Minnesota’s top police regulatory board unanimously passed a set of far-reaching reforms Thursday to improve the quality of sexual assault investigations across the state.
The reforms include Minnesota’s first-ever statewide protocols for investigating rape and sexual assault and represent the most concrete, large-scale change to emerge in response to a 2018 Star Tribune series that documented widespread breakdowns in police handling of sex crimes.
Chiefs and sheriffs at 430 law enforcement departments in Minnesota will find the recommended policy in their e-mail within two weeks. “We’ve done the work proactively because we certainly recognize the importance of this,” said Nate Gove, executive director of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, Minnesota’s police regulatory body.
Also Thursday, the Minneapolis Police Department said it is overhauling its policy for investigating sexual assault, adopting the state protocols, ordering specialized training for officers and adopting procedures designed to build trust with victims and encourage them to report their rapes.
“Reporting sexual assault is an act of courage,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in an interview. “Survivors experience unspeakable trauma, and honoring their bravery requires that these investigations are handled with compassion and ultimately guided by the goal of delivering justice.”
The new state rules outline a victim-centered approach to these underreported crimes, emphasizing that investigators need to understand how trauma affects victims. The stated goal is to improve the victim’s experience “so that more people are encouraged to report.”
The new policy says:
• Investigators should question suspects in person when possible and run criminal history checks on them.
• Responding officers should seek out and attempt to interview any witnesses or people with whom the victim discussed the assault.
• Detectives should use nontraditional, “trauma-informed” techniques when interviewing victims and consider following up after a few days to see if they recall more details.
• Supervisors should monitor the progress of each investigation.
The recommendations are “a solid first step,” said Lindsay Brice, law and policy director at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a prominent advocacy group. But they’re not the solution to the problems highlighted by the Star Tribune series, “Denied Justice.”
“This is merely one piece as we move forward toward a world that finds sexual violence unacceptable,” Brice said.
Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, who led the board’s model policy work group, said she was excited about the result and thinks the policy will work for departments of all sizes.
“I think it’s a great day for the POST board and for law enforcement, and especially for victims and advocates across the state,” Revering said. “We want to make sure we are the best police agencies in the country.”
The POST board is recommending that law enforcement agencies across Minnesota adopt the new policy, but it also voted Thursday to ask the Legislature to make the policy mandatory. Legislation to that effect is already in the works at the Capitol.
The POST board has 17 model policies on police practices, ranging from pursuits to use of force, but has not had one covering sexual assault. Eleven of the 17 policies are mandatory. The board last adopted a new model policy in 2010.
The board also passed a set of recommendations to improve the quality of sexual assault training for officers at all levels, including creating a field guide for them to carry. But the recommendations lack specifics about such classes, including their length and who would teach them. Instead, they emphasize the need for more training and describe specific topics that should be covered, such as the nature of trauma and how it affects a victim’s memory and recall of a sexual assault.
“Sexual assault training should be progressive and sustained over the careers of officers,” it says. It also says funding for the training needs to be identified.
In an interview, Gove said the training recommendations will require more work.
“The board is not prepared to mandate training that has yet to be developed,” he said. Gove said building new specialized sexual assault training courses will take 12 to 18 months.
Even as the POST board was wrapping up its work Thursday morning, Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo were lauding the new statewide model policy. The Minneapolis department should have a brand-new sexual assault policy ready in April based on it, Frey said.
Between January and March, all Minneapolis officers are receiving trauma-informed sexual assault training on responding to rape reports and interviewing victims. The department has hired a full-time victims’ advocate and is working with a prosecutor from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office who is now embedded in the sex crimes unit.
In addition, Frey said the department plans to adopt most of the recommendations issued in December by a state sexual assault task force appointed by Attorney General Lori Swanson and has already formalized two of the recommendations as department policy. Among the changes: The department will take a report from a victim regardless of the jurisdiction where the assault occurred, and police will not charge someone for underage drinking or other minor offenses when they report a sexual assault.
The POST board’s new 10-page policy is posted on agency’s website.
What police should do under new rules
• Question the suspect in person, not by phone.
• Run a criminal-background check.
• Find and interview potential witnesses.
• Interview victims using “trauma-informed’’ techniques, which recognize that a violent incident can affect recall and memory.
• Contact victims again a few days later, in case they recall additional details.