Law enforcement officers responding to sexual assaults in Minnesota would be expected to follow strict new protocols — including the best ways to gather evidence and interview victims — under a draft policy prepared for the state’s police licensing board.
The model policy could be sent to all of Minnesota’s 400-plus law enforcement agencies as soon as next month.
The guidelines include rigorous collection of crime scene evidence; careful interviewing of victims, suspects and witnesses; incorporating victim’s advocates into the investigation; and having a supervisor monitor each case to make sure correct procedures are followed.
The recommendations, presented on Monday, are still in draft form after being developed by a subcommittee of the state Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board. Gov. Mark Dayton directed the board in July to develop new guidelines to address widespread shortcomings in rape investigations documented by an ongoing series in the Star Tribune. A second POST Board committee is considering how to improve police training on sexual assault investigation.
The draft introduced Monday places an emphasis on the way sex assault victims are treated by responding officers and detectives, a point often stressed by advocacy groups for rape survivors. In particular, it urges police to ensure that every survivor have a victim’s advocate and that officers use a technique known as trauma-informed interviewing, which acknowledges that a traumatic incident can affect the way victims recall and describe crimes.
“These crimes should be investigated different than others,” said Safia Khan, a program manager with the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women and a member of the committee. The coalition came up with many of the recommendations after surveying its members from across the state, Khan said.
Detectives should also contact the victim a day or two later to see if they have any additional details, as well as any injuries or bruises to document. After the final decision is made on whether to prosecute a case, police should notify the victim again, the draft says.
Kevin Randolph, a committee member and a police lieutenant with the city of Crosby, Minn., acknowledged at Monday’s meeting that police departments should already be following protocols set out in the proposed policy.
“But I can assure you that [they’re] not,” he said. “There’s stuff in statute that should be followed [by police] that is not happening.”
The head of the model policy work group, Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, said after the meeting that the guidelines could be beneficial to police as well as assault survivors. “We have to recognize that victims have gone through a traumatic event and make sure we’re providing the proper resources to them,” she said.
The committee, which includes both victim advocates and police from across the state, will send its final policy to a POST Board standards committee next for approval. If approved, it will be sent to the full board for a vote on Jan. 24. If passed, POST Board Executive Director Nate Gove said, it would be sent to the 431 law enforcement agencies in the state, “with a board recommendation to implement it as soon as practical.”
The POST Board has 17 model policies for a variety of other crimes and situations, including domestic violence and school bus altercations. But the board has never issued a policy on sexual assault.
If approved, this would be the first model policy issued by the board since 2010.