Sexual assault is serious, and how the crime is handled and publicized are important to the community.
But a forum that took place Wednesday night, sparked by the police
department’s inadequate reporting of a reported rape from early September, suggests the issue had already been dealt with ad nauseum by news coverage, public meetings and
From where I’m sitting, though, there is plenty of room for
improvement in the way crime news is reported from just about every law
Wednesday's event was billed as a “conversation with local public
officials, non-profit community groups and citizens about sexual assault in
Saratoga Springs” which organizer Dale Willman of Saratoga Wire promoted as a way
to “help begin the healing process in the community about this issue.”
A decent idea. The first hour or more was not a conversation but a succession
of informational recitations: Police Chief Christopher Cole affirmed the need
and desire of police to communicate better, and those representing the agencies
dealing with sexual crime victims explained the process of assisting victims,
investigating cases and prosecuting perpetrators.
Among the 40 people at the two-hour forum in City Hall were a
handful of citizens, several Skidmore College students, and representatives of
the Public Safety Department, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of
Saratoga County, the District Attorney’s office, Saratoga Hospital and the
Moderator Willman asked Cole to lead off, and the chief basically
apologized for the way information was relayed about the attack, which is still
Nicole Kempton, one of two women who had initiated a
petition trying to obtain more information from the police about the attack, said
at the forum that both petitioners had a “great meeting” with Cole and Public
Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen with “a positive result.”
Her only time to run is at 5 in the morning and had she
known about the attack, she said, “I may have altered my route; I may have run
at the Y instead.”
Richard Sellers wanted to know why the police can’t send out
alerts to warn people if they or their property are in danger, the way text
alerts can be sent for public works emergencies.
Cole conceded he wasn’t up on
Not such a good answer.
Sellers also noted that none of the few neighbors he checked
with in the area where the assault victim was found had ever been contacted
by police investigators.
“We’re not confident that is where the assault occurred,” Cole
Decent answer. But what else can you tell us?
The Department of Public Safety cosponsored the event and Commissioner Christian Mathiesen also addressed the group, mostly reiterating
his commitment for good communication with citizens and his belief that
they are doing a pretty good job of it.
A forum is a good way to inform and air concerns, and there
is value in continued public education about sexual assault and how victims and
perpetrators are dealt with. The public safety, domestic violence, DA’s office
and hospital people who made themselves available to the public by coming to
the forum deserve acknowledgement for doing so, as does Willman for organizing it. Though no new ground was broken
for anyone following the issue these last few weeks on Saratogian.com or other sites,
information and opinions were offered.
As for how city police can more effectively relay information to the public, I hope to be able to report progress
after this afternoon (Dec. 6). Mathiesen and Cole
will be meeting in their offices with four of us from The Saratogian – reporter
Lucian McCarty, Assistant Managing Editor Betsy DeMars, Online Editor Emily
Donohue and me — to zero in on that topic.