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Auditor: Sex assault cases need new focus

City report hails police changes that have solved more cases


A new report by the Portland City Auditor details mostly positive changes made in the way the city deals with sexual assault crimes.

In 2007 the city auditor produced a report that found the Police Bureau needed to change the way it responded to sexual assault cases. That report revealed that the Portland police clearance rate for sexual assault cases was low, and provided a number of recommendations that might lead to more success.

More trained hospital staff were needed to assist victims, 911 operators needed better training so they could help victims preserve evidence and detectives needed to work harder to contact victims and guide them through investigations.

A report released Monday by the city auditor says that most of the changes suggested in the original audit have been made. Hospitals have increased staff specially trained to help sexual assault victims. Portland police has hired two Victim Services Specialists to help victims stay engaged in investigations. In addition, according to the audit, the Bureau of Emergency Communications has made recent policy changes that should result in 911 operators providing the instructions that victims need.

But more can be done, according to the new report, especially in the area of improving communications within the police bureau’s Sex Crimes Unit. The report details a 2013 incident in which police failed to contact a victim and pursue a case, only to have the perpetrator attack other victims.

And the new report says that the Sex Crimes Unit’s clearance rate has begun to decline. A case is considered cleared if police make an arrest for the crime or at least identify the perpetrator, or police determine the crime did not occur, or if it is referred to another agency.

Reported sex crimes have increased by 32 percent since 2007, which the report says means each detective has 10 percent more cases to investigate. Clearance rates peaked improved from 2007 to 2008, but have declined the last three years and are approaching the previous low rates. A police bureau response to the audit says the clearance rate data may have been “skewed” by different reporting requirements.

The city auditor's report can be found at http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=64479&a=481817.