The Kelowna RCMP will be further investigating 12 sexual assault cases that were deemed “unfounded” in 2018 and 2019 and create a new sexual assault unit in response to public outcry about how the police force investigated dozens of sexual assault cases over the past two years.
The recommendation from the RCMP’s national Sexual Assault Review Team (SART) comes nearly five months after the local detachment came under fire after Kelowna Capital News revealed nearly 40 per cent of sexual assaults reported to police were deemed “unfounded.”
“Based on the SART recommendations, any files that were identified for additional investigation will be investigated further. This has already started,”” states a press release published on Feb. 27.
The press release also states the RCMP will create a dedicated sexual assault unit to provide investigative support to front line officers as early as March.
“The unit will be responsible for reviewing all sexual assault files to ensure all investigations are consistent, complete, accurately documented, trauma-informed and scored correctly,” states the press release.
“This team will provide Kelowna detachment with in-house expertise in sexual assault and investigative best practices, including bias awareness. These members will work closely with community partners such as the Elizabeth Fry Society (EFry) and Crown Counsel, our domestic violence unit and the new Kelowna Child Advocacy Centre (CAC).”
Heather Friesen, a sexual assault survivor and a vocal advocate for change within the RCMP, said she was pleased with the RCMP’s report.
“I’m shocked and pleasantly surprised that they’re putting in the sexual assault unit with the RCMP. Hopefully the officers will be properly trained and know how to investigate rape,” said Friesein.
“I still don’t understand why it took a month for the report to be released. Why did they make us wait so long for it? That’s kind of ridiculous.”
Michelle Novakowski, the executive director for the Elizebeth Fry Society, also welcomed the report’s recommendations.
“I’m hoping this report will reassure survivors about coming forward, whether it’s to the RCMP or to the FRY society. I think sexual assault investigations will improve from here and that survivors will get a better service moving forward,” said Novakowski.
“From this year to last year, the number of people reporting sexual assault cases to us is up 500 per cent.”
The report also found 29 files were incorrectly classified within the police force’s uniform crime reporting (UCR) survey and 25 sexual assault files remained unfounded. In total the review team looked at 66 files, including 30 from 2018 and 36 from 2019.
According to the press release, the UCR reporting system is used by police forces in Canada to record the type of reported criminal offence, whether the reported crime is
unfounded, and if the reported crime has been concluded. This information is then shared with Statistics Canada through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey to track crime statistics across the country.
“The use of the wrong UCR codes was the most common issue identified during the review,” states the press release.
“Based on the SART review and the correction in the classification of files Kelowna’s unfounded sexual assault rate is fact in line with the provincial average.”
According to Statistics Canada, on average 15 per cent of sexual assaults are deemed “unfounded” in B.C.
To help fix this issue, police officers will be getting training in March on how to properly file cases dealing with sexual assault.
In addition, the press release said all local police members are in the process of receiving additional training with respect to sexual consent law, and additional training, formal and informal, on trauma-informed practices and bias awareness.
“It is anticipated that the increased training and ongoing consultation will help increase the quality of sexual assault investigations and UCR scoring,” states the press release.
The local detachment said it already began to remodel its general investigation unit prior to the SART review of sexual assault files to provide better support to frontline members and enhance overall policing service.
In Febuary an eight person, plain clothes, general investigation support team will be created to work directly with frontline members.
“The Kelowna RCMP remain steadfast in our commitment to improving internal processes, educating and training employees on sexual assault investigations,” states the press release.
“Sexual assault complaints can be extremely difficult and complicated investigations that cover a broad spectrum of offences. They are especially troubling crimes due to the personal and intimate nature of the offence.
“The dedicated women and men at Kelowna Detachment are committed to helping their community and providing a quality police service that everyone can trust, especially when it comes to reporting sexual assaults. Kelowna RCMP take all reports of sexual violence seriously and will thoroughly investigate any report brought forward.”
After the report was released, Kelowna mayor Colin Basran also released a statement on the issue.
“I want to thank and recognize the women who came forward to speak out on their experiences – it took courage and it will make a difference to those who come forward in the future,” said Basran.
“It’s council’s expectation that everyone is dealt with fairly and with dignity.”
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