Council member asks for third-party review of APD's handling of sexual assault cases

"This is not about a bunch of bad actors, this is about a systemic challenge that we have as a country and a community," said District 10 Austin City Council Member Alison Alter.  

Next week, Council Member Alter will introduce an extensive resolution to council directing City Manager Spencer Cronk to bring in a third-party to evaluate how the Police Department processes and investigates reported sexual assaults.

"At this point what we're doing is we are evaluating and coming up with the recommendations so this resolution sets the stage for us to make the kinds of changes that survivors are asking for and what they're needing," Alter said.

Last week Police Chief Brian Manley responded to a Department of Public Safety audit Manley himself asked for. The audit revealed a number of sexual assault case misclassifications after the cases had been investigated. DPS reviewed 95 cases from 2017 and discovered 30 of them were labeled "exceptionally cleared" but didn't actually meet the requirements for that.  

According to the FBI, "exceptional clearance" is when an offender can't be arrested or charged due to elements beyond law enforcement's control.  

So the criteria is the department must have identified the offender, gathered enough evidence to support an arrest, identified the offender's location and encountered a circumstance that prevents that person from being arrested.  As a result of those misclassifications, Manley says officers will now have a template to fill out when a case is "exceptionally cleared" -- essentially to check those boxes.

Manley also asked for a third-party review of the department's practices when it comes to sex crimes.

"To the survivors we are committed to you, to seeking justice for you to ensure we are employing the best practices and doing everything we can to improve," Chief Manley said last week. 

So back to Council Member Alter's resolution.  The draft says the review will examine a sampling of sexual assault cases from the past 7 years.  Sexual assault survivors who made reports to APD about the investigative process will be interviewed in addition to current and former sworn officers.

Alter says if the city has a victim-focused response to sexual assault, survivors end up healing at a higher rate and justice is served more often. "What we're doing here is really taking a holistic, systemic look to really understand all the different ways that we can improve the system," Alter said.

"I welcome it. I know what a great job our detectives do out at sex crimes, it's a very challenging job due to the sensitivity of the investigations," said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday. 

Casaday points out officers can make mistakes but... "Were there people prosecuted or not prosecuted because of the way cases are handled over there?  I don't think so.  I think it's a clear issue of cases being cleared inappropriately.  They're not cases that should have been prosecuted it's just an administrative snafu," Casaday said.

Casaday wanted to make it clear that it's the D.A. who is ultimately responsible for prosecuting cases, not officers. He also said a lot of times sexual assault victims don't want to move forward with a case because re-living it on the stand in a courtroom is very painful.



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