LEONARDVILLE — The Riley County Law Enforcement Agency Board approved a new policy Monday regarding how the police handles sexual assault investigations, which officials said gives more control to victims over the process.
Riley County Police Department Capt. Tim Hegarty said at the law board meeting that the policy is a culmination of points officials have been discussing over the last two years. It is designed to break down barriers for reporting, identify serial perpetrators and eventually prosecute and incarcerate those perpetrators.
Hegarty said if the policy works as planned, the department expects to see the number of reported rapes, a crime that has historically been under reported, to increase over the course of a year.
“The main thing here is to give control over to the victim regarding exactly what they want done, what steps they want, what steps they don’t, whether they want to prosecute, whether they don’t, with the full understanding that they were involved in an incident over which they had little to no control,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is give control back over to them. We may not always agree with the choices they make, but they are their choice and we want to support their choices as much as we can.”
The policy outlines three options for reporting sexual assault. The first option is an information only report, where no investigative process beyond an interview of the victim and/or partial Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault is done. The inquiry can document: how a suspect’s behavior made the victim vulnerable and identifying people who can corroborate the behavior; identifying witnesses; identifying information that can reveal motive, premeditation or other victims; and database and/or social media searches.
The second option, a partial investigation, also includes these steps but may involve interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence.
A complete investigation, the last option, includes reports where all investigative procedures have been done to determine if there is probable cause.
The victim can later ask to change the report to a partial or complete investigation if they choose, and police will not arrest or make a referral to the county attorney’s office without the victim’s consent.
Victims, as well as third parties such as friends or an advocate, can anonymously report sexual assault in person, online or by phone. All information will be documented to help identify serial perpetrators and other investigations. Officers also will respect if the victim or reporting party does not want to be contacted further.
Reporting parties can give as much or as little information during interviews as they’d like, and they will be interviewed by an officer or detective formally trained in conducting trauma-informed interviews. If the the latter is not possible, they will be able to give minimal information to “limit the number of times the victim is interviewed regarding specific details of the sexual assault.”
Hegarty said the department will be participating in educational programs around the community to raise awareness of its new policy. He said one of the barriers officers will have to overcome is ensuring people understand that the department will not pursue cases beyond what the victim wants.
“We can say one thing, but until we can establish that that’s a fact what we’re doing, there’s going to be some hesitancy,” Hegarty said.