Calgary police adopt Philadelphia Model to review unfounded sexual assaults
The Calgary Police Service is partnering with five other agencies to make sure that sexual assault allegations are thoroughly investigated by forming a Case Review Committee to take a second look at cases that investigators have closed as unfounded.
The independent agencies will meet with police at least three times per year to review all new unfounded sexual assault cases, which is an approach first used in Philadelphia 17 years ago. Private information and identities in the cases will be protected, but the agency representatives will have access to all other details in the files and will be walked through every step of the investigations that occurred.
The new initiative comes after a national media investigation into unfounded cases found that many Canadian police agencies were closing more sexual assault cases as unfounded than academic research shows actually should be closed this way. At the time, Calgary had an unfounded rate around 10 per cent (an average of 62 cases each year), when most studies show the actual unfounded reporting rate for sexual assaults is between two and eight per cent.
“Calgary’s unfounded rate was lower than average, both nationally and provincially,” says Staff Sergeant Bruce Walker, with the Calgary Police Service Sex Crimes Unit. “But there are still other police agencies that are doing better than us. We felt it was important to learn from their successes and see what we can do even better here.”
In Calgary, a sexual assault investigation should only be classified as unfounded when a police investigation has determined that the offence reported did not occur and was not attempted, and that no other criminal offence occurred at the reported time and location.
The Case Review Committee will examine all new sexual offence cases – which include both sexual assaults and other sexual crimes – that police have classified as unfounded to offer advice on whether the investigations could be improved. Committee members will also help identify any training opportunities for officers and will provide suggestions on how police policies and procedures can be improved.
Quotes from some committee partners:
"I thank Calgary Police for their leadership in adopting the Philadelphia model, and including Status of Women at the table. We know that sexual violence is a gendered crime. The vast majority of survivors of sexual violence are women, and I hope this helps them feel safe to come forward to tell their story. I want every survivor to know we believe them, and they deserve to be treated fairly and with respect."
- The Honourable Stephanie McLean, Alberta’s Minister of Status of Women
“Our role at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre is to work as an integrated team to assess, investigate and provide treatment and support for children and youth impacted by sexual abuse and the most severe forms of physical abuse and neglect. As a forensic psychologist on the committee, I am excited to provide scientific based knowledge on memory and forensic interviewing best practices that can be incorporated into the sexual offence strategies.”
- Dr. Sarah MacDonald, Forensic Psychologist Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre
“At CCASA we know that the rate of unfounded cases has needed to be addressed across the country for a long time and we are very hopeful that this committee will be able to effectively address it in our city. In addition, we are pleased that the Calgary Police Service has taken a leadership role in recognizing the importance of this issue and is willing to open up their processes to a committee of external community partners.”
- Danielle Aubry, CEO Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA)
Since the initial media investigation into unfounded cases, the Calgary Police Service has reviewed the unfounded sexual offence cases from the past five years. During this review, one case was re-opened for further investigation and 47 were reclassified from unfounded to “open, inactive,” meaning that an offence may have occurred but the investigation cannot proceed unless more evidence comes to light.
The review also found areas for improvement. In addition to adopting a version of the Philadelphia Model, police will also be improving the training investigators receive on dealing with sexual assault trauma, and will be designating an officer as a Sexual Offence Coordinator to ensure all sexual offences are being tracked and investigated properly.
The Service will also develop a Sexual Offence Strategy to ensure that the best practices from across Canada are being used in local investigations.
The first meeting of the new Case Review Committee will be held on May 18, 2017. The committee includes representatives from the Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team (CSART), Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA), the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, Alberta Ministry of Status of Women, and the Mount Royal University Sexual Violence Response and Awareness Coordinator.