City Police Chief Christopher Cole admitted Wednesday night during a public forum on events surrounding a Sept. 1 rape that his department should have issued a news release immediately.
“We could have and probably should have” released a statement, he said.
Details about the rape reported in the Lake Avenue-East Avenue area on the last weekend of the thoroughbred horse racing meet were not clear to police at the time and commanders decided not to publicize the incident.
The incident remains under active investigation, and the chief still declined to provide specific details about the case Wednesday.
But he said the Police Department has launched a new, proactive approach to providing the media with information. Starting this week, the department is emailing the entire daily police blotter to reporters as well as a list of the daily arrests.
The public forum in City Hall’s third floor Music Hall was attended by 40 to 50 people. Dale Willman, managing editor of the Saratoga Wire, a local online newspaper, coordinated the event.
A Skidmore College student said it “took weeks for us to hear of the rape.” She said 60 percent of the Skidmore students are women, who often come to downtown Saratoga Springs from the college’s North Broadway campus. “The Police Department clearly made a mistake,” the Skidmore junior said.
Cole said his department works closely with Skidmore campus security in educating students to take certain precautions when in downtown Saratoga Springs.
“We can help someone not to become a victim,” he said.
Nicole Kempton, one of the people who circulated an on-line petition last month asking why the Police Department didn’t announce the rape immediately, said she met with Cole and city Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen and they explained how the communications process works. She said the meeting with police officials and Wednesday’s public forum were positive results of the petition.
“Chief Cole has been terrific in responding to our concerns,” Kempton said, adding: “We don’t expect things like [the rape] to happen in Saratoga Springs.”
A man who lives in the Lake Avenue-East Avenue area said he would like police to issue immediate alerts that residents would receive on their smart phones and computers when a violent incident, such as a rape, occurs.
Maggie Fronk, executive director of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County, said in sexual assault cases “many people don’t know where to turn” and often question whether they should even report the incident to police.
“When a person is raped, the victim is not to blame,” Fronk said.
Assistant Chief Gregory Veitch said police work with Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services and the hospital staff with “the focus on the victim.”
Vicki Merola, a crime victim advocate with the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office, said, “The criminal justice system is confusing at best.” She said rape victims need to be given respect and have full control over the decisions they make.
Rape is “a difficult crime to investigate and a difficult crime to prosecute,” Merola said.