Minnesota’s top police regulator is getting serious about rape cases

Published 6:42 am Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Minneapolis Star Tribune

It’s a strong step toward improving law enforcement handling of reported rape and sexual-assault cases: Minnesota’s top police regulator will develop better policies for sexual assault investigations and officer training in the coming months.

The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) agreed last week to produce new rules by the end of January, around the time the 2019 Legislature convenes.

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“Everything is on the table,” board chairman Tim Bildsoe told the Star Tribune. Bildsoe also said he’d like to include stakeholders such as detectives, victims’ advocates and prosecutors in developing the new standards.

The board is taking the welcome action following the first three stories in a series of Star Tribune news reports (“Denied Justice”) that documented the stories of women who reported their assaults to police and little or nothing was done to follow up. Data from Minnesota police departments showed that every year, more than 2,000 women report being sexually assaulted.

Journalists reviewed more than 1,000 cases from 2015 and 2016. They found that in too many of them, police failed to talk to witnesses, collect evidence or assign investigators. Of the total number of rape reports, fewer than 1 in 10 produced a conviction. About 75 percent of the cases were never turned over to prosecutors to review for possible criminal charges.

And reporters found that in dozens of cases, police failed to investigate even when suspects had been accused of, charged or convicted of prior sexual assaults.

Those disturbing numbers should change after the new POST board policies are adopted. The board has started gathering model training and investigative policies from other states and is rightly considering coordinating with task forces proposed by elected officials.

The POST policies and other reform efforts have the potential to make a major difference in the handling of sexual-assault cases throughout the state. As the Star Tribune series confirmed, neglecting rape reports is not limited to Minnesota’s largest cities. Too many of the state’s suburban, small-town and rural police departments also receive rape reports from women, then do little to nothing about them.

Individual police departments should review their own data and set their own policies to address those failures, but those efforts will affect only one department at a time. When the POST board sets rules, every officer must comply to obtain and keep licenses. The board licenses more than 12,000 officers in Minnesota.

Minnesota officers and departments must be held to the same standards for rape investigations. Victims of sexual assaults should be confident that no matter where they report a crime, their accusations will be taken seriously and properly investigated.

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