Austin Cops Wrongly Cleared Sex Cases, Audit Says

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An independent audit found evidence that Austin police investigators improperly classified some sexual assault cases as cleared, including more than two dozen cases in three months of 2017, reports the Austin American-Statesman.

The reasons for the errors were not immediately clear.

Police Chief Brian Manley said the findings are preliminary and that he’s eager to see the full report next week to determine what went wrong. “But we’re not going to wait for that final report before making some changes and before making some improvements,” he said.

The police department asked the Texas Department of Public Safety for the audit after ProPublica interviewed former Austin police Sgt. Elizabeth Donegan, who said she was pressured to classify sexual assault cases as “exceptionally cleared.”

The category is one of several that law enforcement agencies can use to report the status of their cases for the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. A case can be exceptionally cleared when a suspect dies, when prosecutors decline to bring charges or when a victim or survivor is not ready to speak with investigators.

The audit found 30 cases in January, November and December 2017 in which an exceptionally cleared case did not meet the FBI’s criteria.

Also, 15 reported rapes did not meet the definition for rape.

Donegan told ProPublica that a supervisor twice told her to change the clearance code of a suspended case to exceptionally cleared. Donegan said the clearance numbers used by Austin police give the city “a false sense that a case has been thoroughly investigated and closed.”

The Grits for Breakfast blog said Manley announced the audit results in the late afternoon on New Years Eve, “hoping it would get lost in the holiday media cycle. That’s a disgraceful, punk move. This is too serious an issue to play media games.”

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