by John O. Savino & Brent E. Turvey
© Elsevier, December 2004


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Rape Investigation Handbook
by John O. Savino & Brent E. Turvey
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published by Academic Press, an imprint of Elsevier, 2004
ISBN: 012072832X

Preface - The Role of the Sex Crimes Investigator

by John O. Savino & Brent E. Turvey

From 1981 to 1999, the Sex Crimes Unit in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Police Department dismissed 1/3 of victim complaints without investigation, deliberately mislabeled ¼ of victim complaints to manipulate crime data and make the city appear safer, and managed to maintain one of the worst solve rates in the country (McCoy, 2003). In one record-breaking three-year period, the number of sex crimes that went uninvestigated exceeded two thousand. According to Fazlollah, McCoy & Moran (2000):

The sex-crimes unit, founded in 1981, buried nearly a third of its caseload over the next 17 years. Rapes, attempted rapes and other reported acts were given administrative labels such as "investigation of person" or were rejected as unfounded. Either way, they did not show up in crime statistics. The victims were never told their complaints had been shelved. 

Current and former investigators said they dumped cases to cope with an overwhelming workload and pressure from commanders to generate favorable statistics.

The supervisors and detectives of that unit betrayed their victims for political gain with apathy, allowed an untold number of offenders to stay on the streets, and ultimately failed to protect the community they were sworn to serve. In short, it was one of the most publicly documented examples of how not to run a major sex crimes unit in the United States.

After being confronted with these problems in the press, the Philadelphia Police Department came clean and admitted their wrongdoing. Then Police Commissioner John Timoney ordered a review of thousands of unsolved, dead-end cases. To relieve the pressure, he added dozens of new detectives to the unit and assigned some of them solely to that task. And, finally, he invited a handful of legal experts and victim advocates to examine some of those cases and make recommendations about how they might be brought back to life. More than dramatic, this combination of reforms was unprecedented.

Four years later, with the benefit of those reforms, the Philadelphia Police Department Sex Crimes Unit experienced marked improvement (McCoy, 2003):

A squad that was once among the nation's worst now makes more rape arrests than such larger cities as Los Angeles and Houston. Its rate of solving rapes is the best among America's largest cities. 

As the squad prepares to move into its new $2 million headquarters next month, it is a third larger; its investigators are better-trained and more motivated.

At the heart of this Unit’s success was openly admitting the problem, asking for outside advice, and providing the resources to ensure that cases were appropriately investigated. A commitment to integrity, tenacity and innovation defines the successful sex crimes investigator.

Success in the East is blunted by findings up North, however. In 2001, the state of Alaska had the highest rape rate in the United States; from 1982 to 2001, the rate of rape per 100,000 people in Anchorage, for example, was on average 122 percent higher than the overall U.S. rate; it ranked fifth when compared to other U.S. metropolitan cities. Between 1999 and 2001, the rape rate increased by 27 percent in Anchorage; it decreased by 3 percent nationwide during that same time period (Langworthy & Rosay, 2003)

But the real tragedy in Alaska hasn’t been the numbers. It has been the law enforcement response, or rather, lack of response, to the problem of rape and sexual assault. Unbelievably, almost a quarter of the sexual assaults reported are not assigned to a detective. According to published reports, which confirm the experiences of this author (Brant, 2003):

An internal report released in late October showed that 23 percent of sexual assaults reported to APD are not assigned to a detective, primarily because of staffing shortages.

Police Chief Walt Monegan could not be reached Friday, but he said in a recent interview that the "solvability" of a case is a major factor when deciding whether to assign it to a detective.

Any case that looks like it can be solved is assigned, Monegan said. "It is the policy of the department, that if we can make an arrest on the case, either with a warrant or an arrest, we will do so," he said.

The difficulty comes when you've got a case that is missing key elements -- evidence, a suspect's name, a cooperative victim -- and you think maybe you could solve it, but it's going to be very time-consuming, Monegan said. Sometimes those cases have to be set on the back burner so detectives can work the more promising ones.

"Those few cases in the gray area can stockpile," Monegan said. "If we had additional people, we might be able to work those gray areas."

What is happening in Anchorage, and elsewhere in Alaska, is that cases are not being responded to. There isn’t even the pretense of an investigation. A patrol officer responds, takes a statement, writes a report, and if a suspect is not named and apprehended by the end of the officer’s shift the case typically goes no further. According to official reports in Anchorage, the problem is one of poor leadership and poor communication (Coyne, 2003):

A mayoral transition team report released July 8 found all sorts of problems with the department: low morale, low diversity, a lack of communication between police Chief Walt Monegan and his staff. But a major problem is staffing, and an undefined recruiting policy.

As of this writing, these problems with sexual assault in Alaska remain.

Sex crimes must be investigated. Otherwise, the sworn protectors are essentially abandoning the citizenry - a citizenry that by law cannot police itself against these dangers. For any law enforcement leadership to fail to assign any sexual assault case to at least one detective as contact for the victim is ignorant, identifying a clear training need. As they learned in Philadelphia, there is simply no better way to build resentment with your victims, let alone your community.  

The Essential Qualities
Dr. Hans Gross, the Austrian jurist whose seminal works help provide the foundation for modern day criminal investigation, agreed in regard to the importance of integrity and tenacity. He wrote of “Certain Qualities essential to an Investigating Officer”, arguing that investigators require (compiled from Gross, 1934, p.14-33):

  1. Indefatigable (tireless) energy and zeal

  2. Self denial

  3. Perseverance

  4. Swiftness in reading men

  5. A thorough knowledge of human nature

  6. Education

  7. An agreeable manner

  8. An iron constitution

  9. Encyclopedic knowledge

  10. Orientation – complete knowledge of their department and jurisdiction

  11. The renouncement of expeditiousness

  12. Absolute accuracy and precision in details

Putting tirelessness at the top of this list was not arbitrary. Dr. Gross witnessed much investigative apathy in his career, and made note of it as a major contributor to unresolved cases. According to Gross (1934, p.14):

First and above all and Investigating Officer must possess an abundant store of energy; nothing is more deplorable than a crawling, lazy, and sleepy Investigating Officer… He who recognizes that he is wanting in energy can but turn to something else for he will never make a good Investigator. Again the Investigating Officer must be energetic not only in special circumstances, as when, for example, he finds himself face to face with a witness or an accused person who is hot-headed, refractory, and aggressive, or when the work takes him away from his office and he proceeds to record a deposition or make an arrest without having his staff or office bell to aid him; but energy must always be displayed when he tackles a difficult, complicated, or obscure case. It is truly painful to examine a report which shows that the Investigating Officer has only fallen to his work with timidity, hesitation, and nervousness, just touching it, so to speak with the tips of his fingers; but there is satisfaction in observing a case that has been attacked energetically and grasped with animation and vigour. The want of special cleverness and long practice can often be compensated by getting a good grip of the case, but want of energy can be compensated by nothing.  

As we have discussed, apathy remains a significant problem in the investigative community, along with poor training, poor leadership, and diminished resources (such as funding for extra manpower and overtime). In the words of Jack Maples, former Deputy Commissioner of the New York Police Department, discussing recruits fresh out of police academies and how crime-solving knowledge fails to find its way to those who need it (Maples, 1999, p. 39):

…recruits are taught how to take reports, a skills set passed on at precincts by training officers who are usually young and inexperienced themselves. They, in turn, are supervised by inexperienced and under-trained sergeants. In essence, we have kids who know very little training kids who know even less training kids who know nothing.

The authors of this work have seen their share of barely worked cases from overworked, under trained, or apathetic investigators, scratching only the surface of events and writing final reports that span only a few poorly written paragraphs.

Working Cases
The role of the sex crimes investigator is gatherer and assembler of facts and evidence pertinent to justly clearing assigned cases. This includes helping locate evidence and witnesses, documenting each, and figuring out how they can best be used to move a case forward. When criminal charges result, it will also include sworn testimony about everything they’ve done on a case and why. They are not politicians and they are not advocates for the victim or the accused. What should be asked of them is only that they work their cases with integrity and with keen attention to detail, until every lead uncovered is an exhausted possibility. This must be without sanction, pressure, or prejudice from their peers or superiors.

Working and solving cases should be the first and only role of the sex crimes investigator. That means their time should be spent on evidence, witnesses, suspects, or on learning how to understand either more completely. Less time or resources spent on any of these is not better.

Any deviation from this role working to clear cases, whether it comes from themselves or others, can corrupt a case effort and hamper, distort, or prohibit its just resolution.

It is with these kinds of problems in mind that we have prepared this text, to help those who are tirelessly motivated work their cases without prejudice by providing real tools and real solutions.


Brant, T. “Rape records broken down: GRIM: Review reveals typical crime locations, times and victims,” Anchorage Daily News, November 29 2003

Coyne. A. “The safety dance - What would it take to protect women on city trails?” Anchorage Press, Vol. 12, Ed. 29 July 17 - July 23, 2003

Fazlollah, M., McCoy, C. & Moran, R. “Timoney to allow sex-case oversight,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 2000

Gross, H. (1934) Criminal Investigation, 3rd Ed., London: Sweet & Maxwell, Ltd.

Langworthy, R. & Rosay, A. “Descriptive Analysis of Sexual Assaults in Anchorage, Alaska,” Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center, Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage, JC 0107, October 2003

Maples, J. (1999) The Crime Fighter, New York: Doubleday

McCoy, C. “Rape unit reborn out of disgrace,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 2003

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Last update: 11/08/2004