More than half the time New Orleans police get reports of rape or other sexual assaults against women, officers classify the matter as a noncriminal “complaint,” reports the New Orleans Times Picayune. Police, who have been touting a decline in rapes, say the share of noncriminal complaints reflects the difficulty officers face in coaxing rape victims to push forward with their complaints. Former sex crime prosecutor Cate Bartholomew says the frequent use of the alternative category — referred to as a “Signal 21” in police parlance — is a problem, arguing that some of the cases she saw should have been categorized as sex crimes.
Bartholomew and other experts say the alternative labeling of alleged sexual assault raises questions about the accuracy of the department’s recent rape statistics, showing a sharp decrease from 2007 to 2008 in the number of rapes and attempted rapes reported to the FBI: 114 rapes in 2007, down to 72 rapes last year. There are no national benchmarks for comparison, since the use of noncriminal classifications by local police varies widely. But New Orleans’ high number of Signal 21 listings sets off alarm bells for sex crime experts. “Any way you look at it, it is just too high,” said Joanne Archambault, a consultant who previously led the San Diego sex crimes unit.