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Responding to disinformation

A Buffalo cop is leveling some pretty serious accusations against this newspaper in comments he's recently posted this week. I feel the need to set the record straight.

Let's begin with the source of the allegations, Detective Mark Lauber. Most of you don't know him. We reporters at The Buffalo News know him well.

Some know Lauber from covering the grand jury investigation of his 1991 shooting of a black teenager, a death that caught the attention of the NAACP. Other reporters know him from covering his 1998 suspension, along with seven other officers, involving the use of police computers to send and/or receive e-mails containing ethnic slurs. To others, he's the guy who has confronted them in the paper's office at Police HQ about stories they have written.

I didn't have the pleasure of Detective Lauber's acquaintance until this August, after I wrote a story about how the police handled a home invasion in University Heights, and what it said about department practices. The day the story ran, Lauber sent me a couple of nasty e-mails, missives with subject lines like "hack." I often get unpleasant e-mails, so it's no big deal. But I found it curious that Lauber was spending time sending nasty-grams the very day he had been assigned to investigate the double murder of a couple on Sanders Road. He's got two dead people on his hands and he's worried about what I wrote about a burglary?

I spoke to Lauber on the phone Wednesday. He denies he's been nasty to reporters, merely trying to set the record straight on stories he took factual issue with. That his suspension involved not reporting inappropriate e-mails he received. That's he's won numerous awards for his work in the line of duty. And that he's a hardworking cop.

"The citizens of the City of Buffalo get 100 percent effort from me every time I come into work," he said.

He's certainly a well paid cop. Made $118,024 last year, nearly half of it for working overtime and making court appearances.

As for his public comments responding to the paper's insistence that the press have access to reasonably complete crime records, Lauber he said he's just trying to hold the paper accountable like we are the department.

Fair enough, in theory.

What's he been saying?

Reporters are lazy, focus on the city to the exclusion of the suburbs, make it tough for cops to do their job and want to invade the privacy of crime victims.

Let me address his comments, and, in the process, provide insight into how things really work.

The News stations reporters in Police HQ because that's where the action is. A disproportionate share of crime in our circulation area occurs in the City of Buffalo. That's why we maintain a presence in Buffalo as opposed to, say, East Aurora. I'm pretty sure our readers wouldn't find "lost dog" reports of much interest.

Not that the suburbs get ignored. I'll tell you my routine when I work the police beat and it's typical of what my colleagues do. In addition to monitoring crime and arrest reports in the city, I call 33 police agencies in Western New York, including all the suburban departments, plus a couple of fire departments and the medical examiner's office. Our reporters in Niagara County do likewise in their neck of the woods.

Our police reporters also monitor the police scanner and often go to crime scenes. Just last week, on my way home from work, I came across a crime scene on Main Street that turned out to be where a suspected drunk drinker allegedly ran over a mother and her young son. I called our reporter covering the night police shift to tell him about it. He'd already been there, talked to witnesses and was writing the story. Our regular police reporters are forever going out to crime scenes.

Written police reports are of growing importance to reporters because showing up at a crime scene doesn't mean we'll get any information, as rank-and-file officers are under orders not to talk to us. I remember going to the scene of the double murder on Sanders Road in August and approaching an officer outside the house. She politely told me that she couldn't talk. Neither could the detectives inside -- including, as it turns out, one Mark Lauber. At least I think he was inside -- or perhaps he was back at HQ writing e-mails.

As for the paper's insistence to information that is a matter of public record, all I can say is this is the U.S. of A., not, say, Burma.

Yes, we want the addresses of crime scenes and information that can help us identify crime victims and those arrested. We need it to fact-check police reports for accuracy. For example, if we see a name on a report of "John Smhit," we suspect it's really "Smith." If we have an address and/or a date of birth, we can check it against other records. We're trying to publish correct information.

We usually don't identify crime victims unless it's a particularly serious crime, often involving injuries. Yesterday, I looked at our police briefs over the past four days. We published a dozen based on what we culled from Buffalo police records. Here's what I learned from that snapshot.

We identified only one of the victims by name, and he was a guy shot dead a year ago. We published ages only twice -- the dead guy and the unnamed assault victim who is hospitalized. We didn't publish the exact address of a single crime victim. In seven of the 12 briefs, we did list the street they live on, but not their house number. We figure readers want to know if something happened in their neighborhood, and naming the street is the way to do that.

That's the way it is. The way it really is.

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