Twin Cities-area city, county and law enforcement leaders are taking much-needed action to overhaul the handling of sex assault investigations. And they are taking steps even before proposed state legislation could make the changes mandatory.
That’s encouraging for those who make the difficult decision to report a sexual assault. When police protocol changes are fully implemented, victims can be more confident that their cases will be treated seriously and that they’ll have a better chance of getting the justice they deserve.
Last week, Minneapolis and Ramsey County officials announced a series of reforms that should make a big difference in the treatment of victims. Other agencies statewide are taking similar steps to correct failures in their practices.
The welcome reforms come in the wake of the 2018 Star Tribune investigative report “Denied Justice.” The troubling series of stories revealed serious failures in the way sexual assault investigations and prosecutions have been handled statewide.
Reporters reviewed more than 1,500 case files from across the state and interviewed dozens of women. In too many cases, they found that cops failed to question suspects, interview witnesses or collect evidence. Of the reported cases, only 25 percent were forwarded to prosecutors, and of those, fewer than one in 10 brought convictions.
As a result, the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board adopted model policies for law enforcement and distributed them to all state agencies. At the State Capitol this session, legislation being considered would mandate procedural changes and make them conditions of being a licensed officer.
Last week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said they have been working on reforms since last year and have already put some in place. The Minneapolis Police Department expanded training for investigators, hired a full-time victim advocate, announced expanded training for sex crimes investigators and began working with a special prosecutor from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
The next day, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who started working on policy changes in 2016, stood with several of his county’s law enforcement leaders and committed to improving sex crime investigations and the treatment of victims.
They said two St. Paul police investigators, one Ramsey County sheriff’s investigator, two victims’ advocates and one prosecutor have been added in the past year. They said some suburban agencies, including Roseville police, are seeking additional funds to add investigators.
Critical changes that Ramsey and Hennepin officials vowed to make include requiring additional training for officers, strengthening investigations and doing more thorough examinations of the social media postings and text messages involving suspects. They also said investigators will interview more witnesses and, when possible, interview victims in person. Some will make victim advocates available for support during interviews with police.
“What we are really doing is making a promise to the public and to our victims that we can indeed do better,” Choi said at a news conference.
As the new procedures are adopted by more law enforcement agencies statewide, more victims will be able to come forward knowing that they will be treated with sensitivity and respect, and that their cases will get the attention they deserve.