AUSTIN (KXAN) — After years of turmoil with sex assault cases — including lawsuits and the shutdown of the city’s forensic lab — the Austin Police Department says it’s getting caught up.
“I can tell you that today, there is no backlog,” said Chief Joseph Chacon regarding rape kits. He was not serving as chief during the shutdown of the forensics lab or the survivor lawsuits.
He made the statement as part of his presentation to city council this week. He says the department now has a 24-detective team in the Sex Crimes Unit that deals solely with cold cases. The rest of the detectives in the unit work on ongoing and incoming sex assault cases.
Focusing on cold cases was one of the changes made after survivors sued the city and Travis County for mishandling sex assault cases.
Other changes include beefed up staff overall in the Sex Crimes Unit, a victim-centered approach and new specialized sex assault training.
Some victims’ rights advocates tell us they’re hopeful about the changes as a whole but are concerned the training won’t be focused enough.
“You might be able to provide training but is that the best training they can possibly get?” said Lisa Knapp, founder of The Austin 20 and Nicole’s Place, which provide resources for child sex assault victims. “It’s difficult to understand their reaction. An officer might approach a survivor who’s quiet and says there’s nothing wrong. That is part of trauma, right? She’s been traumatized.”
Councilwoman Alison Alter brought up concerns over training as well.
“There’s concern that some of these trainings are two-hour webinars and that’s just not gonna cut it for this area,” she said following Chacon’s presentation. Chacon said he will report back with a comprehensive training plan by February.
A representative for the Austin-Travis County Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team (SARRT) said it’s very encouraged by the actions Chacon has taken thus far.