Ramsey County reviews sexual assault cases

On April 27, Ramsey County announced its findings from a two-year review of the “unique challenges” of sexual assault cases. 

The review gathered 646 police reports from six law enforcement agencies in the county, including the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office — which provides police services for Shoreview, Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Vadnais Heights, Little Canada and other communities — and the New Brighton Department of Public Safety. 

Of the reports, 110 came from RCSO and 43 from New Brighton police. That represents 17 and 6.6 percent, respectively, of the entire review. 

St. Paul Police Department reports accounted for nearly half of the total 646 reports.

The announcement was made in a press conference hosted by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “There is so much that needs to change,” he said. 

Choi said only 29 percent of the 646 cases were referred by investigators to his office.  

Every case that went to trial resulted in a conviction, said Choi, but he noted the 100-percent conviction rate at trial probably means law enforcement and prosecutors need to think about what kind of cases are being charged and if they should take chances on other cases. 

Concentrating on the investigative side, Choi said sexual assault survivors who make a report have difficulty staying connected to their investigation. He said 26 percent of victims who reported instances of sexual assault to police agencies put a stop to the investigation at some point. Victims, the review shows, experience long waiting periods after reporting, with few status updates on the case communicated back to them. Only a very small percentage had victim assistance, added Choi, stressing a need for reform.

He said staffing needs should be met to ensure robust investigations. In order to help overworked investigators — Choi said one investigator likened the sexaul assault job to drinking from a fire hose — Ramsey County is prepared to release necessary funds for more investigators and to immediately add two new victim services advocates. 

Following up

Though victim circumstances like location and schedule may be a challenge, another protocol recommendation in the review for the “attrition of victims” is a second investigative interview, following the initial report, be done in person. 

“This provides obvious benefits in many ways,” said the review, such as assuring a victim of the seriousness of the response, providing a personal connection between victim and investigator, and allowing investigators to observe potentially informative non-verbal cues. Such an interview, the review said, is the most “victim-centered manner of asking about intimate and humiliating information.”

In cases reviewed, including reports from Maplewood police, Metro Transit Police and Roseville police, 40 percent of secondary interviews were done by phone. 

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office conducted interviews in person and at the hospital 69 percent of the time and New Brighton 57 percent, the review said. 

In an email, Director of the New Brighton Department of Public Safety Tony Paetznick said he appreciates the leadership of Choi and the willingness of county criminal agencies to study this information and improve the system. 

He said New Brighton is a grateful participant in the inaugural East Metro Sexual Assault Investigators Task Force, and that the city welcomes funding for two additional sexual violence services advocates.  

In all, the review highlighted the following recommendations: aim to implement the best, most thorough and compassionate practices in sexual assault systems; facilitate communication between law enforcement agencies about trends that lead to holding repeat offenders accountable; and formalize sexual violence and trauma training and continue to monitor and measure best practices. 

 

— Solomon Gustavo

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