AUSTIN, Texas – After years of problems at Austin Police Department, city leaders want a comprehensive review of how the police department handles sexual assault investigations.
- Resolution seeks independent review of APD Sex Crimes Unit
- Evaluation prompted by national investigation highlighting shortcomings at APD
- Proposal follows several years of issues at lab
Previous issues include: a broken refrigerator that compromised DNA samples, the state shuttering the lab due to improperly trained staff, as well as a state audit released in full this month that shows cases were improperly classified.
READ MORE | APD Releases Full Audit of Sexual Assault Cases
District 10 Council Member Alison Alter, who represents West Austin, sponsored a resolution that seeks an independent evaluation of the department's sex crimes unit.
"It builds on a legacy of concern about how we as a community--we as a country--are responding to sexual assault," she said.
IN-DEPTH | Read the City Council Resolution
According to the resolution to be discussed by the City Council on January 31, Austin Police received 834 reports of sexual assault in 2017, which was up 12 percent from the prior year's 747 reports. National statistics indicate the number of victims each year is ten times higher.
Alter said the evaluation she seeks will look at interview questions and the settings where survivors share their experiences, as well as every other step from the initial call to final verdict.
"How they experience the justice system, how they experience their interactions with city staff impacts how they feel through the process," she said,
Ana DeFrates founded Survivor Justice Network to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. She said previous issues at APD forced her group to be reactionary, but she hopes that will not be the case following the independent evaluation.
"[It is] a chance to be a city that is a leader when it comes to looking within itself to see what improvements need to be made," she said.
DeFrates said Austin as a whole must go into the process with an open mind.
"It is critically important that we be prepared to deal with some very difficult issues and really be prepared to embrace some of the ways that we may have failed," DeFrates said.