Last week, the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board adopted its first statewide policy for investigating rape and other sex crimes.
Early next month, Minnesota’s 400-plus law-enforcement agencies will receive the board’s policy recommendations via e-mail. Leaders of those agencies should welcome the input from the state’s police regulatory body and move quickly to adopt the recommendations, which hopefully will soon be required under state law.
POST board members voted to ask the Minnesota Legislature to make the new rules mandatory. To that end, a bipartisan bill — introduced last week by Rep. Kelly Moller, D-Shoreview, and Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake — would require every police and sheriff’s department in the state to follow the POST board’s model policy. The bill should win widespread support from lawmakers.
One critical element of the POST board recommendations is improving the quality of sexual assault training for officers. Those guidelines outline the categories of training that should be covered, such as learning more about how trauma affects victims and alters their memories of a sexual assault. Another provision calls for creating field guides for cops to carry with them while on duty.
“Sexual assault training should be progressive and sustained over the careers of officers,” the new policy states, adding that funding for the training is yet to be identified.
The new policy wisely says that officers should question suspects in person rather than by phone, run criminal background checks, identify and interview witnesses, and contact accusers a few days after they report in case they remember more details about their assaults.
In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey said the city’s Police Department expects to adopt most of the POST board guidelines and those issued in December by a statewide sexual assault task force convened by former Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.
Minneapolis police have already formalized several new rules. The department will take an accuser’s report no matter where the alleged assault occurred, and officers will not issue charges for underage drinking or other minor offenses when a victim reports a rape.
The POST board has 17 model policies on police practices such as use of force, but the state’s police regulatory body had not addressed sexual assault before the extent of Minnesota’s shameful treatment of women became apparent in 2018.
The much-needed state and local response came in response to a Star Tribune news investigation, “Denied Justice,” that began in July 2018. The series documented the failure of too many Minnesota law-enforcement agencies to appropriately investigate cases of rape and other sexual assaults.
Journalists examined more than 1,500 case files from across the state and interviewed dozens of women. They found that too often officers didn’t question suspects, interview witnesses or collect evidence. Of the reported cases, only 25 percent were forwarded to prosecutors, and fewer than one in 10 brought convictions.
The new POST rules — even if they become mandatory — may not immediately change the hearts, minds or cultures of officers who have failed to conduct proper investigations in the past. But once adopted by their employers, the rules would make conducting proper investigations a condition of their employment and state licensing.
Once the POST board’s smart set of procedures is in place statewide, women who courageously report being assaulted will have much better odds that their sexual assault complaints will be taken seriously and their cases will be properly investigated.