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Barbara Lombardo writes about journalisml, local news and anything else that strikes her fancy. She is executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News, sister papers in the Digital First Media family. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Police must not pick and choose whose arrests are made public



The Saratogian’s report last week about two arrests initially omitted from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office public blotter raises questions about whether the department treats all citizens fairly and consistently.
Two missing arrests over six months aren’t earth-shattering. But they are disconcerting.
It’s impossible to tell whether these were two isolated incidents or two examples of an ongoing practice in which law enforcers pick and choose whom to protect from public exposure.
The department’s explanation in both cases regrettably suggests the latter.
The first incident was the omission of a felony charge against the then 17-year-old son of the top county employee. The department asserted that their usual practice is not to include cases against 17-year-olds, although a review of their blotter indicates otherwise.
The second was a DWI against a Clifton Park man who, we were told, had asked for a reprieve from the public blotter in which all arrests are supposed to be posted. We could only speculate what connections he might have had to obtain this favor.
When a reporter asked the undersheriff about the missing report, he said it was in the book. However, in photos of the pages in the book taken by the reporter weeks prior, it is easy to see through one press release to the release beneath it. The press release in question wasn’t originally there.
If there’s a reasonable explanation, the sheriff’s department hasn’t offered it.
We all make mistakes.
We in the newsroom make errors and bad judgment calls, but our intentions are to be fair and consistent.
Once in a while a caller will ask on behalf of themselves or a friend or relative that an arrest not be published. The request is often sheepish, sometimes pleading, rarely demanding. Anyone of us could be walking in their shoes, and I usually feel for them. But I never accommodate them.
We don’t go out of our way to dig up an arrest, but we also do not intentionally skip over any arrests we normally report. Doesn’t matter who the person is, who they’re related to or with whom they do business.
I remember as a rookie reporter overhearing the cops reporter handle occasional requests to keep out their arrest. “Sure,” he would say. “Just come over to sign the form.”
The form?
“Yeah,” he’d explain. “The one that says you’ll promise to support me when I’m fired for playing favorites.”
To retain the trust of the community, we in the news business must be diligent about owning up to mistakes and correcting the record.
The same goes for those in law enforcement.

Barbara Lombardo is managing editor of The Saratogian. Her blog, Fresh Ink, is on www.saratogian.com.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbara and I do not always agree, but in this case she is 100 %. Maybe his is why there is a need for change in the sheriff's office. Mike zurlo is a great guy but I'm afraid things would be status quo if he is the new sheriff. If elected I hope he cleans house of all the appointees that are there because of connections. I think Jim Bowen is a good sheriff but the department has grown so much he does not have the day to day control he used to have in the good old days.

August 23, 2013 at 7:03 AM 

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