

He fled to the Caribbean after the killings, police said.

Others are wanted for crimes like marijuana possession and trespassing.

Driscoll said the blotter includes suspects facing lesser charges, because “any individual that has defaulted on a warrant and again has committed a crime can really affect the quality of life for a community.’’

In the two months since the blotter has been available to viewers, Boston police say they have yet to get a tip.

But they are hoping that eventually the blotter will reap the same results it has in places like Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, where 58 fugitives have been apprehended since the area’s blotter went up in 2008.

Ninety one fugitives have been caught through the blotter since it began in Philadelphia in 2006, said Marc Goodman, a Comcast spokesman.

Bill Mullen, the Allegheny County sheriff, said they have apprehended homicide and rape suspects through the blotter.

Mullen said some of the law enforcement agencies in his county have used the blotter to apprehend people wanted on lesser charges but who were also suspects in bigger crimes.

“We’ve had some people turn themselves in because they saw themselves on Comcast, and they felt paranoid,’’ he said.

Mary McLaughlin, Comcast’s area vice president, said she believes the blotters empower people to feel as if they are more than passive viewers to crimes.

“Generally, the public wants to help assist, and this gives them an opportunity to do it,’’ she said.

The blotter has also helped police in Pennsylvania find witnesses to slayings who would not come forward.

Mullen said the blotter featured fugitives and the charges against them, even though police were primarily interested in them as witnesses of other major crimes.

That strategy helped bring them in for questioning and led to breaks in the bigger cases, he said.

“We’re not manipulating,’’ Mullen said. “They’re wanted for charges, and we’re asking for that help.’’

Driscoll said the blotter could be used to highlight cold cases, but she demurred when asked if the blotter would be used to apprehend reluctant witnesses.

“We’ll see how the current [blotter] system works,’’ she said. “We’ll always have it as an option in other scenarios. I think any new mode of communication brings endless possibilities.’’

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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