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VOL. 7 | NO. 13 | Saturday, March 22, 2014

Editorial: MPD’s Handling Of Rape Cases Pitiful

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Old-time cops call it the “belt buckle brigade.”

The brigade is summoned when law enforcement in our community calls a press conference to announce something they have done. Usually it’s a case they have solved.

They gather many of those involved behind the scenes to stand behind the leaders who do the talking. And even when there is no new information at these events, those who speak will always – always – boast about how well they cooperated with each other.

As a community, we find ourselves at a point where it is legitimate to wonder what that cooperation really means. Is it cooperation that goes toward justice being accomplished? Or is it cooperation in hitting all of the stops in the criminal justice bureaucratic checklist that passes for justice in too many cases? Exhibit A remains the Memphis Police Department’s rape kit backlog.

Saying that “best practices” will be examined and now those in charge know what to do that they weren’t doing before is a pitiful response.

The normal excuses will not do and yes, there is time to point fingers and blame those who failed. In this case, it is necessary to right a criminal justice system that is running the way it has for some time simply because that’s the way it has run for some time.

We wish Joyful Heart Foundation well and want their effort as well as the investigation by former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis to succeed.

Separate from that, someone here is near criminally liable in our opinion for creating this problem that has its roots in simply not believing and not taking seriously claims of rape and sexual assault. And saying that backlogs exist in other cities is not a defense. What kind of training is possible for police brass just under the director who, given their experience, don’t take violence against women seriously?

Police Deputy Chief Jim Harvey said last year he was told police had a policy of not testing rape kits if a suspect and the victim knew each other. That is all it took in a case where a woman endured the procedure for bringing a rape charge against someone and the challenges that so many women say discourages them from reporting at just about every turn of the red tape.

There is proof the same lack of response applied in cases where a woman didn’t know her attacker.

The rape kits piled up wherever the city could find storage space even as leaders of the criminal justice system vied for an Academy Award by announcing drops in crime but then waving off the applause, furrowing their brow and saying they still had work to do on the two persistent crime problems that seemed impervious to good intentions and, oh yes, stellar cooperation among the agencies. Those two problems were domestic violence and rape.

Heads should roll.

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