APD still needs to improve key aspects of sexual assault response, report finds

A new report evaluating the Austin Police Department's handling of sexual assault cases found multiple ways the city can improve its investigations and processes.

However, the report found the city has taken ‘meaningful steps toward improvement.’

The 182-page report, Austin Police Department (APD) Review: Reported Sexual Assault Comprehensive Evaluation, follows a comprehensive evaluation conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), in conjunction with the Women’s Law Project and the Wellesley Centers for Women, following a Council resolution in January 2019. 

The report evaluated sexual assaults reported to APD from 2012 to 2020. 

Overall, the project team found that APD made substantial progress in several areas, including a "clear shift toward the prompt testing of sexual assault kits and the proper use of unfounded and exceptional clearance designations."

But the team also found APD still needed to improve several key aspects of its response to sexual assault reports. According to the report, these aspects include:

  • SCU policy does not require detectives to respond to the scene of the incident or hospital in most cases, and detectives do so infrequently.
  • Detectives’ interviews with victims, suspects, and witnesses are often delayed or fail to occur.
  • In addition to the need to update antiquated sexual assault policies, APD officers, detectives, and supervisors tasked with responding to sexual assaults are insufficiently trained to do so.

"While APD’s Sex Crimes Unit has experienced numerous challenges in the last decade, APD has learned lessons and taken meaningful steps toward improvement, as the authors of this report recognize," said Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano. "We know there is still work to do, and APD will carefully review these new recommendations in an effort to continue making progress to ensure the needs of survivors are at the heart of our law enforcement response." 

"I’m happy many of these recommendations are already implemented, and I look forward to working on the others," said Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon. "This will ultimately be beneficial to our community and most importantly to survivors of sexual assault." 

The City of Austin says prior to the publication of today's report, significant progress had already been made on implementing PERF's preliminary recommendations published in June 2021. They say the changes include an update to policy, more training, new technology and equipment, quicker outreach to survivors for scheduling interviews, and more frequent on scene responses by detectives.