Chief Lanier: Human Rights Watch Report Doesn't Reflect Department's Current Culture

A new report accusing D.C. police of mishandling scores of sex assault cases over a three-year period is under fire from D.C.'s police chief, who sees it as misleading and off the mark.

The report released by Human Rights Watch Thursday said the group couldn’t find incident reports on 170 cases from 2008 to September 2011.

“Dozens of people who work with victims and from victims and from medical staff and from different community organizations said they are concerned that cases weren’t being taken seriously and that victims were being treated insensitively and were belittled and discouraged from reporting and not believed when they went to the police for help,” said Sara Dareshori, of Human Rights Watch.

The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program speaks with and performs rape kit tests on sexual assault victims at the Washington Hospital Center. Devin Trinkley, the program’s director of for almost two years until last June, said early in her tenure cases were mishandled by two or three detectives.

“They came in a very vulnerable time and just felt that when they came in seeking help that it wasn’t available to them from the law enforcement, the people they expected to be able to trust,” Trinkley said.

One victim told News4 she was discouraged from filing a report.

“The experience of being raped was absolutely humiliating, but it wasn’t until I talked to police that I felt shamed,” she said. “I felt shamed by the detective that I worked with.”

“These are woman that actually came in and they wanted the evidence collected, that wanted the case pursued,” Trinkley said.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier disputes the group’s findings.

“We occasionally have people who don’t do their jobs properly,” she said. “In those cases, we have to remove those people and address that conduct, but that is not the culture in this agency.”

The methods used to gather information for the report were flawed, Lanier said. Human Rights Watch lacks understanding in how investigations are documented, she said. She also noted that reporting of sexual abuse cases was up 51 percent between 2011 and 2012.

“My fear is that this report, because it is based largely on older data, instances involving one or two detectives who are no longer in the unit, it’s painting a picture that that’s the current state of affairs here, and it’s not, and I don’t want it to send a chilling effect, to undo all of the things that we’ve done to get young women, largely, to report to us,” Lanier said.

Trinkley noticed big improvements more than a year ago.

“Increased training,” she said. “Bringing in detectives and properly training them, getting them acclimated, ensuring that if a complaint was made, that they were following through with that.”

The D.C. Council is planning a hearing on the report, the Associated Press reported.

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