A prominent coalition of women's advocacy groups is calling on Minnesota to strengthen police oversight and improve crime data collection as a response to reports of widespread breakdowns in sexual assault investigations across the state.
In a strongly worded statement Thursday, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW) said the state's police licensing board should adopt a model policy for investigating sex crimes and then monitor the way local law enforcement agencies conduct those investigations.
"Coming up with simply new model policies isn't necessarily going to resolve this," said Safia Khan, the group's policy and legal systems program manager. "This is about standing with survivors."
The recommendations come in the wake of a Star Tribune investigation that documented pervasive failings in the way Minnesota law enforcement agencies investigate sexual assault. The Star Tribune examined more than 1,000 sexual assault reports in the Twin Cities and around Minnesota since 2015 and found hundreds of cases in which police departments failed to interview witnesses, collect evidence or even assign detectives to rape cases.
The coalition, which represents dozens of crisis centers and women's groups across the state, also proposed changing the makeup of the 15-member Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
The board, which is appointed by the governor and consists mostly of law enforcement professionals, should also include crime victims, advocates and those who represent community demographics, Khan said.
Thursday's statement was issued on behalf of two other advocacy groups — the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition and the Minnesota Alliance on Crime.
Its recommendations echo a similar set of reforms issued Wednesday by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, another prominent advocacy group. In its own statement, the group said breakdowns in sexual assault investigations are a "systemic criminal justice issue.''
The MCBW statement called on the POST Board to work with advocates and survivors to create a model policy for rape investigations and train the state's police accordingly. It also said the board should have the authority to sanction officers when there is "repeat and substantial noncompliance with sexual assault and domestic violence policies."
In comments to reporters last week, Gov. Mark Dayton also called on the board to adopt a model policy for sex assault investigations and urged its leaders to address the issue with "urgency."
Representatives of the POST Board did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday afternoon.
The coalition also recommended broadening the authority of the state's Crime Victim Justice Unit, an office within the Minnesota Department of Public Safety charged with investigating claims of misconduct by criminal justice professionals and ensuring that victims are treated appropriately.
The unit should also "monitor and investigate noncompliance" of police investigations into sexual and domestic violence, and should refer cases to the POST Board for discipline, the statement said.
A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said he couldn't answer specific questions about the proposal but said: "We will continue to work with stakeholders on these important issues."
Khan, who has worked with law enforcement agencies across the state on domestic violence prevention, said she hopes that greater data transparency would allow citizens and civilian police review committees to also serve as independent monitors of police work and compliance.
Survivors, she said, are being failed by agencies and systems within and outside of law enforcement.
"We think this is a systemwide issue," she said.