Calgary begins Canada's first external audit of sexual-assault case files

May 19, 2017
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

The Calgary Police Service has become the first department in the country to commit to ongoing external review of sex-assault cases by front-line advocates.

That initiative, which is modelled after an outside oversight program that has helped Philadelphia's unfounded rate plummet to 4 per cent from 18 per cent, will involve representatives of local sex-assault centres, medical staff and an official with Alberta's Ministry of the Status of Women.

Calgary police announced the initiative at a news conference on Thursday, and the committee met for the first time immediately afterward. The group will begin auditing cases closed in the first part of 2017, and will meet at least three times a year.

Staff Sergeant Bruce Walker, the head of Calgary's sex-crimes unit, said the service has been working on the initiative since February, when a Globe and Mail series revealed that one out of every five sex-assault allegations made to Canadian police is closed as unfounded – a term that means the investigating officer does not believe a crime occurred or was attempted.

"It certainly showed some of the deficiencies and inefficiencies in how we do business," Staff Sgt. Walker said. Calgary's unfounded rate was 10 per cent. "Our rate was lower than the average," he said, "so our members do do good work – but we can always do better."

Adopting the Philadelphia model, a program that gives local violence-against-women advocates access to sex-assault case files to look for signs of investigative missteps or bias, was "the right thing to do," he said.

"This is definitely bold action by the Calgary police, and we applaud them for taking this leadership," Stephanie McLean, Alberta's Minister of Status of Women, told The Globe and Mail.

"We have been, through the Department of Justice and in concert with the Status of Women, working on provincial guidelines for sex-assault cases so we can ensure consistency … and I think Calgary adopting this gold-standard, the Philadelphia model, will be a shining example for the rest of the province."

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