As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements help sexual assault victims feel more comfortable coming forward to tell their stories, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) is facing an increased demand on its resources in the sex crimes and child abuse units.
The increase is large enough that the two units say they need four more detectives to deal with the caseload.
“The gathering of DNA, the internet, social media [have] significantly complicated cases [since] 20 years ago,” Insp. Monty Sparrow said. “What used to be a three- or four-day investigation and then waiting for DNA, is now months and months of data gathering on social media and devices.”
In 2017, the CPS sex crimes unit dealt with 391 files — a 32 per cent increase from the year before. So far in 2018, 62 files have been opened.
The child abuse unit dealt with 636 files last year — a 30 per cent increase from 2016.
Sparrow said he believes movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the Alberta-based #IBelieveYou campaign, are responsible for the uptick in reporting.
“Advocacy groups in Calgary estimate that 92 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported,” Sparrow said. “We don’t believe there’s an increase in sexual assaults.”
“Those programs are making a difference. Victims of sexual assault are coming forward because they believe they are going to be believed.”
Calgary police chief Roger Chaffin said the force needs to look at where trends are going and where its people are deployed to ensure the right resources are in the right places.
“If you simply just put people into all our vacant areas, we’d deplete our front line,” Chaffin said. “We have to have a long-term, two- or three-year strategy on how to fill all these vacancies.”
One part of the equation for ensuring sexual assault complaints are being addressed appropriately has been the addition of a sexual offence co-ordinator pilot project. The co-ordinator, who is a long-tenured detective with the sex crimes unit, is tasked with making sure all files are identified properly by police, providing street officers have the right knowledge to deal with sexual assault complaints and ensuring cases which are not “unfounded” — a term used to describe claims which weren’t attempted and never took place — are properly coded in the force’s computer system.
“It has been very well received by street personnel,” Sparrow said.
In addition to making sure there are enough resources to deal with an increased number of cases, the force is also looking back to ensure it has handled cases properly in the past.
In 2017, a five-year review of sexual assault cases revealed 48 cases were incorrectly ruled unfounded by police. One of those cases were re-opened for further investigation while the remaining 47 were marked as inactive.
“There’s evidence in the investigation to prove the offence occured but there wasn’t enough evidence in the investigation to identify the offender,” Sparrow said.
There are plans for CPS to look at cold cases from before the year 2000, which could be submitted to the crime lab for DNA analysis.
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