Human Rights Watch counters that it performed an exhaustive investigation of documents from four city agencies and fought for access to information through the courts. The report contains accounts from women who say they weren’t taken seriously or had no reports taken at all, according to letters the group sent to the police department.
Lanier and Newsham said the department used to classify complaints of all types “office information” and “miscellaneous,” typically when detectives could not determine whether a crime had occurred. Those reports are filed in an intelligence database, and in such cases there would not be a public police report. Newsham said the complaints are still investigated and could be reclassified as crimes as detectives gather more information.
Lanier said police are no longer classifying sexual assault cases in that way. Instead, she said, each allegation involving improper sexual conduct will now be written up in an official offense report. Also, new crime-tracking software will allow police to give multiple classifications to some crimes, such as when a woman is sexually assaulted during a burglary.
One of the most substantive and troubling problems Human Rights Watch told the police it uncovered was the missing 170 sexual assault reports. The group told the department it found 480 complaints between October 2008 and September 2011 in which a woman reportedly asked for a police investigation and underwent a forensic exam at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the only hospital that performs the test in the District.
The rights group wrote in letters to the police department that it tried to match police reports to those 480 cases but could not find corresponding documents for 170 cases. The groups told police a more exhaustive search of the police department’s intelligence files, which includes the cases not written up in offense reports, did not reveal cases matching the hospital documents in 170 complaints.
Newsham, the assistant police chief, said the rights group has not given police enough information to determine whether reports are missing. He said police found 360 hospital reports, not 480, and have found corresponding police documents for each, either in the form of public crime reports or in the intelligence database.
The group told police that because police are required to file reports within a day of the complaint, investigators tried to find police reports filed within 24 hours of a hospital report, Lanier said. If no report was found, the group deemed such reports missing, she said.
Lanier called such methodology flawed and the conclusions based on assumptions. She said it can take several days for reports to work their way through the system, so the group could have missed many. Lanier said victims sometimes tell hospital nurses that they’ve notified police even if they haven’t, and so relying on that information from hospital reports alone can be misleading.
Newsham said the new police Web site could help victims who think their cases weren’t investigated to come forward. In addition, Newsham said detectives are going back to the hospital and reviewing cases in which forensic exams were completed to “ensure that a police report or [intelligence records] were completed for each case.”