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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Now it's a story: Police chief admits sexting

Last night I explained to you why I killed a story about a vague accusation about a local public official. I assured you that is there was indeed a story to be told, you’d read it in The Saratogian. This afternoon, you did, online. And it will be across the front page of Thursday’s print edition.

The story is Saratoga Springs’ Weinergate: The city’s police chief, Christopher Cole, sexted lewd messages and photos of his “private parts” to a woman he was seeing. At least one photo of himself was taken while in his office in City Hall.

It’s not a crime for one consenting adult to “sext” to another. But it’s dumb as heck. And it raises a number of questions:

What possesses a city’s top law enforcement officer to think it’s OK to text sexually explicit pictures of himself, to anyone, ever? What does he think he is, a congressman?

Why did the woman, who started the ball rolling by sexting Cole a boob shot, decide she wasn’t having fun anymore?

When the woman tried to complain to the police department’s spokesman, why did he merely refer her to Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth rather than report it immediately to Wirth, the City Council member who oversees the police and fire departments?

When it was clear the cat was out of the bag, Cole’s offense was a quick defense – a press release admitting to an error in judgment and noting that the sexting was with a single, 39-year-old woman and that the picture sent from his City Hall office was taken during his lunch break.

My professional dealings with Cole left me with the impression that he has been doing a good job. His lack of common sense is disappointing. As one online commenter said simply, “Don’t tweet your meat.”

Wirth called this a case of two consenting adults "having a personal, adult relationship.” Not exactly. The police chief is a public figure who’s accountable for his behavior and is never really off the clock. Unwelcome sexting could be harassment. And the handling of the attempted complaint needs to be publicly explained. The case is far from over. This is an embarrassment – for Cole, for the police department, and for Saratoga Springs.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The embarrassment for Saratoga Springs is that media outlets, such as yours, keep this in the forefront of so-called "news." Chief Cole's decision to text sexually explicit photos of himself to a person he was dating was stupid. But this alone, unlike the Rep. Weiner scandal (which is vastly different, though I also think it's overplayed), does not constitute his being unfit for office. How he engages in his sexual desires is his business, and his alone, provided he's not using company time and/or company equipment or breaking any laws. That said, I would hope that if any reporter foolishly decides to pursue this "story," then they also look into the person who filed the complaint. She thrust herself into the public vortex (apologies for the choice of words, but they are the most appropriate given the legal context) by filing a complaint, which is public record. Who is she, and why did she bring this forward? Do her family, friends and employer know that she was engaging in sexting? Just because I don't agree with the story itself doesn't mean I wouldn't want you to do a thorough job. As a former reporter in the Albany area, I'm keenly aware of the garbage that newsroom managers want their reporters to cover. Furthermore, it saddens me that it's not just the TV stations that engage in salacious headlines rather than real reporting on issues that truly affect the public. For example, rather than let this determine whether Chief Cole is fit for office, why doesn't The Saratogian dig up actual facts and statistics from his short time in office to see what his policing decisions and actions have done to affect crime in Saratoga Springs? That is a much more accurate indicator. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that that would involve too much time and effort--much more than this non-story--and it's not as fun to say as Weinergate.

June 10, 2011 at 9:34 PM 
Anonymous dave said...

I think whatever happens between 2 consenting adults is fine with me. He and his friend were having a little fun, what business is it of ours. It wasn't illegal and it wasn't wrong. He did nothing wrong, why is this being blown out of proportion.
And I don't care if he did it at work. Isn't the poor guy allowed a break once in awhile. Being a Police Chief or a Policemen is really a 24 hour a day job. They're always working on taking care of us and yet we bust their buns over something as simple as this.
Who cares, nobody I've talked to.

June 11, 2011 at 4:10 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wirth has been quoted in your paper that he will not initiate an investigation absent a formal complaint. He totally fails to understand his role and the Charter law.

He must cause an independent, honest investigation before any formal disciplinary action. He cannot hide behind the fact, as he states it, that the woman has not filed a formal complaint. And then there are other questions. If she spoke to a SSPD investigator why did he not go to Wirth, or did he?

Wirth and Johnson say 'no law was broken' but then, in the next breath, say there will be no investigation. So how does the community know if no law was broken.

Johnson said in this morning's edition that he will not tolerate such conduct even if no law was broken. That rings hollow. He did nothing when the City Attorney hit Comm. Scirocco in the head, denied it and then had to admit his conduct only after the police made the video tape public.

Finally, Wirth has a Charter obligation to investigate this. The SSPD has its own policy and procedures and they speak to police conduct. He must look into that too.

The ball is in his court and he seem to be looking for excuses NOT to investigate. This will only lead to allegations of cover up.

June 11, 2011 at 5:58 PM 

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