AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s mayor and several city council members are calling for a large-scale evaluation of the Austin Police Department’s handling of sexual assault cases.
The proposed evaluation sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, Council Member Alison Alter, Council Member Greg Casar, Council Member Ann Kitchen and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza directs City Manager Spencer Cronk to hire a third-party to take a more extensive look at sexual assault cases and how they’re handled from start to finish.
If the resolution is approved by the full council, the city will hire a “Nationally recognized, non-governmental entity or multidisciplinary team with demonstrated knowledge and expertise in the investigation and prosecution of adult sexual assault in the United States” to review at least 200 or half of APD’s closed sexual assault cases from each of the past seven years.
The resolution states that the purpose of the evaluation would be to “Undertake a comprehensive evaluation of how reported sexual assaults are investigated and processed, including why a number of reported cases do not proceed to prosecution within the criminal justice system.”
Council Member Alter says the group that drafted the resolution worked closely with Cronk, Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, the city’s law department and advocate groups that work with sexual assault survivors. The audit would encourage the third-party auditor to continue to work closely with advocate groups in Austin.
On Friday, Adler, Alter, Casar, Garza and Kitchen released a joint statement, saying:
“We believe survivors of sexual assault deserve justice and the chance to heal, and we know that too often survivors do not get the justice they deserve. That is why the Chief of Police recently publicly expressed a need for and commitment to a comprehensive third-party review of how the City handles sexual assault cases, and why we are sponsoring a resolution outlining the details of a comprehensive third-party evaluation of our policies and practices regarding these types of cases. The City Council will vote on this resolution on January 31st.
“In recent years, thanks to advocacy by survivors and hard work by the police department and city leaders, we have begun to take significant steps to ensure justice in these cases, especially by addressing backlogs of evidence. But evidence collection and testing is just the first step. We must all work together to take a fresh look at our practices and resources dedicated to sexual assault cases, so that we can do everything possible to be a leader in addressing sexual assault. It’s what our community expects and deserves, and what all of us believe is necessary.
“We thank the City Manager and the Chief of Police for collaborating on this direction, our city employees for their dedication and hard work on these issues, and the advocates in the community for their continued commitment.”
Alter says the call for a review isn’t meant to blame or shame police.
“The officers that work on these sexual assault cases spend their days working diligently to try to find justice for these victims, and they don’t have the resources and the environment and the staffing,” Alter said, calling the system in place, “broken.”
Alter says should the resolution for a third-party evaluation be approved, she estimates it could cost anywhere from $200,000 to $1,000,000. She says the cost is well worth what she considers a necessary step forward.
“How do you put a price on these peoples lives moving forward?” Alter asked.
On January 16th, while releasing details of DPS audit findings, Chief Manley admitted that too many rape cases don’t move forward and that victims often get worn out with the process and give up. In his press conference, he recognized the need to go beyond the recent DPS audit.
“One of the things that I will be asking for will be a third-party, independent review of how the Austin Police Department handles sexual assault cases, and this review will look from the beginning to the end. From the moment we receive the 911 call, the officer’s response to that call, all the way through the investigation,” Manley said.
APD says if council moves forward with a third-party review, the police department wouldn’t see the need to double-up and do its own.