Roseville's police department will get its first designated sex crimes investigator, the latest step in an effort by Ramsey County to reduce heavy caseloads and improve its handling of sexual assault cases.

The County Board approved funding for the position on Tuesday, saying the county wants to "do better for our victims."

Roseville follows St. Paul, which added two additional sex crimes detectives to its police force last year, positions currently funded through the end of this year.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who requested the funds for Roseville's new detective, called reduced caseloads critical to improving the criminal justice system's response to sexual assault complaints.

He's been pressing for the additional investigator since his office conducted a two-year study that showed serious shortcomings in the way police and prosecutors handle sexual assault cases across the county. Choi's review, released in early 2018, found that less than one-third of reported sexual assaults in his jurisdiction were referred to the county attorney's office for a charging decision.

Choi's conclusions were consistent with the findings of a 2018 Star Tribune investigation, "Denied Justice", which examined hundreds of sexual assault cases across Minnesota and documented widespread failings by police and prosecutors.

Roseville Police Deputy Chief Erika Scheider said the new position is badly needed. Currently, Roseville's reported rapes and sexual assaults are handled by the department's sole family violence detective, an investigator who juggles some 244 to 285 total cases a year. That's clearly too many for adequate investigations, Scheider said.

Between 2016 and 2018, the number of sexual-assault related calls on which Roseville officers were dispatched jumped 40%, Scheider said, adding that she doesn't know the exact reason for the increase.

Starting in January, the family violence detective, Crystal Jones, will be dedicated full time to sexual assault cases, Scheider said. The department will backfill Jones' position and ultimately hire a new officer, she said.

The Ramsey County funding is a one-year grant for 2020, Scheider said. "We'll certainly be looking forward to include that into future budgets," she added.

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683