Federal Sexual Assault Study to Focus on Salt Lake City PD

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

The Salt Lake City Police Department has been selected as one of four in the country to be the focus of a new federal study aiming to determine best practices for handling sexual assault and rape cases.  The selection isn’t entirely random, as the department’s procedures came under fire in April after a City Council meeting demanded answers for hundreds of unprocessed rape kits shelved from 2003 to 2011. Police Chief Chris Burbank says he welcomes the opportunity to be involved in the study, which is scheduled to begin in several months.

Man Being Finger Printed

Chief Burbank Welcomes Chance for SLCPD Participate in Sexual Assault Study

The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women is teaming up with the Police Executive Research Forum to launch a year-long study that aims to improve the way American police departments handle cases involving rape and sexual assault.  The Salt Lake City PD has been chosen to participate in the study, which is scheduled to begin in several months.  Chief Chris Burbank is pleased his department is playing a role, and hopes the Salt Lake PD will see tangible improvements in the future.

“A group of people will come in,” Burbank summarizes, “review all the cases we have and interact with the detectives and officers.”

While the study will examine specific departments, its findings are ultimately meant to be implemented on the national level.

“Usually Salt Lake City is not big enough to qualify for some of these things,” muses Burbank. “We’re a big city, but not compared to New York, Miami or any of the others, so I said, ‘Absolutely.  I would welcome people to come in and conduct a review.'”

Crime Scene Investigation

“My Case Wasn’t Important Enough”

A review certainly seems in order, at least based on some alarming statistics about the way rape kits (also known as Code R Kits) were previously being handled by the department.  Last April, a meeting with the Salt Lake City Council turned heated after the SLCPD was accused of shelving a staggering 79% of all rape kits collected from 2003 to 2011, investigating only one out of five. For the victims of sexual assault, like Jessica Ripley, it’s an infuriating reality to confront.

“It’s just beyond frustrating,” Ripley said at the meeting in April.  “It makes you sick to think, ‘What if they had processed it, and they had a DNA match and were able to catch this guy?’  I would like to see justice.”

Ripley was raped in February of 2012, and remembers dismissive treatment from officers after reporting the crime.  In her diary, she wrote, “My case wasn’t important enough to check evidence immediately or be reported on the news, ’cause I’m some dumb… drunk girl who they think consented and somehow beat herself up and bruised and cut herself and is making it all up; because I was drinking, my case doesn’t matter.”

Rape Recovery Center Director Holly Mullen has heard too many stories like Ripley’s, saying, “Part of the problem is that police will accuse a victim of lying, and they won’t turn in their rape kits.  A lot of cops are stuck in the mentality of, ‘she asked for it.'”

SLCPD Hopes to Improve Efficacy of Sex Crime Investigations

At the meeting in April, Burbank defended the department’s actions, saying that processing was not necessary in each case while also refuting accusations that the 625 kits were shelved as a way of cutting costs.

The average expense of processing a Code R Kit is about $1,100, bringing the total for 625 kits to about $687,500.  However, Burbank maintains that money has never been a factor.

“There is not a single circumstance, no matter what the case is, where the police department says, ‘We’re not going to process evidence [because of] cost or convenience.  We are not making decisions financially.  We are making decisions as to what is the best evidence that we can present in the future.”

Nonetheless, the meeting in April did prompt Burbank to unveil a new program called the Code R Kits Project, which increases transparency by posting the status of each kit review on the department’s website.

Now, the SLCPD is focused on a future of faster, better, and more thorough rape and sexual assault investigations.  Burbank hopes the study will shine a light on problem areas, saying he hopes to “determine what we do right, what we do inappropriately and what we could do better.”

If you have been charged with sex crimes in Utah, you could be facing extremely serious penalties including incarceration, expensive fines, and placement on the Sex Offender Registry. An experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer may be able to help.  To schedule a free and confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of sex crimes defense attorney Darwin Overson at (801) 758-2287, or contact us online today.


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