DPS auditing how Austin Police Department handles rape cases

Kit used to gather evidence in sexual assault investigations. (CBS Austin)

Many rape suspects are still on the Austin streets, instead of behind bars. That is despite Austin Police knowing who those suspects are and where they live.

The department has a high clearance rate for sexual assault cases. In 2016, 388 of the 767 rape cases were deemed cleared. However, more than half of those cleared cases were considered "exceptionally cleared."

Exceptional clearance refers to cases that meet one of the following criteria:

  • The prosecution declines to move forward with this case
  • The victim refuses to cooperate with the investigation
  • The offender dies
  • The offender is charged in another jurisdiction

According to a ProPublica investigation, Austin has a proportionally larger number of cleared cases than other similar sized cities.

Beginning Tuesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety is auditing the way the department handles sex crime investigations and whether the department is using the "exceptional clearance" classification properly. They sent this letter detailing the audit to the APD Sex Crimes Unit.

"We need to know answers," said Austin Public Safety Commission member Preston Tyree. "The numbers are funny and we really have to know why. Are we at fault?"

The police department said that exceptional clearance is often due to survivors not wanting to follow through with the case. Tyree said its important to make sure victims feel supported throughout the investigation.

"The idea that you could be intimidated by the whole system that you didn't want to follow through to get clearance, get closure, get whatever out of that, is really hard to believe, but we see it," said Tyree.

While Tyree doesn't believe Austin Police detectives are acting improperly, but he wants to ensure investigators aren't under pressure to clear cases faster.

"If they get the signal that says it is more important to clear a case than to solve it, (investigators) will clear it," said Tyree. "So, we have to make sure they're not getting that signal."

Police Chief Brian Manley said investigators do everything they can to put rape suspects behind bars.

"We will work it to that point to where there is simply no further work we can do without the survivor cooperating," said Chief Manley. "So often, we have identified the suspect, developed probable cause and know where the suspect lives."

Chief Manley said just because a case is exceptionally cleared, doesn't mean it is permanently closed.

"If our survivor came forward and said, 'I am now willing and able to cooperate,' then that case is going to be opened right back up and investigated," said Chief Manley.

Chief Manley said he believes the department is following all federal guidelines when using and reporting clearance rates and welcomes the audit.

The department recently got more funding for additional victim service counselors and more sexual assault investigators. The results of the audit will likely be available later this week.

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