Springfield’s police chief says a CNN story about the mishandling of rape kits is not completely accurate.
The investigation accuses Springfield Police of pressuring victims, not interviewing potential suspects, and destroying rape kits.
You can read CNN’s report here.
Chief Paul Williams says the department has made lots of improvements over the past few years.
You can read the department’s response below:
Like many other agencies across the country, the Springfield Police Department (SPD) continues to evolve and grow alongside the community we serve. The shift in how society approaches sexual assault and domestic violence has been significant and resulted in changes to how policing agencies serve these victims. In some places law enforcement has been slow to adjust; but SPD has been, and will continue to be, proactive in implementing new and improved practices in responding to and investigating such crimes.
A Nov. 29, 2018 CNN story does not portray an accurate representation of SPD as a whole, especially regarding our current practices and procedures investigating sexual assault cases. As cultural shifts in society lead us toward victim-centered, trauma-informed approaches in investigating all crimes, including sexual assault, SPD is at the forefront.
- In 2014, SPD became one of the first agencies in Missouri to begin submitting all rape kits to the crime lab for testing.
- In 2014 Chief Williams attended International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP’s) Violence Against Women (VAW) executive training program and Captain (then Lieutenant) Tad Peters attended the VAW supervisor training. A thorough review of all related SPD policies and practices was conducted and is ongoing.
- In 2013, we created and implemented a Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment to assist victims in identifying indicators that may predict future domestic or sexual assault.
Chief Paul Williams and SPD staff were open, honest and transparent in responding to dozens of requests for information from CNN between 2016 and 2018, acknowledging past improper practices and detailing current improved practices. SPD staff spent two years receiving, responding to and fulfilling CNN’s public records requests and conducting multiple interviews and discussions with the cable news outlet. SPD provided a considerable amount of information detailing current practices that was not factored into the larger story referencing Springfield. Some of this information was relegated to a separate, secondary document. This does not provide adequate context to readers of the main story.
A few important factors pointed out in the story are true:
• All of the cases highlighted in the story are from 2012 or prior.
• During the timeframe reported on, Springfield Police Department was understaffed
and under-resourced, which contributed to the issues noted in the story.
• Errors were made in some of the cases highlighted.
Here are some examples of what SPD has done to ensure that we most effectively and empathetically serve the citizens of Springfield:
- SPD researched to see if there was a backlog of sexual assault kits within our agency. Once we determined there had been a number of stored rape kits that had not been tested, we began the process of finding ways to test the backlogged kits.
- Missouri Highway Patrol Crime Lab agreed to accept all untested kits from SPD that were less than one-year-old.
- Piloted a program with the Missouri Highway Patrol Crime Lab to systematically process the remaining untested kits (i.e. 10 per month).
- Applied for and accepted as a member of the Sexually Assault Kit (SAK) Partnership with the FBI/Department of Justice to fund the testing of backlogged kits (30 approved for testing in Aug 2017, but acceptance delayed until April 2018, no word on additional testing availability).
- We continue to provide trauma-informed sexual assault training to allow investigators to have a better understanding of victims’ perspectives and behaviors.
- We worked with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to:
- Survey all agencies in the state (law enforcement and medical) to determine how many untested rape kits exist.
- Seek the state legislature’s help in allocating budget money to fund the testing of the backlogged kits throughout the state.
- Support the AG’s grant application for funding to create a statewide tracking program for rape kits and to provide money to test all backlogged kits.
- Continue to work with a variety of organizations to create a state-wide tracking and testing program for rape kits (which includes SPD’s practice of submitting all kits for testing).
We are disappointed that despite the sharing of hundreds of documents and two years of ongoing communication, the national cable news outlet’s coverage fell short.
The CNN reporter began with a specific pre-conceived narrative and continued with that narrative, excluding information that would have provided a more accurate and balanced story. We do give credit, however, to our local news media for accurately and consistently reporting on issues surrounding the testing and destruction of sexual assault kits.
“As law enforcement professionals, we are constantly looking for ways to improve. Over the past several years, we have taken [an] active role to make changes to alleviate the issue of sexual violence within our community, and to better serve victims, and we will continue to do so in the years to come,” said Chief Paul Williams.
Statement from Springfield Me Too Movement:
Me Too Springfield has since released a statement regarding the CNN report and is requesting that SPD provide more reassurance that sexual assault and rape cases are treated with the same seriousness as other crimes.
While Me Too Springfield sincerely appreciates the department’s acknowledgement that these cases were mishandled, and the steps taken since 2014 to prevent future negligence, we are troubled by many unanswered questions:
- Chief Williams stated he was unaware of at least two rape kits that were destroyed in 2015, after
the department made changes. Will SPD, and specifically Chief Williams, assure us this will not happen again? Will SPD assure citizens that rape kits will only be destroyed once the statute of limitations is up, and only after they have been analyzed for DNA evidence?
- Being understaffed, which SPD stated was the primary cause for the mishandling, may slow down investigations, but that is an inappropriate excuse for violating best practices and voluntarily destroying evidence. Will SPD assure citizens that they are sufficiently staffed? Will they assure citizens that evidence will not be destroyed regardless?
- We strongly assert that the cases that were mishandled still deserve the care and diligence as current cases. How are those errors being rectified, if at all?
- When was it determined how many stored rape kits had gone untested? How many have still not been sent off?
Me Too Springfield ended their statement by saying “Although we are heartbroken and frustrated, we recognize that we want the same thing from our law enforcement that SPD wants––’to evolve and grow alongside the community we serve.’ And because of SPD’s commitment to being proactive, victim-centered, and trauma-informed, Me Too Springfield is confident that this is an opportunity for cooperative dialogue in the spirit of progress for our community.”