Minneapolis’ mayor and police chief vowed Wednesday to overhaul the city’s handling of sexual assault crimes, outlining a new policy that requires officers to place a priority on victims’ well-being.
“We have the ability and the obligation to do a better job when survivors come forward,” Mayor Jacob Frey said at a late-morning news conference. “Honoring their bravery requires that we make every effort to ensure investigations are handled with compassion and … guided by the goal of delivering justice.”
The policy, which takes effect April 7, largely mirrors a set of training and investigation protocols recently adopted by the state’s top police oversight body, the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. It also calls for both front-line officers and investigators to receive training in a technique known as “trauma-informed” interviewing, which recognizes that a traumatic, violent assault can leave lasting effects on a victim’s behavior and memory.
Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said they have been working on the reforms since last year, when a Star Tribune series, “Denied Justice,” exposed widespread failures in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults across Minnesota. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Police Department hired a full-time victim advocate, announced expanded training for sex crimes investigators, and began working with a special prosecutor assigned from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Reforming rape investigations:
Mayors, prosecutors, legislators and law enforcement leaders promised a wide-ranging set of reforms in the wake of a 2018 Star Tribune investigation, “Denied Justice," which documented chronic failings in the way Minnesota investigates and prosecutes sexual assault cases. Several have already been adopted, and two legislative packages are being considered at the Capitol.
Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board+
Former Attorney General Lori Swanson+
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman+
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Department+
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter+
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput+
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi+
Rep. Marion O’Neill+
Sen. Warren Limmer+
Several other Minnesota law-enforcement leaders have also pledged reforms, including Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, who ordered a review of old sexual assault cases, and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who hired additional sex crimes investigators and expanded officer training. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi is scheduled Thursday morning to discuss changes he instituted last April and announce a new community action plan.
In Minneapolis, Frey and Arradondo said, all police officers will be required to take four hours of training in trauma-informed practices. The new policy requires investigators to tell victims they can have an advocate with them during an interview, a change from previous practice. It also calls for improvements in gathering and testing evidence, interviewing potential witnesses and questioning suspects. Investigators will also be instructed to maintain regular contact with victims as an investigation proceeds.
A Utah police department adopted a similar approach following concerns in that state and produced a dramatic increase in prosecutions and convictions.
“This is a paradigm shift in how we’ve done these cases in the past,” Arradondo said.
Both the mayor and the chief used the news conference to press for more investigators in the department. Frey noted that Minneapolis police get 700 sexual assault reports a year but have only eight investigators. In his 2019 budget recommendation, Frey said, he allocated money for eight new positions, four in sex crimes, but that did not pass the City Council.
Nurse sees improvement
Sexual assault nurse Kim Farley, who appeared at the news conference with Frey and Arradondo, said she has already seen an improvement in the city’s handling of rape cases. She recounted past incidents when it took hours for a Minneapolis police officer to respond when an assault survivor came to the hospital for an exam.
“That’s been a challenge for my co-workers and I to get actually someone there to take a report,” she said.
But in recent months, she said, she’s seen officers arrive within about 15 minutes.
Frey and Arradondo were also accompanied by Abby Honold, a Minnesota woman who gained national attention after describing her rape and its mishandling by Minneapolis police. Honold said her decision to speak out triggered criticism from Minneapolis police officers, but she nonetheless agreed to appear at Wednesday’s announcement.
“It’s hard not to be skeptical, but I still do have hope,” she said.
Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626