How should Austin police investigate sexual assault cases? Here are the changes that could happen

Crime

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin has released a memo updating how the Austin Police Department should investigate and process sexual assault cases.

A 2019 APD audit of its rape case investigations found many of these cases were cleared incorrectly. That’s in addition to an audit by the Texas Department of Public Safety found about a third of 95 rape cases investigated were cleared when they shouldn’t have been — and five of these did not meet any of the criteria to be cleared.

According to a 2019 City Council resolution, Austin had 834 reported rapes in 2019, a 12% increase from 2016.

Last fall, an agency called The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) began reviewing cases dating back to 2012.

Groups like Austin SAFE Alliance and the Survivor Justice Project have been following the review process closely. When changes are made to the review process, these groups were made aware.

“We came together in 2016 around the issues with the Austin Police Department’s rape kit backlog,” said Kristen Lenau, Co-Founder of the Survivor Justice Project.

A memorandum released on June 17 made some changes to the percentage of cases being reviewed each year. Originally, Austin’s City Manager directed PERF to examine at minimum either 200 sexual assault cases or 50% of sexual assault cases from each year, whichever number is greater, for each of the prior seven years of sexual assault case reports.

That number has since been condensed to 30%, but the review will still include 2012 and 2013 and also broaden the scope to include cases filed in 2019 and 2020.

Recommendations include formalizing training for officers who join APD’s Sex Crimes Unit so that they’re better prepared for what they’ll face. This includes requiring detectives to try contacting the victim more than once before suspending a case. Additionally, detectives will be given laptops so they can access documents when they’re in the field.

The memorandum also includes an increase to the cost of the contract with PERF from $762,000 to $950,000. The City of Austin says contingency funding exists to cover the amount.

Sexual assault continues to be a severely underreported crime — only 9.2% of victims report their experience to the police, according to the Institute of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

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