Philadelphia police have made a remarkable turnaround in the way they handle sexual assaults. Once pariahs, they are now models, says Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin. It was 10 years ago that The Inquirer began a series of articles documenting how the Special Victims Unit had buried thousands of reports of assaults since its formation in 1981, deliberately mislabeling rapes and other serious offenses to make the city look safer.
Victims’ stories were bottom-drawered if they seemed troublesome to prove, downgraded to something called a 2701: investigation of person, a category that hid the commission of a crime. A victim’s experience was no less appalling. Carol Tracy of the Women’s Law Project will convene a panel next month to review all the Special Victims Unit’s cases. She, Carol Johnson of Women Organized Against Rape, Christine Kirchner of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, and Frank Cevone from the Support Center for Child Advocates will spend a few days poring through each sexual-assault file. The group began in 2000. John Timoney, who was then police commissioner, felt the department needed community oversight after the classification scandal.