Detroit's new police chief should change how his force investigates a leading type of violence, columnist Nancy Kaffer argues Sunday in the Free Press.
James White has a chance to do something no other chief in the nation has done: Name reducing sexual assault as the department's top priority.
Make clear that those who report such crimes can expect to be treated respectfully and compassionately, and that perpetrators should expect to be locked up.
Kaffer, an editorial board member, writes that "rape is more common than murder" in the city.
So far this year, the Detroit Police Department has recorded 714 complaints of first- or third-degree criminal sexual conduct, compared to 270 murders. ...
There are 63 Detroit police officers working homicide cases, more than twice the 30 people the department says it has allocated to its sex crimes unit.
Yet homicide "continues to command attention from DPD leaders and the Board of Police Commissioners," she notes. "When it falls, they are eager to celebrate, often crediting enforcement and department strategy for the reduction."
White, who was appointed just last summer, has said that the rate of sex assault in Detroit is of great concern, and that he is working to understand the dimensions of the problem. But he declined my invitation to discuss the department's approach to sexual assault, as did his predecessor, Republican gubernatorial candidate James Craig, during his own tenure as chief.
Instead, Kaffer speaks with an assistant chief and the sex crimes unit commander, as well as county prosecutor Kym Worthy and others for her 2,000-word mix of reporting and commentary.
The columnist challenges Chief White to set a "goal of raising the number of sexual assault complaints referred for prosecution."
In short, treat sexual assault with the same urgency as other types of violent crime, and grant victims the same credibility. ...
Worthy says the first step police need to take is an obvious one. "Start by believing survivors, just as they do for every other crime," she says. "If someone walks into a police station and says, 'I’ve been carjacked,' they don’t start asking questions about whether it really happened." ...
Worthy says the new police chief has the opportunity to set a different tone for the entire department
"Officers, supervisors and managers, take their cue from the top," she says. "I am hopeful that Chief White will prioritize this by focusing on sexual assault, making sure the resources are there, and making sure that officers are trained. It must be made a priority, because in the past that has not been done."