Austin City Council approves comprehensive third-party review of APD's handling of sexual assault cases

Council Member Alison Alter sponsored the resolution, which calls for a comprehensive third-party review of the Austin Police Department's handling of sexual assault cases.

Council Member Alison Alter sponsored the resolution, which calls for a comprehensive third-party review of the Austin Police Department's handling of sexual assault cases.

Austin City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling for the city to hire a third party to evaluate how the Austin Police Department evaluates and processes reported sexual assaults. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan was not in attendance.

The decision arrived at the close of its Jan. 31 meeting, the first of the year, after a series of emotional public testimonies from sexual assault survivors and those who work on their behalf.

The resolution, sponsored by Council Member Alison Alter and co-sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Members Greg Casar and Ann Kitchen, came in the wake of a Jan. 11 state audit report that found APD had incorrectly cleared or misclassified a majority—66—of 95 reviewed rape cases.

The scope of the resolution is broader than APD’s process for clearing sexual assault cases and specifies a comprehensive review of “the entire life cycle of sexual assault cases with the APD."

"We will be judged not by this resolution but by the actions that we take either in the interim or down the line," Alter said.

Speakers stood behind the podium for the duration of the testimony, wearing yellow bandanas around their arms, wrists and necks in a sign of solidarity.

All 10 council members also had yellow bandanas tied around their microphones on the dais.

Marina Conner returned to the podium after first speaking there in September 2016, when she testified before council about how her own rape kit was among a backlog of more than 1,000 cases.

Three years later, Conner spoke about how she had learned her reported rape had been exceptionally cleared by APD.

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 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 FBI.

“While I cooperated [with the investigation] at every point, the Austin Police Department exceptionally cleared [my case] and reported it to you as a cleared case,” Conner said. “Right now it feels like we live in a city of disbelief and a city that doesn’t care.”

Two in 5 women and 1 in 5 men in Texas have been sexually assaulted, according to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Nearly 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, per a U.S. Justice Department analysis of violent crime in 2016.

Amanda Lewis, a member of the Austin Commission on Women, said the resolution is the start of a long process to reform the city’s response to sexual assault.

“We believe that Austin can be the best place for women and girls, and we see this as a big first step,” Lewis said.
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