Hat tip to Lou: an article that examines the New Orleans Police Department’s strategy for cutting the official number of rapes they report to the FBI: they do not investigate 60% of reported rapes:

More than half the time New Orleans police receive reports of rape or other sexual assaults against women, officers classify the matter as a noncriminal “complaint.”

Police, who have been touting a decline in rapes, say the share of noncriminal complaints reflects the difficulty officers face in coaxing rape victims to push forward with their complaints.

But former Orleans Parish sex crime prosecutor Cate Bartholomew says the frequent use of the alternative category — referred to as a “Signal 21” in NOPD parlance — is a problem, arguing that some of the cases she saw should have been categorized as sex crimes. . .

In 2008, police say, there were 146 cases marked up by the sex crimes unit as a Signal 21, compared with 97 rapes and sexual batteries ultimately listed as criminal offenses by the Police Department. That means police classified 60 percent of rape calls as a Signal 21.

The usual debate revolves around arguments over whether women lie about rape.  And there are people (male and female) who lie about being victims.  But if you read this article carefully, it becomes clear that something else is going on in New Orleans.  Even the officers reclassifying or “unfounding” rape cases say that getting victims to cooperate, to trust the system, is a big problem.  They know that some people who won’t cooperate with them are victims of real rapes who don’t want to take their chances with an official investigation.  What is the role of the police, then?  If they create a dozen scenarios in which the outcome is “Signal 21,” or refusal to investigate, victims will eventually stop calling.  That is good for the Chamber of Commerce, as some say, good for the Police Chief, and bad for everyone else.

In New Orleans, the number of rapes and attempted rapes reported to the FBI dropped from 114 to 72 between 2007 and 2008, but the number of victims seeking rape examinations at Interim L.S.U. Hospital rose from 149 in 2007 to 168 in 2008.

When victims must find a way to get past a checklist of questions that might end in a reported sex crime being labeled “Signal 21,” how likely are they going to be to come forward?

And if even one rape victim gets dismissed this way, it is a horrible injustice.  Unfortunately, it’s not the type of injustice that gets treated as such by activist lawyers and eager law students searching for a cause.  Victims, unlike offenders, are on their own.  How bad does it get?  Victim advocates do gut checks with their clients all the time: “Are you sure you can handle this?” “It’s OK to walk away from the investigation” — not because they don’t want to see justice done, but because they have seen what gets done to victims, and they know the real odds of an offender getting any prison time at all.

Mix in New Orleans’ “No Snitching” culture, a sleazy political system that extends to the (barely functioning) courts, a routinely corrupt police administration, and a community besotted with fantasies of wrongly accused men, and there seems to be little reason for anyone to come forward after they have been raped.

The Chief of Police in New Orleans could help clear up the mystery of the “Signal 21’s,” but he refuses to release the records:

To examine in more detail how the NOPD handled cases given something other than a criminal designation, The Times-Picayune asked to review the reports of the Signal 21 and “unfounded” sexual assaults for the past three years — as well as documents, called “morfs,” prepared when the sex crimes unit receives a call but no formal investigation is undertaken.

The information hasn’t been delivered, as city officials maintain that assembling such documents would be time-consuming and costly. A letter sent to The Times-Picayune last week from City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields, for example, said the Police Department believes an officer would need 30 minutes to review and redact the “name, address and identity,” as mandated by state law, in just one crime report at a cost of at least $20 an hour.

Gee, that would be all of $1460 to get all the 2008 “Signal 21” reports.  That’s got to be less than Mayor Nagin spends on lunch.  Who are they kidding?

And so, accountability remains elusive.  Meanwhile, others are also saying the city’s rape statistics are too low to be believable:

Tulane University criminologist Peter Scharf said the number of rapes doesn’t make sense when considered alongside New Orleans’ high rate of homicides. In comparison, Jackson, Miss., at a population of about 170,000 people, reported to the FBI last year 63 murders and 136 rapes. New Orleans, where the 2008 population estimates have topped 311,000, last year reported 179 murders and 65 rapes to the FBI. Police later changed the number of rapes that fit FBI guidelines to 72 in response to a newspaper request for statistics. [emphasis added]

A mere newspaper request resulted in the “officially reported” number of rapes rising by 10%.  So what happens when nobody’s looking?

I would like to see what is in those Signal 21 reports: are the dismissed victims young?  Do they know their alleged attackers?  Are they related to them?  Are they afraid of repercussions?  Is alcohol involved?  Homelessness, mental illness, prostitution?  Who does the reporting, if the victim isn’t cooperating?  What types of vulnerabilities keep them from trusting the police?  What types of characteristics keep the police from believing them?

A police chief who gave a damn would want to get to the bottom of this.

How many of the reports that get lodged in police’s minds, and the public mind, as false, are real rapes, disbelieved?  Joanne Archambault, a retired sergeant and longtime sex crime investigator, has written a compelling study on the actual prevalence of false rape reports, titled “So How Many Rape Reports Are False?”  It is a quick and eye-opening read.  You can find the pdf here: www.ncdsv.org/images/HowManyRapeReportsareFalse.pdf

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