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Police chief seeks review of sexual assault response policy

February 14, 2019

How Rochester police officers are expected to respond to sexual assaults is receiving an added level of scrutiny.

Police Chief Jim Franklin asked the city’s Police Policy Oversight Commission to compare the department’s existing policy with seven recommendations presented by former Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson in December.

“I think you will see we are doing a lot of things right … but I’m looking for your input and your recommendations,” Franklin told the commission on Monday.

The commission will also compare the local policy with a draft policy created by the state’s Peace Officer Training Board.

Franklin said he believes the local department’s policies will stand up well to the added review.

“At first glance, I think we are meeting most of the seven recommendations,” he said.

Three members of the policy oversight commission — W.C. Jordan, Abdi Roble and Teresa McJoynt — will review Swanson’s recommendations, the local policy and a draft of the state board’s policy recommendation. They will prepare items for discussion at the March 11 commission meeting.

Members already pointed to a potential clarification for local policy.

Cost of exams

In discussing the city response and investigation of sexual assaults, McJoynt asked whether the cost of related medical exams is covered, since it isn’t specifically mentioned in existing policy.

Olmsted County Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Kindra Ramaker, who attended the meeting as an observer, noted the exam costs are covered by a special fund.

Policy oversight commission member Lawrence Collins said it’s an element that should be outlined in police department policy to make sure victims are willing to undergo the voluntary examinations.

“It’s part of the investigation process and not for necessarily the medical treatment of the victim, so you would hope there wouldn’t be the imposition of an involuntary fee imposed,” he said.

While the addition could be a tweak of the policy, Franklin said he’s confident the commission will find the existing policy outlines best practices in many areas.

It was a sentiment shared by Amy Thompson, director of Olmsted County Adult and Family Services, during a recent committee meeting with county commissioners.

During that meeting Thompson, who was previously the program manager for Olmsted County Victim Services, said the police department has policies that address shortfalls cited in other departments in recent months.

“An investigator is assigned to every single sexual assault in this community, and an investigator also connects an advocate to every single sexual assault case,” she said, noting that’s not the case statewide.

Additionally, Thompson and Franklin credited the work of the local Sexual Assault Interagency Council for keeping lines of communication open, regarding the response to sexual assaults.

Ahead, but room to improve

Thompson said the council, which includes criminal justice officials and a variety of representatives from community groups, has been active for nearly two decades and is currently working to update a list of community-wide protocols for responding to sexual assaults.

She said the effort puts the local community ahead of others.

“That’s not to say we don’t have room for improvement, because we do,” she told the county commissioners.

Franklin agreed, noting the Rochester department is in the process of sending every member through a refresher course related to sexual assault response. He said it’s something he initiated before Swanson issued her report.

Another effort that preceded a related recommendation is a local effort to bring Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview training to town, which would offer specialized training for investigators dealing with trauma victims. He said he hopes Rochester can offer the intensive training locally.

At the same time, he said at least one of the recommendations in Swanson’s report isn’t being met locally.

The report recommends departments can improve sexual assault responses by working with outside review organizations.

“I don’t think anybody is doing that,” he said. “I’m not even sure who would have the subject-matter expertise to do that, to be honest with you.”

In Swanson’s report, it’s suggested a local multi-disciplinary team could be created to facilitate a review process. The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault was also suggested as a resource.

Thompson noted the Sexual Assault Interagency Council already provides some review. She cited an instance last year when some patrol officers appeared to be asking too many questions before an investigator and victim advocate were assigned to cases. She said the council’s discussion allowed the department to quickly respond to concerns and adjust practices.

Franklin said he’s looking forward to receiving the policy oversight commission’s suggestions, which he expects will help create “the best, most comprehensive policy possible.”

In other action, the commission:

• Named Roble as its new chairman and McJoynt as its vice-chairwoman. The terms last one year.

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