PORTLAND – A city auditor’s report on the Portland Police Bureau’s Sex Crime Unit says that some progress has been made to improve the troubled unit but work remains to be done.
The report released Monday by Portland’s Office of City Auditor investigated the police bureau’s sex crimes unit to determine if a new ‘victim-centered’ approach to case work was improving the unit’s records on solving sexual crimes and responsiveness to victims.
“We are pleased to report in this audit that much progress has been made,” says City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade in the report.
But the document also states that the rates of unsolved sexual crimes is back on the rise and that police can do more to keep victims involved in investigations.
The report follows up on a set of recommendations made by the city in 2007 aimed at improving the SCU. In 2007 auditors found a number of concerning trends including a high level of unsolved cases, high turnover and low morale among detectives, that police did not make frequent attempts to contact victims and often made them come down to police offices to report crimes.
Victim engagement appeared to be a key principal in the city’s call for a new ‘victim-centered’ approach, presumably because victims fail to report or withdraw from investigations out of fear that stigma, shame or reprisal might follow.
The goal of the new approach is to improve rates of prosecution, documents say.
Auditors found that a number of elements had improved between 2007 and 2013.
- In 2007 only one hospital offered examinations and few had specially trained nurses citywide, now at least five hospitals have specially trained sexual assault nurses.
- Since 2007 progress had been made in ensuring that 911 call takers consistently told victims to ‘preserve evidence’ after an assault by not showering or washing before a medical examination.
- Turnover among SCU detectives, while still high, was lower than in past years. Auditors noted that a ‘tone at the top’ had improved.
- SCU has created two new staff positions whose primary responsibility is to care for the physical and social needs of victims.
- SCU is now assigning cases and contacting victims more rapidly, assigning almost all cases in seven days or less.
Despite those improvements, auditors found that some areas still needed work. The report states that after a brief decline, the rate of unsolved cases is on the rise and that workloads are increasing. The unit could do more to engage victims, for example, by making more attempts to reach them before simply closing unsolved cases, the report says.
“We found that significant progress has been made, although more work needs to be done,” auditors say.
To reach their conclusions, auditors interviewed city police, staff at the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and at the state office of the Attorney General. Auditors also combed through 49 detective case files and listened to 54 emergency 911 calls, according to the report.