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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, December 6, 2012

Police communication still a work in progress

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 blogs. 
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 enforcement agency.
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 media.
Moderator Willman asked Cole to lead off, and the chief basically apologized for the way information was relayed about the attack, which is still under investigation.
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. 
Good question.
Cole conceded he wasn’t up on the technology.
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 replied.
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 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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the police and other law enforcement agencies do not warn neighbors of possible crimes under any circumstances. Tough to find out that your burglary is just one in a string that has been going on for weeks. Something in the paper would have been a nice idea, though. Too worried about being sued.

December 6, 2012 at 10:52 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the Saratogian "Staff of Four" to meet with Chief Cole and Mathiesen to develop better means of communication may be inadvisable as now the Saratogian becomes part of the story rather than reporting it it. For example, if a plan developed to provide first or exclusive notification to the Saratogian runs contrary to the concept of free press where all media outlets can participate equally.

All media should have the same access to released information.

December 6, 2012 at 3:45 PM 
Blogger Fresh Ink said...

Thanks for your comments. Rest assured, the meeting wasn't at all about The Saratogian getting exclusive stories (though we are always happy to have a scoop). All the media are indeed getting the same information at the same time. In reference to the first comment, we did discuss wanting to report when break-ins and vandalism occurs, even if there are no arrests, and I expect you'll be seeing those in the blotter report.

December 6, 2012 at 5:29 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone really think anything will change.......I don't. What comes from the police will always be selective.

Which is 'easier' for 'them'.

December 6, 2012 at 5:59 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting and informative blog post. I didn't attend the forum but wanted to and couldn't. Thanks for giving an unbiased account. Some of what I've read seems to have an agenda on one side or the other. Your perspective seems to be giving me the facts, with some appreciated personal observations. I'll keep reading your posts in the future. Thank you.

December 6, 2012 at 8:00 PM 

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