Michael J. Bugeja
Colonel, I know your thoughts are in the right place, but as a journalist myself, I would never give someone I didn’t know a name of a trusted source in the local PD. It took me a while to build a rapport, but it does pay off (a plate of chocolate chip cookies helps). Also, as others have said, don’t think too badly about the Media Relations folks. They are the official spokespeople and would probably give you a good answer.
A former fellow journalist (and I emphasis former fellow journalist) caught up with an off-duty officer at a bar. The journalist got the poor guy to spill his guts and of course the officer’s comments were on the front page of the paper the next day (simply saying off the record is not legally binding and some journalists do not honor it). It was sad to see happen. That journalist didn’t get a word from another cop outside media relations again.
Also, if you go through media relations, try to set up a ride along. Especially one in the same district of the hotel. I did this when we were doing a special on underage drinking and another on drunk driving. You will have to check with media relations about release forms. You might need to sign one stating that you won’t sue if you get harmed, and they might have the officers or anyone that they come in contact with to do the same.
Good luck and let us know how it goes.