S.L. police department selected for review of sexual assault cases, practices

Published: Saturday, Aug. 2 2014 7:20 p.m. MDT

Dusty Benavides of Ogden looks at information on military sexual trauma at SlutWalk in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014. SlutWalk is an event designed to challenge victim blaming, debunk rape myths, end rape culture, and empower sexual assault survivors.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department is among four in the nation selected for review of its sexual assault cases, policies and practices in a joint effort between the federal Office on Violence Against Women and the Police Executive Research Forum.

The review is expected to start in a couple of months, Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said.

"A group of people will come in, review all the cases we have and interact with the detectives and officers," Burbank said.

The review will likely take a year to conduct and write reports.

The goal of the review is to examine and evaluate how the department handles the cases, its practices and policies, with the aim of developing "best practices" that can shared across the country, Burbank said Saturday.

"Usually Salt Lake City is not big enough to qualify for some of these things," which are suported through grants, he said. "We're a big city, but not compared to New York, Miami or any of the others, so I said, 'Absolutely. I would welcome people to come in and conduct a review.'"

The police department came under scrutiny earlier this year when the Salt Lake City Council asked Burbank to explain why the department had more than 750 unprocessed rape kits — DNA and other evidence collected by medical professionals when they treat people who have been sexually assaulted.

The department was also asked to account for a high percentage of rape kits that had been shelved or destroyed — 4 out of 5 — between 2003 and 2011.

The department spared no resources when seeking rape perpetrators, Burbank said. There were some cases in which processing rape kits was unnecessary because the perpetrator already had been identified.

The state crime lab was slow to process the kits when they were submitted and there are cost considerations, he said. Processing the evidence costs about $1,100 per kit.

In April, the chief announced the launch of the "Code R Kits Project," which includes a review of every sexual assault evidence collection kit and posting the status of the review on the department's website.

The announcement made national news and was one of the reasons Salt Lake City was selected for the study, Burbank said.

"Part of what brought us to the forefront of what they were working on and developing was our willingness to go forward with project," he said.

Burbank made the announcement Saturday afternoon at a rally at the Salt Lake City-County Building intended to raise awareness about sexual violence and "ending rape culture," said Jo'D Petersen of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The event, which featured speeches by rape victims and the Salt Lake SlutWalk, is intended to raise awareness about the state's rate of sexual violence.

One in 3 Utah women will experience a sexual assault in her lifetime, compared with the national average of 1 in 4, Petersen said.

"Imagine if we were saying something like 1 in 3 Americans has contracted smallpox. We would call that an epidemic. But because it's rape and it's a tough topic to talk about for some reason, we don't want to call it an epidemic," she said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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