A pioneer in police public information passed away earlier this week in California. Ron Eberhardt worked for the Chattanooga Police Department in the 1970’s.
Then Fire and Police Commissioner Gene Roberts named Eberhardt police information officer. To my knowledge the police department never had had a PIO. Eberhardt developed new techniques to deliver police news to the media. One included a teletype machine for each news outlet. The dispatcher at the police department could send the media information just after the event happened. It was a good resource for alerting listeners of traffic problems.
Other governmental agencies later installed the teletype machines, including the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department. This was all Ron Eberhardt’s idea. Eberhardt would follow with a typed release and would be available for interviews.
Eberhardt convinced Commissioner Roberts to dedicate a small room at the police services center where all reports would be posted for the media to view. There were no cell phones in those days and we were all dependent on land lines. Eberhardt helped get us the story.
The years 1977 and 1978 were difficult for Chattanooga Police. Officer Clarence Hamler was killed during a robbery at a Broad Street grocery store A year later Officers Nick Hess and David Friederichsen were shot and killed in the line of duty. It was Eberhardt's job to disseminate information to the media. Eberhardt had worked closely with all three officers and became emotional when doing interviews. Eberhardt did his job. He said he would get the information to us the best he could regardless of his feelings.
Another major story was the August 1977 bombing of the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Brainerd. Eberhardt arranged interviews with the Hamilton County District Attorney and federal authorities. Eberhardt understood our responsibility to the public and that each outlet had a deadline. The respect was mutual. Eberhardt helped police departments create a PIO patterned after Chattanooga.
Eberhardt worked several presidential security details including President Reagan's trip to Tennessee Temple in 1976.
Eberhardt was a big fan of UTC basketball. When Bill Nash was doing the broadcasts, Eberhardt would make his way to the press box for chats with his ole friend.
Some officers stand out for their accomplishments, Ron Eberhardt was one of them.
The picture was provided by Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean, who was a Chattanooga police information officer himself.
Officer C.L. Wilhoit posted on Facebook that because of the coronavirus a “celebration of life service” will be held later.
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Earl Freudenberg can be reached at email@example.com