State audit: Austin Police Department misclassified or incorrectly cleared a majority of reviewed rape cases

Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley speaks in response to an audit of his department's handling of rape cases.

Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley speaks in response to an audit of his department's handling of rape cases.

The Austin Police Department incorrectly cleared or misclassified a significant portion of rape cases, according to a Jan. 11 audit report by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

At a Jan. 16 press conference about the report’s findings, APD Chief Brian Manley said the audit revealed issues with the department’s coding process, not its investigations.

“Everyone is committed to doing the best we can by our community, employing best practices and that is why we welcome this outside review,” Manley said.

Auditors selected and reviewed 95 rape offenses that were exceptionally cleared by APD in January, November and December of 2017.

Exceptional clearance is a mechanism by which law enforcement agencies can close an investigation without making an arrest.

To do so, the agency must know the the offender’s identity and location; have enough information to support an arrest, charge and case against him or her; and be unable to do so because of some reason outside law enforcement control, such as a survivor who stops participating in an investigation or a prosecutor who declines the case, according to the Universal Crime Reporting Handbook, which is published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Auditors found that only 29 of the 95 cases exceptionally cleared met the appropriate guidelines.

Thirty of the APD cases the auditors reviewed did not meet the guidelines for exceptional clearance. The remaining 36 cases were either misclassified, such that they should have been listed under a different crime or did not meet the definition of rape; unfounded claims; or cleared at the incorrect time, per UCR rules.

"While we're glad this audit has been completed, it confirms that we have serious issues and we need to take quick action that corrects the patterns that allowed these cases to be handled improperly," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza in a written joint statement.

In response to this audit, APD has trained some of its supervisors and detectives in the UCR coding process and has assigned them to review the report’s findings, a task Manley said he expects will be completed later this week.

Additionally, Manley said the department has implemented policy changes—including introducing a new template that officers will be required to fill out when designating a case exceptionally cleared to ensure it meets all of the UCR requirements—and will request a third-party independent review of how it handles sexual assault cases, “from the 9-1-1 call ... all the way through the investigation.”

Based on its findings, DPS has required APD to review its internal policies and processes to make sure it meets UCR guidelines; a written response, detailing its plans to address the deficiencies found in the report, is due to the state agency by Feb. 22.

Manley said this response will be disclosed publicly.

The audit was prompted by a Nov. 15 article published by the investigative reporting website Reveal that found APD has classified as many as two-thirds of sexual assault cases “closed” when no arrest has been made.

That same day, half a dozen citizens spoke at an Austin City Council meeting about the article. Some, including Rebecca Bernhardt, a policy coordinator at the Austin-based Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, requested an independent review of APD’s sexual assault clearance process.

In response, APD Chief Brian Manley told Community Impact Newspaper on Nov. 28 that he had requested an audit by DPS.

"Although we have had issues along the way ... we have [been] shown to be a department that takes these challenges head-on," Manley said at the press conference. "We want to give the best possible service to people who have survive some of the most horrific crimes."
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


MOST RECENT

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County adds 3,069 new coronavirus cases over past week

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12.

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
11.8% of voters in Travis County have voted early since June 29, exceeding 2018 primary numbers

More than 97,000 Travis County residents have voted in person or by mail. The turnout far surpassed the combined early and Election Day totals in the 2018 primary run-off election.

A photo of the potential Tesla property
Travis County updates Tesla incentive package, pushing for $1 billion-plus investment from the company

Poised for a possible July 13 vote, Travis County has released a refined incentives structure proposal with electric carmaker Tesla.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced in a June 30 State Board of Education meeting that students will be taking the STAAR in the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Education organizations call for STAAR requirements to be waived another year

Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing requirements in March of earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a clinical background in internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine, Corry has been with BCM for 20 years. He now focuses primarily on inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. David Corry discusses immunity, vaccine production amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rapid development and distribution of a vaccine worldwide and successful achievement of herd immunity will be key players in determining the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. David Corry, a professor of Medicine in the Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology Section at Baylor College of Medicine.

The building would be used as a 15,000-square-foot real estate office near Stearns Lane. (Site plan courtesy Townbridge Homes)
New office building could be headed to W. Hwy. 290 in South Austin

The building would be used as a 15,000 square-foot real estate office near Stearns Lane.

Gourdough's filed for bankruptcy June 23. The South Lamar brick-and-mortar location and its food truck both remain open. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
South Lamar donut spot Gourdough's files for bankruptcy

Court documents show that the owners of Gourdough's poured $1.79 million into a San Antonio location that opened in 2019.

The new partnership will provide on-site, same-day testing and results for assisted-living facility staff and their residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
State announces partnership for increased COVID-19 testing for patients, staff at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes

These test sites will help the state work toward the goal of processing up to 100,000 tests in the first month.

The city of Austin has sent three samples of algae from Lady Bird Lake to The University of Texas to test them for toxins. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of Texas researchers will test Lady Bird Lake algae for harmful toxins

Last summer, five dogs died in Lady Bird Lake after coming into contact with the toxic blue-green algae.

Former Cedar Park Police Department Chief Sean Mannix is pictured in this 2015 file photo. (Community Impact Newspaper file photo)
Cedar Park police chief moves to Burnet, driver's license offices reopen: Most popular news this week from Central Texas

Read the most popular Central Texas news from the past week on Community Impact Newspaper's website.

A photo of Del Valle ISD's Cardinal stadium
Del Valle ISD approves Tesla incentives, paving way for possible Travis County agreement

The school district's July 9 vote could yield Tesla around $46.4 million in tax abatements if the company chooses Travis County as its next factory site.