An Outside Review of APD’s Handling of Rape Cases?

In light of DPS audit, police chief confirms there's work to be done

Resolution won’t come soon for the Austin Police Department and the questions it faces on how it clears sexual assault cases.

Police Chief Brian Manley at a 2016 City Council meeting (Photo by John Anderson)

On Wednesday, Jan. 16, Police Chief Brian Manley confirmed during an afternoon press conference that there’s more work ahead for APD, which received on Friday the full report of an audit conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety after the department’s practices for clearing rape cases garnered negative national attention.

Manley announced plans for an independent third-party review of APD’s handling of sexual assault cases “from start to finish,” and not just of how they’re cleared and reported – something survivor advocates have been requesting for some time. Who will be doing that review has yet to be determined; Manley expects to put out a request for proposals, but said the department still needs to identify exactly what they want to review in the process “from the moment we get the 911 call,” to the office response, the Sex Crimes Unit’s investigation, and then APD’s participation in any court proceedings that follow.

That’s not the only review; Manley confirmed there will also be an internal examination of all Uniform Crime Reporting Part 1 Cases – that’s homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, and human trafficking – that were cleared exceptionally in 2018. “This issue was identified in the Sex Crimes Unit,” said Manley. “But the coding that we use and the requirements apply to all UCR crimes so I expect we will be implementing similar things” across the department.

Under federal guidelines, cases can be cleared “exceptionally” when detectives have probable cause to arrest a suspect but for some legitimate reason do not. At APD’s request, DPS reviewed 95 cases from 2017, and the full report offers more insight into the preliminary results released by APD on Dec. 31 – when the department revealed that fewer than one-third of those cases were cleared correctly in accordance with federal guidelines.

Manley confirmed that an internal team has been trained on UCR coding and is reviewing the DPS report this week; they will then discuss any questions or concerns with DPS before filing an official department response. Department supervisors have also completed UCR training and are now retraining their detectives to be fully versed in code clearances.

The audit has also resulted in specific policy changes regarding arrests; Manley said APD had cleared some cases where an officer had made an arrest on-scene but not for the highest charge (which, other than homicide, would be rape). The report suggests that several of the reviewed cases, in which arrests were made for aggravated assault, should have been classified as rape cases, and if so could have been properly cleared exceptionally (since the suspect was already in custody).

Manley said the department has created a new template to be used when a detective goes to clear a case exceptionally. Calling it “one of the most significant changes,” Manley explained this template will require the detective to complete the four areas of information needed to meet federal guidelines. The audit has also spurred APD to add an additional supervisor to the Sex Crimes Unit, which historically has a very high caseload; the new sergeant is one of two on the internal audit review team.

The chief acknowledged that APD conducted its own internal review of exceptionally cleared rape cases back in September – two months before the department’s practices garnered headlines from ProPublica, Newsy, Buzzfeed News and elsewhere – that looked at 85 cases from a five-year period and identified “many of the same concerns” as the DPS audit. “However, they were not immediately recognized,” Manley added; by the time they were, APD had already called for DPS’ help.

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rape case audit, Brian Manley, Austin Police Department, Department of Public Safety, Austin Police, Exceptional Clearance

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