Tuesday, January 8, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Police department still waiting for explanation of DPS audit of sexual assault clearance rates

On New Year’s Eve, Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley gave a press conference in which he noted that nearly two-thirds of the sexual assault cases reviewed by Texas Department of Public Safety from January, November and December of 2017 had been misclassified. He explained that he could not go into further detail at the time because the department was waiting for the full audit to be released.

At the Jan. 7 meeting of the Public Safety Commission, Chief of Staff Troy Gay was similarly unable to provide any updates to explain the information Chief Manley had released last week. Gay did say that more information would follow the arrival of the full audit, which could be as early as this Friday and no later than Jan. 18. The findings will be made public shortly after the department receives the full audit.

Still, even without the full picture, Gay told the commission that “we did believe that it was necessary to provide some training for our investigative bureau.”

The training, which will begin tomorrow, will be overseen by the DPS. “Our investigations – we do feel like they are sound although there do need to be improvements,” he said.

While commissioners applauded the initiative and acknowledged that training was a necessary step to prevent mislabeling of cases in the future, “there are deeper issues that look at how APD and our community is responding to sexual assault,” said Commissioner Daniela Nuñez.

Amanda Lewis, speaking as a member of the Commission for Women, expressed her impression that mislabeling sexual assault cases was a symptom of a larger issue that included a lack of prioritization of sexual assault. However, she clarified that since the preliminary numbers were given without the context of the full report, she was left with more questions than answers.

Commissioner Rebecca Bernhardt agreed, saying that the preliminary audit had left her too with “more questions than answers.” Commissioner Ed Scruggs agreed with both women, saying that taken in the context of past issues with APD’s sex crimes unit, it is possible to believe that the clearance numbers were “juiced.”

Gay said that when the department conducted its own internal audit, “It did not point to any significant issues (with labeling).” He pointed to the fact that Chief Manley voluntarily requested the audit and made the data public as soon as he was able to, indicating his willingness to improve transparency within the department.

Bernhardt noted that it took nearly two weeks to release the preliminary audit – which was received by the department on Dec. 13 – to the public, “which really looks like an effort to bury the lead,” she said.

Gay assured the commission that the chief received the report just prior to Christmas and that holiday timing made New Year’s Eve the optimal time to release the information to the media.

One of the findings that came out of the audit was the number of cases that were closed because victims chose not to pursue an investigation. Lewis said that this trend was alarming because victims who choose to undergo a rape kit have already crossed one of the hardest hurdles by asking for help. “We are specifically diving into the data to understand why victims are choosing not to move forward,” explained Gay.

Gay said that overall, APD’s policy on handling sexual assault cases is in line with required uniform crime reporting.

Commissioner Kim Rossmo noted that regardless of how the department gets there, “What we want are solved cases. Cases that are properly cleared.”

When asked, Gay said he was unable to comment further.

Photo by Tom Woodward made available through a Creative Commons license.

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