A state police training board plans to promote a model policy and training recommendations to address gaps in sexual assault investigations. Police departments are not required to make changes.
The policy approved Thursday by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training is a response to a 2018 Star Tribune investigation which found that a majority of rape allegations are not forwarded by police to prosecutors. Then-Gov. Mark Dayton said he was upset by the investigation and directed the board to develop new procedures and training requirements.
The model policy will be distributed to the state's 430 law enforcement agencies. The board's Executive Director Nate Gove said it may need to be tweaked if legislators make the policy mandatory. But given the work the board has done so far, Gove said legislators will not be starting from square one.
"We have done a lot of the work, engaged the advocates, law enforcement — large agencies and small — put together a document I think goes a long way towards trying to positively impact the outcome of these investigations," Gove said.
Safia Khan of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women said the board's action represented a good starting point.
"I would caution against thinking this is going to solve all of the issues we are facing as far as responses to sexual assault victims go," she said. "But this is a great step."
The model policy includes guidelines on how law enforcement officers respond to initial reports of assaults, as well as conduct victim and suspect interviews.
"All employees should take a professional, victim-centered approach to sexual assaults, protectively investigate these crimes and coordinate with the prosecution in a manner that helps restore the victim's dignity and autonomy," reads a section of the policy.
Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering led a 14-member work group which developed the model policy. The group, which included law enforcement and victim's advocates, met several times over the last three months.
Revering said the work group heard concerns from some smaller law enforcement agencies about a section of the policy that instructs law enforcement to have advocates of sexual assault victims present in investigations "in a timely manner."
"From my understanding, in the policy, it does say 'a timely manner.' It also says an advocate will be present if possible," said Revering. "And so, making sure those smaller entities understand that as long as they're doing their due diligence, trying to make sure an advocate is present, they've done what's requested of them, per the policy."
The board also approved a set of officer training guidelines for sexual assault investigations. However, Wade Setter, director of training for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said there are still many questions that need to be answered.
"We believe the training is important and is necessary," he said. "We did not get into mandating it. We could not reach consensus on that. There's a wide range of opinions about what should be mandated, who should be mandated and so forth. Once again, that narrative's going to require some more discussion ultimately."
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo welcomed the new policy and training recommendations. In a statement, Arradondo added that Minneapolis has already made changes based on recommendations made by a 2018 state Attorney General task force.
Those changes include the addition of a full-time sexual assault survivor advocate and the installment of a dedicated prosecutor to work with the department's sex crimes unit.
"MPD's new best practice policies will be survivor-centered and help guide us from response through investigation," said Arradondo.