Ramsey County reforms its response to sexual assaults

MGN Online

Agencies that respond to sexual assault victims in Ramsey County recently established the Ramsey County Sexual Assault Response Collaboration, a detailed set of reforms and improvements in how system responders will collaborate to better serve the victims of sexual assault.

Local public officials and agency leaders gathered April 4 to discuss to lay out and publicly commit to the details of the multi-disciplinary plan to improve the outcomes that sexual assault victims too often experience after they report their assault to law enforcement.

Agency leaders and staff have met regularly over the past year to develop an implementation plan and have already begun or completed work in many key areas.

As a part of this collaboration, significant additional investigative, prosecution and advocacy resources have been allocated into agency budgets throughout Ramsey County in the past year.

These resources recently paved the way for law enforcement to include victim advocates from Ramsey County’s Sexual Offense Services program as a part of their investigations, and for law enforcement to have an assigned prosecutor involved much earlier in the response process.

Sexual assault reports up significantly

Since 2016, reports of criminal sexual conduct to law enforcement have dramatically increased, highlighted by a 75 percent increase in cases submitted by law enforcement for prosecution review to the county attorney’s office. This has resulted in a 19 percent increase in cases charged and a 17 percent increase in convictions from 2105 to 2018.

While the overall charging and conviction rates compared to police incident reports have not improved during this time, there are many positive trends such as the number of jury trials, which went from three to 12 in a period of three years. Also, the amount of public investment in investigation, prosecution and advocacy has increased substantially.

The implementation plan calls for training all patrol officers throughout the county, who are often the first officers responding to a call from a victim; decreasing first-response wait times when a victim calls 911; and a commitment for more advanced trauma-informed training and team building for advocates, investigators and prosecutors. Law enforcement will conduct in-person investigative interviews with victim/survivors of sexual assault, following best practices for a trauma-informed approach.

“We believe that the inter-agency partnerships established in 2016 with focused leadership commitment to work collaboratively with increased resources is starting to make a difference in our community,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “With more victims coming forward to law enforcement in Ramsey County, I know that improved investigation…will continue to increase the number of sexual assault cases charged and perpetrators brought to justice.”

Going forward, the Ramsey County Sexual Assault Protocol Team (RCSAPT) will manage the implementation of this collaboration. Ramsey County SOS Sexual Violence Services has a full-time staff member dedicated to the coordination of the RCSAPT and is leading coordination efforts.

Over the next 18 months, the team will create a multi-disciplinary workgroup to execute the work plan, instituting the Implementation Plan for Systems Change in Ramsey County. The RCSAPT will work to monitor and provide transparency for the public as we seek to achieve better outcomes for victims of criminal sexual conduct and engage the public for more support of these efforts.

“This new partnership agreement between law enforcement, prosecutors and public health is an important next step in moving upstream to provide the support survivors need for healing and to focus on prevention,” said Saint Paul–Ramsey County Public Health Director Anne Barry. “The commitments we are making today acknowledge we must have a better consistent, coordinated response to survivors if we are going to change the culture and reduce future instances of sexual violence.”

“Criminal sexual assault tears at the fabric of our community by taking away our collective sense of security,” added Saint Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. “Thanks to this initiative, we’ll now be using the same best practices to hold criminals accountable for their actions — while making us more effective. More importantly, it will help us secure justice for survivors.”

— Information provided by the Office of the Ramsey County Attorney