Public Safety Commission addresses audit of APD rape cases

Members of Austin’s Public Safety Commission are expressing concern over a Texas Department of Public Safety Audit.

That audit found the Austin Police Department wrongfully categorized two thirds of cleared sexual assault cases. 
APD first addressed the preliminary report last week, on New Year’s Eve, something commissioners said seemed to be an attempt to bury the story. 

Assistant Chief Troy Gay said although the report was dated December 13, APD didn't receive it until December 17. Chief Brian Manley didn't comment on it for two more weeks because, according to Gay, he wanted to speak to DPS first, which was delayed by Christmas break.  

For the audit, DPS looked over 95 rape cases that had been exceptionally cleared by the Austin Police Department. The cases spanned three months during 2017 and only 29 of them were correctly categorized, according to the preliminary report. 

“The audit did raise some concerns about the preliminary numbers to the point where, even though we don't have the audit numbers back to put context into this particular report is that, we did believe that it was necessary to provide some training for our investigative bureau,” said Gay.  

The Austin Police Department said that training begins Tuesday, but without the complete audit they aren't sure what the discrepancies with their use of exceptional clearance are. 

To be exceptionally cleared an investigator must identity an offender, have information to support an offender's arrest, charge and prosecution, know the offender's exact location, and have some reason outside law enforcement control that prevents arresting, charging and prosecuting an offender. Those reasons can include a victim who does not want to proceed with the investigation, the death of a suspect, a juvenile suspect, a suspect under age of criminal responsibility, a suspect denied extradition or a prosecutor who does not agree to try the case.

“The fact that survivors, in such high numbers, would be leaving that process, makes us an outlier. So it means that there's something going on internally in our system that's not keeping survivors engaged, that's not invested in actually thoroughly investigating cases,” said Amanda Lewis an advocate with the Survivor Justice Project.

“To this point, our investigations, we feel, that they are sound, although there does need to be improvements and we are always looking at improvements in the process,” Gay said. 

Lewis said during her work she sometimes receives disappointing news about how sexual assault cases are handled.   

“We hear from survivors that they're saying, ‘I did report. I did not say no to the process and I just found out that my case was exceptionally cleared,’” said Lewis.  

She told the Public Safety Commission it's time to look at the bigger picture, figuring out what is scaring survivors away from the justice process. 

“So why is it that survivors are not continuing even though they chose to take the extraordinary step of getting an exam? If they're getting that and they're backing out, then what is wrong with us in our process?" Lewis said. 

"That raises for me real concern about what's going on with sexual assault cases at APD and I think it's time for a deeper dive and for a lot of soul searching about how sexual assault is being handled in Travis County," said Public Safety Commissioner Rebecca Bernhardt. 

Assistant Chief Gay said although some cases are exceptionally cleared because a survivor did not want to proceed, that case can be reopened at any time if the survivor changes their mind. 
The full report from DPS is expected by the end of this week, though Gay said it will be available at the latest by January 18 and, at that time, will be made available to the public.