The Fraternal Order of Police—-representing D.C.’s 3600 police officers, detectives, and sergeants—-has called for an investigation into the D.C. police department’s reporting of sexual assault. “The Department has failed to publicly admit or recognize what could be described as an alarming rise in sexual assaults in the District of Columbia,” Kristopher Baumann, chief of the FOP’s Labor Committee, wrote in a letter to D.C. officials. “As a result, potential future victims have not received warnings or information on how to avoid sexual assaults, or in the case of domestic situations, where to go to seek protections from violent behavior.”
According to internal police documents, sexual assaults in the first half of 2010 are up as much as 325% in areas across the District. Baumann’s letter breaks down the numbers:
Internal department documents show that as of June 8, 2010, serious sexual assaults were up 46% city-wide (from 56 during the same period in 2009 to 82 in 2010 . . . The increases in serious sexual assaults were not uniform throughout the city. The Second Police District (Ward 3) had a 250% increase (from 2 in 2009 to 7 in 2010) and the Third Police District (Ward 1) had a 133% increase (from 6 in 2009 to 14 in 2010). Both of those increases are alwarming and certainly necessitated a proactive response from the police Department, both in enforcement activity and increasing public awareness of not only the problenm, but also resouces for victims and individuals in abusive relationships.
In the Seventh Police District (Ward 8), the increase in serious sexual assaults has been dramatic. Serious sexual assaults increased 325% from 2009 to 2010 (from 4 in 2009 to 17 in 2010). It is important to remember that the Seventh Police District covers an area of only 6.5 square miles and a population of some 60,000. The fact that 17 serious sexual assaults have taken place in an area that small with a population that size cannot be taken lightly. The fact that the Department has taken no steps to identify the problem, warn the public, create education and awareness programs, focus on registered sex offenders, and proactively address the crisis is indefensible.
It’s impossible to say whether the increase is due to more assaults or better assault reporting. But Baumann’s greater concern centers on discrepancies between the way sexual assaults are reported internally within the police department and externally to the public:
The Department’s website contains crime statistics for the city and individual police districts. Rtaher than report serious “sexual assaults” as a category as it oes in internal documents, the Department on its website instead reports all sexual incidents as “sex abuse.” This allows the Department to include all criominal sexual reports in one category.
As a result, criminal sexual misdemeanors (e.g. unwanted touching) are included in the numbers for sexual offenses. The number of misdemeanors is significantly higher than the serious felony sexual assaults, and their presence in the same category skews the numbers and serves to mask the increase in serious sexual assaults. For example, the Department’s website reported that in 2010 for the Seventh Police District up to June 8, 2010, “sexual abuse” was actually down by 3% (from 33 in 2009 to 32 in 2010).
So by grouping all sexual offenses together—-from groping to violent rape—-the D.C. police department has obscured (intentionally or not) the increase in reports of the more serious offenses. Beyond the numbers, Baumann’s also concerned with the department’s tone—-he took Lanier to task for downplaying acquaintance rape in her appearance on WTOP earlier this month. Baumann has called for D.C.’s Office of the Inspector General and the D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary to investigate the police department’s reporting practices.
In an e-mail to WTOP, Police Chief Cathy Lanier wrote, “I have absolutely no problem with the OIG conducting an investigation into my crime statistics.” Lanier chalked the controversy up to “confusion” over the department’s comprehensive reporting practices: “I am committed to providing full and complete information on crime in the District. Indeed, if anything, more confusion arises because we do provide data in a variety of formats that allow people to analyze the data themselves.”