A Globe and Mail in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that 34 per cent of sex­ual as­sault com­plaints brought to the On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice were dis­missed as un­founded.

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - ROBYN DOOLITTLE

Now, af­ter a sev­en­month re­view, the force is com­mit­ting to en­hanced train­ing and over­sight for of­fi­cers who in­ves­ti­gate sex­ual as­sault – and it re­opened 12 cases

On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice of­fi­cers who in­ves­ti­gate sex­ual as­sault will soon re­ceive new train­ing, more su­per­vi­sion, ad­di­tional re­sources and ex­ter­nal scru­tiny from lo­cal vic­tim-sup­port groups.

The OPP, one of the coun­try’s largest po­lice ser­vices, with more than 6,200 of­fi­cers, will roll out the changes in the com­ing months, be­gin­ning with the cre­ation of a spe­cial­ized group of high-rank­ing of­fi­cers who will per­son­ally mon­i­tor every unresolved sex as­sault case.

The ser­vice will also cre­ate five re­gional re­view com­mit­tees in­spired by an in­ter­na­tion­ally lauded over­sight model in Philadel­phia, in which ad­vo­cates who work with fe­male vic­tims of vi­o­lence can ex­am­ine case files for signs of bias and in­ves­tiga­tive mis­steps.

These changes fol­low a seven-month in­ter­nal re­view by the OPP in re­sponse to a Globe and Mail in­ves­ti­ga­tion that re­vealed that, na­tion­ally, one of every five sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions is dis­missed by po­lice as un­founded, a cod­ing term that means the of­fi­cer does not be­lieve a crime oc­curred.

As a re­sult of the OPP’s au­dit, 12 files were rein­ves­ti­gated. One re­sulted in a charge, and that case is be­fore the courts. In that in­stance, a wit­ness was dis­cov­ered who had not been in­ter­viewed.

As part of its au­dit, the OPP ex­am­ined 5,322 sex­ual as­sault cases from 2010 to 2016 that had been deemed un­founded. A re­port on that re­view pointed to ad­min­is­tra­tive cod­ing er­rors as a rea­son for the OPP’s un­founded rate of 34 per cent, one of the high­est of a ma­jor po­lice ser­vice in the coun­try.

A to­tal of 1,859 cases “could po­ten­tially have been cleared us­ing an­other [cod­ing] clas­si­fi­ca­tion,” a re­port sum­mary states.

If this is the case, it would have sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions for the OPP’s sex­ual as­sault sta­tis­tics, be­cause once a file is deemed un­founded, it is no longer con­sid­ered a valid al­le­ga­tion. It is re­moved from the to­tal num­ber of com­plaints the po­lice ser­vice re­ports to Sta­tis­tics Canada.

The OPP will not re­clas­sify old cases, but plans to cre­ate new ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions in each ju­ris­dic­tion to han­dle cod­ing, which will pro­vide more con­sis­tency and free up of­fi­cers to con­cen­trate on po­lice work. Apart from cod­ing er­rors, the OPP’s re­view team, which in­cluded sev­eral dozen of­fi­cers through­out the prov­ince, flagged in­ves­tiga­tive is­sues in 424 cases.

“Most of the time the in­for­ma­tion was there. It just wasn’t in the right place,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent Jim Smyth, who was one of three se­nior OPP of­fi­cers who met with The Globe on Thurs­day to dis­cuss the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s find­ings. Some­times, he said, when it was ob­vi­ous that a case was not go­ing to re­sult in a charge, in­ves­ti­ga­tors shifted their at­ten­tion be­fore com­plet­ing all the nec­es­sary pa­per­work, such as adding in­ter­view tran­scripts to the sex as­sault file.

“From the in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ per­spec­tive … all your priorities go to the things that are go­ing to end up in court, what’s go­ing to be re­viewed by Crowns and judges. And some­times those other ones just keep go­ing far­ther and far­ther down your to-do list,” the Su­per­in­ten­dent said.

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“We had very few ac­tual de­fi­cien­cies. That was the good­news story out of this,” the Su­per­in­ten­dent said.

Nev­er­the­less, the OPP have plans to over­haul the train­ing and su­per­vi­sion its of­fi­cers re­ceive.

In­spec­tor Robyn MacEach­ern said ad­vances in the neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy of trauma – which ex­am­ines how a trau­matic event can af­fect vic­tims’ be­hav­iour, such as caus­ing a com­plainant to gig­gle while re­count­ing a vi­o­lent event, or their abil­ity to re­mem­ber an in­ci­dent chrono­log­i­cally – is a “game-changer” on which every mem­ber of the ser­vice who in­ves­ti­gates sex­ual as­sault will be ed­u­cated.

About 40 sex­ual as­saults are re­ported to the OPP each week. This fall, the OPP will hire five de­tec­tive staff sergeants for each of its re­gional di­vi­sions to mon­i­tor those in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Part of the job will be to make sure of­fi­cers use all the re­sources within the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Supt. Smyth said that the OPP have a lot of spe­cial­ized ex­per­tise, such as the be­havioural-sciences unit, but front-line of­fi­cers do not al­ways use those re­sources be­cause they may think the unit is too busy or their case isn’t se­ri­ous enough.

“That’s re­ally what these staffsergeant po­si­tions are for … sup­port­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion all the way through, en­sur­ing all steps are taken and bridg­ing the gap be­tween the field in­ves­ti­ga­tors and spe­cial­ties,” he said.

From there, the OPP will im­ple­ment a fi­nal layer of scru­tiny in its re­gional re­view com­mit­tees, which will be com­prised of ad­vo­cates, Crown at­tor­neys who spe­cial­ize in sex­ual-as­sault law and vic­tim-ser­vices rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The cur­rent plan is for these groups to au­dit ran­domly se­lected sex­ual-as­sault cases – not just un­founded files – on a quar­terly ba­sis with full ac­cess to the unredacted in­ves­tiga­tive files, in­clud­ing the com­plainant, sus­pect and wit­ness video in­ter­views. Full ac­cess is a key el­e­ment of the Philadel­phia model.

The OPP’s North West Re­gion is al­ready pi­lot­ing a ver­sion of this over­sight model.

OPP Com­mis­sioner Vince Hawkes said that at the cen­tre of all the re­forms is a de­sire to put the vic­tim first.

“How do we train more peo­ple? How do we get peo­ple to un­der­stand the vic­tim-cen­tric ap­proach as op­posed to just fo­cus­ing on the crime? Be­cause there’s a big dif­fer­ence there,” he said.

“In the end, as the leader of this or­ga­ni­za­tion, I think our or­ga­ni­za­tion is go­ing to be bet­ter and as a re­sult of that, the com­mu­nity is go­ing to be bet­ter.”

On­tario’s pro­vin­cial po­lice agency is one of the more than 50 Cana­dian po­lice ser­vices to launch au­dits of sex­ual-as­sault cases in re­sponse to The Globe’s se­ries. It is one of about a dozen ser­vices – along­side Cal­gary, Ot­tawa, North Bay and Brant­ford – to com­mit pub­licly to some form of ex­ter­nal case re­view in­volv­ing vic­tim ad­vo­cates.

How do we train more peo­ple? How do we get peo­ple to un­der­stand the vic­tim-cen­tric ap­proach as op­posed to just fo­cus­ing on the crime? Be­cause there’s a big dif­fer­ence there. Vince Hawkes OPP Com­mis­sioner

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