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Panel seeks overhaul of police response to sexual assaults

December 18, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Lawmakers need to take action to overhaul how police respond to sexual assault cases, a panel convened by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson recommended Tuesday.

The blue-ribbon working group issued a 47-page report that makes a series of recommendations for the upcoming legislative session, and separate sets for law enforcement and prosecutors. They include improving investigations with mandatory standards, a focus on including victims and establishing a statewide coordinating council on sex crimes. It also calls for better training of police, more services for victims and audits of law enforcement responses to sex crimes.

Swanson assembled the task force after an investigation by the Star Tribune found widespread lapses in how sexual assault cases are handled, including failures in police training and staffing. The newspaper said it found that chronic errors and failings plague most rape investigations in Minnesota, and repeat rapists often slip past police.

Citing Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension data, the report said the percentage of reported rapes cleared by arrest in 2017 was barely half the success rate of murder investigations.

Swanson said at the group’s final meeting that she wants the report to serve as a guide for lawmakers next year and in subsequent sessions. She said she’ll continue to advocate for the recommendations even after she leaves office in three weeks.

“Non-action is not going to be an option,” she said. “We have failed people here and we have got to stop failing the public.”

Former Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson chaired the nine-person group, which also included representatives from law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates and medical professionals.

Teri McLaughlin, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, called the report a “great start” and expressed optimism that it will drive improvements.

“We need to really start by agreeing that we believe a crime has been committed,” McLaughlin said. “In the same manner that we believe that of other crimes when they’re reported. And from that and from that we have a basis to move forward.”

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