A law enforcement work group has recommended several measures to improve police training on sexual assaults in Minnesota, including specialized courses for patrol officers and investigators as well as their supervisors. Police leaders and administrators, the group said, need to understand why high-quality sexual assault investigations "should be prioritized."
The recommendations are the first to emerge from three groups working to improve law enforcement's response to sexual assaults and prepare recommendations for the 2019 Legislature. They were presented Wednesday to the training committee of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which licenses and oversees more than 12,000 sworn peace officers in the state.
Gov. Mark Dayton directed the police board to draft improved training and investigation guidelines in the wake of a Star Tribune series that documented chronic breakdowns in rape investigations. Only 8 percent of the sexual assaults or rapes reported in Minnesota result in a conviction, the newspaper found.
The group's report contains no deadlines or mandates and few specifics, but POST Board Executive Director Nate Gove applauded it as a good first step toward changing the police culture that has played into the documented failures in investigations.
"I'm encouraged by it because I think it sets the stage for more thoughtful research and recommendations that have a chance of really impacting the problems … and having success at the Legislature," Gove told committee members.
Among the preliminary recommendations presented Wednesday:
• A field guide for police officers responding to sexual assaults.
• Specialized training tailored to an officer's role, with more advanced courses for investigators.
• Classes specifically for police supervisors to improve oversight and accountability on sexual assault investigations.
• Assuring that new training incorporates new research on how trauma affects sexual assault victims.
The report does not suggest the length or timing of any new training, who would provide it, or whether it would be mandatory. The group didn't have enough time to develop practical applications, said Wade Setter, a member of the work group and director of training and auditing for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and a POST Board member.
Setter said the work group met four times this fall and included about two dozen people, including POST Board staff, law enforcement officers from around the state and victim advocates.
"It was enlightening for me to see how the evolution of training for investigating sexual assault cases has changed in the last 25 years," Setter told the committee.
After discussion on Wednesday, the committee agreed to add a recommendation that the BCA participate in preparing improved training. The agency would convene a three-year, multidisciplinary group of experts to develop specifics. The change was recommended Wednesday by the Minnesota Coalition For Battered Women.
Much of the existing training used nationally isn't adapted to Minnesota laws, or to the small size of many of the state's law enforcement agencies, Liz Richards, the coalition's executive director, told the committee.
More than a quarter of the more than 400 law enforcement agencies across Minnesota have fewer than 10 people.
Setter called the changes "appropriate."
Teri Walker McLaughlin, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she would welcome working with the BCA group and that more time is needed to find the answers.
"That is exactly where we stand, asking for a thoughtful process that includes more opportunity for victim/survivor voices to be heard," McLaughlin said in an interview.
Gove told the training committee that he supported partnering with the much larger BCA, with its greater staffing and resources than the POST Board. The board has fewer than a dozen staffers and does not itself conduct training.
In a parallel process, a second POST Board work group is drafting statewide protocols for conducting sexual assault investigations that it expects to release shortly.
Both sets of final recommendations are due to the full POST Board on Jan. 24. After approval, they'll be issued to legislative leaders and the governor.
A separate rape task force convened by state Attorney General Lori Swanson has been developing recommendations of its own and plans to release those on Dec. 18.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683