As the supervisor in charge of the Minneapolis Police Department’s sex crimes unit for a large period during which the writers of the special report “Denied Justice: When a Rape is Reported and Nothing Happens,” (July 22-August 12) analyzed rape reports, I would like to respond to their findings and conclusions.
First, a little background on myself. I served on the MPD for over 41 years. I served extended lengths of time as a uniformed patrol officer and as an investigative sergeant in sex crimes and robbery/homicide. I spent my last 20 years as a lieutenant, including two stints as the head of the sex crimes unit. Bottom line: I was a Minneapolis officer with abundant experience and training.
Now, back to the “Special Report.” Oversimplification and faulty conclusions are rampant in the report. They start from the first column and continue to the last paragraph. The article totally misrepresents the investigative process for rape, even though I made myself available to the authors from the inception of their research.
Misrepresentation: “In almost a quarter of the cases records show police never assigned an investigator.”
Report’s conclusion: Police don’t care and are basically incompetent.
Fact: I personally read all 700 cases assigned to the sex crimes unit every year. I was in charge of assigning a case or not assigning it. There was a logical reason for each of these assigning decisions, which were based on whether the case could be “proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
This is the level of proof needed for a criminal conviction in the American system of justice. This standard has been in place for more than 200 years.
After reviewing numerous reports and some research, if it showed we could not reach this level of proof I did not assign the case. I usually had fewer then eight investigators in my unit. I did not want to waste valuable investigative resources on cases that could not result in a criminal conviction. That is the prudent thing to do as a public servant.
If any victim contacted me, I responded to their questions. And if new information arose, the case was assigned.
Bottom line: If a case is not prosecutable, I am not going to assign it and waste valuable resources. I had six to eight investigators including myself to handle 700 cases. If there was any doubt, I would assign the case, and it would be investigated until it could be presented for charging or reasonable doubt was found and the investigation came to an end.
Not all cases are solved/prosecuted. The report highlights a stranger rape of a young woman that occurred on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Responding officers along with the MPD crime unit, which processes crime scenes for evidence, did an excellent job with the victim and the crime scene.
When I reviewed the case, I immediately gave it highest priority due to the circumstances. Any woman in the city was at risk of being this predator’s next victim. I assigned the case to Sgt. Brian Carlson, since he had responded from home to the initial scene and was the most experienced investigator in the unit. I spoke to him extensively about the case and stopped assigning him cases so he could devote full attention to solving this horrific crime. I also gave him carte blanche to use the other investigators in the unit to assist him when needed.
To this day, the case has not been solved. I assume the suspect was a drifter who moved on, since predators like this do not do just one rape.
Since I knew this case would be highlighted in the newspaper’s report, I contacted Sgt. Carlson, who has recently retired. Sgt. Carlson unequivocally told me he spent more time trying to solve this case then any case in his 17-year tenure in the sex crimes unit.
The victim in this case became upset and could not come to grips with the realization that the crime might never be solved. Not all cases are solved. She has focused her anger on Sgt. Carlson, instead of on the predator who victimized her. I understand this reaction, since it is a type of transference we sometimes encounter in victims.
Bottom line: This case is still prosecutable and if it is solved, Sgt. Carlson will come back from retirement and assist with the prosecution.
A little aside to this story. My wife was a victim of a minor sex crime a few years ago. The crime was an exposing. Sgt. Carlson is the first one I called to check the status of my wife’s case. I think that shows something about his investigative reputation.
The chart at the beginning of the article, “Failures In Rape Investigation,” is a prime example of oversimplification and of drawing false conclusions. The word “Failures” is put in to draw the conclusion for the reader. The chart says over 70 percent of cases are not presented for prosecution, so the conclusion is obviously that police are not doing their job.
In reality, over 70 percent of the cases are not presented for prosecution because the investigative process has shown they are not prosecutable for various reasons. Why would an investigator present a case to a prosecuting attorney that cannot be charged? This would be another waste of a valuable public resource.
The two above examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the shortcomings of the special report.
Sexual assault is a very serious crime, the investigation of which is complex and currently engulfed in the social/political #MeToo movement. The experts consulted by the writers of this report deal in theory. My colleagues and I deal with reality. I could waste resources on theory, but then no one would get justice.
I hope this special report is just the beginning of the conversation on sexual assault investigation, because, if its flawed conclusions are used to determine public policy, the policy itself will be flawed and victims will actually get less justice.
Mike Sauro, of Eden Prairie, is a retired lieutenant of the Minneapolis Police Department.