Springfield PD Leaders Meet with #MeToo Activists

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams and members of his staff held a meeting with local activists to discuss a recent CNN article showing the department had destroyed significant numbers of rape kits before 2014 while cases were still within the statute of limitations for prosecution along with other issues related to department procedures and investigations of sexual assault claims.  

Me Too Springfield Logo from the organization’s website

Members of Me Too Springfield brought questions to the meeting along with a list of suggested changes to make the department better equipped and ready to work with victims of sexual assault.

The Springfield police department released to the media (who were not allowed to attend the meeting) “Questions and Answers for December 13th SPD/Me Too Meeting.”  Below is that release from the Springfield Police Department in its entirety followed by a Facebook statement from Me Too Springfield.

Discussion Topic – Past Errors:

1. What kind of help can you offer to victims whose kits have been destroyed and/or cases closed?

If a victim whose kit has been destroyed contacts us, we will review their case to determine what else is available to investigate; if a victim whose case has been closed would like to reopen their case, we will do a review of the case to determine what other evidence can be investigated. We can also assist victims with contacting additional resources including victim advocates, the crime victim compensation program and other community resources.

2. You indicated that inadequate storage space was a factor. How has this been remedied, particularly in light of the new state laws and internal policies

Storage space is not an issue. The Springfield Police Department has adequate storage for sexual assault kits and recently expanded the storage space capacity for all property and evidence. New sexual assault kits are immediately sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab for analysis.

3. What are the ages for the remaining 237 backlogged untested kits? 

The remaining backlogged kits date from between 2010 and 2015.

4. Why have only 64+ backlogged untested kits been tested since 2014 and why will it take two years to test the remaining 237? Is the MSHP Lab your only resource?

In 2014 we began working with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab to get the backlogged Sexual Assault Kits tested. During that time, the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab was not accepting Sexual Assault Kits that were more than one year old, so we sought out other options. In 2016, as part of the Department of Justice Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, the FBI agreed to test 30 of our backlogged sexual assault kits. We also negotiated an arrangement with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab to test 10 backlogged kits per month. At that rate, it will take 24 months to alleviate the backlog. At this time yes, all of our sexual assault kit testing is done by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab. 

5. Why wasn’t it mandatory to test before 2014? Was the barrier cultural, bureaucratic, or financial?

There was no mandate or best practice regarding the testing of sexual assault kits. The decision to test or not to test were agency level decisions and at SPD they were made on a case-by-case basis by the assigned detective generally after consultation with the prosecutor and/or the lab.

6. How many people have contacted you questioning if their cases were mishandled, as you requested? 

One victim in a current active investigation has contacted SPD to check the status of their sexual assault kit. Two victims have contacted SPD who feel their cases were mishandled.

7. What is your course of action for those whose evidence has been destroyed?

SPD is currently conducting a review of all cases in which the sexual assault kits have been disposed of, as well as the status of the investigations. If a victim whose kit has been destroyed contacts us, we will review the case and all other evidence to determine what other investigative options exist.

Discussion Topic – Current Practices:

1. The 10-day letter is no longer being sent, correct? If so, what communication is sent instead and how long do victims have to respond before investigators close their case? Is that same standard applied to other crimes?

No communication with a victim of sexual assault will mention any kind of deadline. All SPD cases will remain open/active (per SPD Standard Operating Guidelines) for the standard 38-days. At that time, if no progress has been made and no other investigative leads are present, the case will be suspended. Although the case is considered inactive at that point, it could be reopened if new information is obtained or upon a victim request.

2. The prosecution declaration waivers are no longer being used, correct? 

That is correct that prosecution declaration waivers are not used for all crimes against persons, including sexual assault.

3. Are victim advocates available to victims when giving statements? 

Victim advocates are always available to victims when giving statements, and either the hospital staff or our officers assist the victim in making those arrangements.

4. Do you offer information on crime victims’ compensation program, that includes the new expansions? 

Yes, this is generally provided to the victim by hospital staff, but Springfield Police will also assist victims in this area by providing information or connecting them with the program. We are currently revising the information we provide to victims to include the recent statutory expansions to the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program.

5. What specific victim-centered, trauma-informed training is being received and by whom? 

The vast majority of SPD personnel have attended training regarding victim-centered, trauma-informed investigations, especially our investigators and supervisors. Some of these courses include:

Conference on Crimes Against Women

The Annual Protect Our Children Conference

International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference – A Blueprint for Successfully Building Public Trust and Safety through the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative

Crimes Against Children Conference

The SAFE-CARE New Provider Training

Domestic/Sexual Violence Intervention, Effective Investigation, Community Collaboration and Response

Missouri Office of Prosecution Services – Ethanol Facilitated Sexual Assault Investigations

IACP National Law Enforcement First-line Supervisor Training on Violence Against Women

Webinar – Forensic Experiential Trauma Interviews – Instructed by Russell Strand

Stop the Violence Seminar at Missouri State University

 o Family Justice Center Annual Conference hosted by Alliance for Hope 

6. In your 2017 Rape Report released in February, you indicated you were committed to a Domestic Violence Unit and a Family Justice Center. In what ways will those endeavors help sexual assault investigations?

Through the Greene County Family Justice Center, victims of sexual assaults are able to connect with the resources available within our community. Many of the service providers at the Family Justice Center also have resources for victims of sexual assault. The 2017 report referenced noted that 85% of reported sexual assaults were committed by known attackers, that includes 49% of cases that were also a result of domestic violence. In addition, the voter-approved Level Property Tax funding provides for additional investigative personnel specifically focused on domestic violence, which will in turn provide additional resources to investigate sexual assaults.

7. Since 2014 and going forward, under what conditions are rape kits destroyed?

By policy only by the authority of the Chief of Police, but at this time all sexual assault kits are being sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab for analysis and no kits will be destroyed.

8. New forensic evidence law gives three options for reporting; anonymous reported and unreported. How does that influence your process?

All sexual assault kits that we receive directly are due to reported cases and are sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab within the time period indicated in RSMO (14 days). If a victim submits to a sexual assault exam at a hospital and then requests the resulting sexual assault kit be submitted anonymously or as unreported, SPD will still submit that kit to the lab for testing once it is received from the hospital. If the victim reports the assault to SPD in the future, we would conduct an investigation, connecting the sexual assault kit to the report. We are only able to submit for consideration of charges and prosecution if the sexual assault is reported.

9. Why does forensic analysis on these particular crimes depend on special funding? Do other forensic investigations depend on funding?

The Springfield Police Department depends on the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab for the analysis of sexual assault kits. Their funding and staffing impact the number of examinations they can complete and dictates how quickly the kits can be tested. This applies to all areas of forensic examinations, not just sexual assault kits.

10. Can you demonstrate with data that your new policies since 2014 has been positively impactful?

Uniform Crime Reporting Data

Total Rapes281265298293352
% at SPD35%44%46%59%42%
 FBI National Average Clearance Rate %40.6%38.5%37.8%36.5%34.5%

Sexual Assault Kits

Sexual Assaults KitsSubmitted to LabPending Submission
2018132*Pending Review

The sexual assault kits listed as pending submission are part of the backlogged group of sexual assault kits.

Since SPD began submitting the backlogged sexual assault kits for analysis, we have received eight Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) hits, meaning the DNA came back revealing the possible identity of the perpetrator.  In five of those eight cases, we confirmed the identity of the suspect, who was known to the victims. The other three cases were unknown suspects to the victims, which allowed for further investigation into those cases.

11. In what ways are sexual assault cases treated differently than other crimes?

We recognize that sexual assaults are very traumatic to victims and have unique challenges. We also understand that new research and input from survivors of sexual assault is changing the best practices in this area of investigations. We continue to improve our policies and training to ensure thorough investigations are completed. This includes a better understanding of what actions we can take to assist victims.

12. Is it correct that there are five investigators that specialize in sexual assault cases? What are their caseloads and how does that compare to what is ideal? How many are women?

The Special Victims Unit currently has seven detectives, all of which happen to be male as of the date of this response. (In the past, the Special Victims Unit has had female detectives). The Special Victims Unit responsibilities include adult sexual assaults and domestic violence. Within the unit, two of the detectives are the primary sexual assault case investigators.

The five SVU detectives that conducted the vast majority of sexual assault investigations were assigned an average of 113 cases over the last 12 months. It should be noted that this includes other types of cases as well, but for our two primary investigators, the percentage of their combined caseloads involving sexual assaults was 69%.   

13. What resources do you need to achieve better outcomes in sexual assault investigations?

The approval of the Level Property Tax funding will provide 19 additional investigators over the next three years, including six additional domestic violence detectives, resulting in increased staffing for the investigation of sexual assault cases. Funding at the state level for testing of backlogged sexual assault kits and testing for all future sexual assault kits is necessary to ensure forensic evidence is tested in a timely manner.

Discussion Topic – The Attorney General’s Audit:

1. AG has new spending authority for testing, how does that affect SPD?

Chief Paul Williams is part of the sexual assault kit working group and those state-wide discussions/decision will affect SPD. We supported the Missouri Attorney General application to the Bureau of Justice Assistance Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant in April 2018, which was awarded in October 2018. The $2.8 million will go toward testing the backlogged kits statewide–including all the backlogged SPD kits.

2. Do you have any information on how AG-elect Eric Schmitt will proceed?

Not at this time.

3. We understand that SPD is in the working group for the AG’s office to create a tracking system. What is the status and what kind of inputs have you provided?

There has been no movement on that issue, nor have we been involved in any meetings regarding the tracking system.

Chief Williams recently met with the Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten and understands that those discussions should begin again after the first of the year, and we will be included in those meetings.

Discussion Topic – Our Proposals:

1. Notify all victims whose kits have been destroyed and offer them assistance.

Each case and each victim is unique, and we believe that, after consultation with local victims’ advocates, that notifying the victims (in most cases years after the fact) increases the risk of secondary trauma. We encourage any victim who has a question about their case to contact us. We are also working with the Victim Center to serve as a point of contact for those victims uncomfortable with contacting the police directly.

2. Notify the victims of the 237 backlogged untested kits and give them assistance and or another opportunity to cooperate.

Depending on the status of the case, detectives may already be in contact with the victims. The backlogged kits are in the queue to be tested. Once the results are received from the lab we will review those, and detectives will make contact with the victim. In the interim, we encourage victims who have questions about the status of their case to contact us.

3. Complete an annual audit of sex crime investigations by an outside entity. 

We reviewed all 2017 sexual assault investigations and have plans to do at the end of 2018 as well. In addition, we are exploring Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) certification and/or the You Have Options Program (YHOP).

4. Communicate on how Me Too Springfield and like-minded entities can help alleviate any barriers you face in creating, implementing, and executing better policies and practices.

As a first step, we would recommend working to develop a mutually respectful relationship with SPD, prosecutors, and advocates to establish trust and understanding. We are open to continuing this dialog with Me Too Springfield and like-minded entities.

5. Remove the fee for obtaining copies of reports for victims of sexual assault and all violent crime.

The fee referenced ($2 for all accident and incident reports) is established by City Council upon recommendations submitted by the Finance Department during the annual fee study. That study is about to commence, and we will forward this recommendation for consideration.

6. Update your outdated website to reflect a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach.

We are in the process of reviewing and updating the website and have reached out to local service providers for input. We are also looking at what other agencies across the country are doing in this area, and we are open to input from Me Too Springfield too.  (This is the end of the SPD press release.)

Me Too Springfield posted on their Facebook page they “are very encouraged by the productive and open dialogue started between us and the SPD today.”

(We have reached out via Facebook to Me Too Springfield to see if they have additional comments beyond their Facebook posting and will update this story if they respond with additional information.)