Hartford to be setting for police drama on TV

Hartford - A police drama set in Hartford is coming to television, but not everyone in Connecticut's crime-weary capital is excited to see it.

A Hartford police officer, Mark Manson, took inspiration from his experiences to create "The Second District" with a career criminal he met on the job. The show is expected to debut in the fall through a syndication deal bringing it to networks across the country.

Some fear the series will take away from revitalization efforts in Hartford, a city of 125,000 people that has been struggling to shake a reputation for crime since an outburst of gang violence in the 1990s.

"That could be anywhere USA," Hartford police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy said. "Since they wrote that stuff, things have changed dramatically in the city."

Like the HBO series "The Wire" set in Baltimore, the show will tell stories of police and criminals in a city overrun by gangs. Manson, a 47-year-old Hartford native, said it was initially difficult to sell Hollywood on a crime drama set in Connecticut, but the character-driven show is focused more on issues affecting urban areas across the country than the city itself.

While some have grumbled to him about giving the city a bad name, Manson says they should be more concerned about the real crime they see on the news. In a city with a state-worst unemployment rate of 14 percent, the program will also provide an economic boost through production spending and jobs, including casting calls for local actors, he said.

"We do have issues here. There are people getting killed in the city," said Manson, a 14-year veteran of the police department. "I've seen a lot of heartbreak as far as families are concerned, but there are a lot of good things here too."

Violent crime has been declining in Hartford as in much of the country, and the city had 27 homicides last year, compared with 32 apiece in 2007 and 2008. U.S. statistics show there is more violent crime in the smaller city of New Haven, but Hartford boosters say you wouldn't know it by their city's reputation.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra declined to comment on the show.

The show was conceived by the unlikely duo of Manson and Felix Soto, who is serving a federal prison sentence for bank robbery. The two men developed the characters together and, after Soto's arrest, Manson said he put the project down for a year and a half before deciding not to abandon his dream.

"He thought he would never be talking to a police officer. I thought I would never talk with a man of his character," Manson said.

The show will begin shooting in Hartford this spring with the goal of delivering 10 episodes in the fall, executive producer David Wenzel said.

Michael Dunshee, a lawyer who writes about the "ultimate underdog city" at the blog Sad City Hartford, said the show can only help the city by raising its profile.

"Hartford has a terrible, undeserved reputation for being much worse that it is," he said. "I don't see how it can hurt."

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