After review, Ramsey County officials look to improve how sex assault cases are handled

John Choi
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.
Matt Sepic | MPR News File

Ramsey County officials are staffing up and expanding training to improve agencies' handling of sexual assault cases.

The changes come after a two-year review of sexual assault cases between 2013 and 2016 by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi's office. The review looked at 646 police reports and found that 11.4 percent of those cases resulted in criminal charges. In 26 percent of cases, victims "dropped out" of the process, ending investigations.

"Victims and survivors experience long waiting times, periods when little information about the status of the investigation or the prosecution is communicated back to them ... All of that needs to change," Choi said.

Choi said every case in the review that was charged and went to trial ended in a conviction.

"You might think that's a good thing, but I think that's not necessarily a good thing," Choi said. "What it means, probably, is that we really need to be thinking about what kind of cases are we charging and should we be taking some additional chances on other cases?"

Following the study, the St. Paul Police Department plans to add two sexual assault investigators. Ramsey County's Sexual Violence Services department will also add two advocates.

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St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said last year the department's six sex crimes investigators were stretched, handling 300 cases each.

Axtell said the department has contacted area law enforcement agencies to create a sexual assault task force in the east metro.

"In addition, we are training our sex crimes investigators to focus on supporting survivors, understanding the trauma, investigative best practices and understanding perpetrators," Axtell said.

The study noted that patrol officers and investigators do tend to respond appropriately to sexual violence victims they encounter.