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Austin’s review of how police handle sexual assaults won’t be finished until 2022

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 by Nadia Hamdan

An independent review of how Austin police investigate sexual assault cases won’t be completed until February 2022, the Austin Public Safety Commission said.

Austin City Council agreed last month to pay up to $800,000 to the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum to do the audit, with help from the Philadelphia-based Women’s Law Project and the Wellesley Centers for Women in Massachusetts.

The review was expected to be completed in 2021, but the city has decided to give contractors more time. Public Safety Commissioner Rebecca Bernhardt said this is likely because of the workload: Researchers will review roughly half of all sexual assault cases the Austin Police Department worked over the last seven years.

“It’s a really big case review,” she said, “so that’s going to take up the bulk of their time.”

Researchers will also review all of APD’s policies, practices and procedures and interview leadership, staff and sexual assault survivors.

Bernhardt – who reviewed the contract along with several other Public Safety commissioners – said she believes the firms chosen to conduct the audit are capable, but there were still some concerns.

“The membership of who’s going to be doing the review is not particularly diverse,” she said. “There is not a lot of Latino representation – maybe any – and no one who is bilingual.”

Bernhardt said another concern was that many of the interviews could be conducted in a group setting, which would not yield candid responses in the same way one-on-one interviews do.

She said the commissioners still don’t know how the contractors plan to select which sexual assault survivors will be interviewed.

Austin City Council voted to do an independent review in January after state auditors last year found APD misclassified many of its sexual assault cases.

APD and the city are also both defendants in a class-action lawsuit filed by female sexual assault survivors alleging police discriminated against them by mishandling their cases. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office is also a defendant in the suit.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT.

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