by John O. Savino
& Brent E.
Rape Investigation Handbook
by John O. Savino & Brent E. Turvey
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published by Academic Press, an imprint of Elsevier, 2004
- The Role of the Sex Crimes Investigator
by John O. Savino & Brent E. Turvey
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 &
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
cases in the gray area can stockpile," Monegan said. "If we had
additional people, we might be able to work those gray areas."
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.
of this writing, these problems with sexual assault in Alaska remain.
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
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):
(tireless) energy and zeal
knowledge of human nature
complete knowledge of their department and jurisdiction
renouncement of expeditiousness
accuracy and precision in details
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):
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
T. “Rape records broken
down: GRIM: Review reveals typical
crime locations, times and victims,” Anchorage Daily News, November 29
safety dance - What would it take to
protect women on city trails?” Anchorage Press, Vol.
12, Ed. 29 July 17 - July 23, 2003
M., McCoy, C. & Moran, R. “Timoney to allow sex-case oversight,” Philadelphia
March 21, 2000
H. (1934) Criminal Investigation, 3rd Ed., London: Sweet &
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
J. (1999) The Crime Fighter, New York: Doubleday
, C. “Rape unit reborn out of
June 22, 2003
Contact the Authors
Last update: 11/08/2004