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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.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to keep your name out of the police blotter

It’s not what you know that counts, it’s who you know. Right?
Depends, of course. Connections open doors, no question about it.
But in the case of police reports published in The Saratogian, who you are and who you know don’t matter.
This post is prompted by three unrelated items concerning police reports: recent calls to Sound Off about an unidentified driver, a story involving the relative of a local government executive, and requests to delete arrest reports from the website.
First, let me say that I give calls to Sound Off all the credibility that anonymous comments deserve. But we do get story ideas and tips from the call-in line, and once in a while a question is raised that warrants an editor’s response.
That was the case concerning the report of a man who drove his Corvette into Saratoga Lake.
The man’s name wasn’t immediately available from the sheriff’s department and he refused to give his name to the reporter, who made a rookie mistake by writing that he asked to be anonymous. That phrasing understandably left some readers scratching their heads. One caller’s message said in part: “If that was just a usual person, their name would be printed. Is it because he has a lot of money or is he a big shot in the city of Saratoga Springs and doesn’t want to be embarrassed?”
Actually, we followed up on the story during the week, subsequently publishing the driver’s name and the charges: speed not reasonable and prudent, failure to keep right and reckless driving. The charges were violations, which ordinarily don’t make it into the police blotter, but a Corvette doesn’t ordinarily land in the lake.
We modified the wording in the online story to eliminate the erroneous impression that all you have to do to not get your name in the police blotter is ask. We discussed the wording among reporters and editors, because, regrettably, a similar issue arose a while back.
As for commenters wanting The Saratogian to publish where the Corvette driver worked: that would be inconsistent with our rule of thumb to not publish a defendant’s place of employment unless it seems relevant to the story. Likewise, whether to specify a person’s relationship with someone well-known depends on the circumstances. A recent ongoing case passed the test when the town judges and district attorney all recused themselves from a felony burglary vandalism case because of their professional relationship with the teenage defendant’s father.
Last but not least, every so often someone whose name was published in the police blotter asks that the arrest be removed. Here’s our guideline: If the defendant provides a disposition from the court showing that the charges were dismissed, we will likely remove the item. If the case was resolved in some other way and the person asks that the story be updated to reflect, for instance, that the case was pleaded down, we will gladly accommodate by updating the online file. Except for those cases, published blotter items remain online.
The only sure-fire way to stay out of the police blotter: Don't get arrested.


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