The University of Montana Police Department is the second Missoula organization to fully implement an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve sexual assault investigations, the department announced Friday.
In a news conference at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, UM and city officials lauded the cooperation and efforts of organizations and individuals involved in the process, hailing the Missoula university as a model for other campuses across the country.
The conference came on the heels of independent reviewer Thomas R. Tremblay's determination that the UM Police Department had met all of its obligations under the agreement with the DOJ, achieving its overall purpose.
UM Police Chief Marty Ludemann said his department has spent nearly 1,000 hours in sexual assault training and has partnered with organizations like First Step, the Crime Victim Advocate Program and YWCA Missoula.
Ludemann said the university went above and beyond what was asked of it by offering 100 hours of training to civilian staff, who often are the first people to come into contact with a victim reporting a sexual assault.
"Our campus is safer than it was yesterday and will be safer and stronger tomorrow," Ludemann said.
The implementation of the agreement focused heavily on that training and education, UM President Royce Engstrom said.
Within that training, he said, the university emphasized three goals, including caring for the survivors of sexual assault, using due process to remove proven offenders from campus and preventing sexual assault from happening in the first place.
"The most important aspect is the dramatically higher level of visibility," Engstrom said. "It's a topic on everyone's mind and it gets to the core of who we are. Our deepest hope is that we have 100 percent reporting and a decline in sexual assaults."
Sexual assaults of college students across the country are under-reported, U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter said. Only 2 percent of students who are raped while incapacitated report the crime to law enforcement, he said, while only 13 percent who are raped while sober come forward.
"This isn't just happening in Missoula," Engstrom said. "It's not that the UM and Missoula have just come to this realization. This is happening all over the country."
Engstrom said he believes that along with implementation of the agreement, there's been a sea change in Americans' attitude toward rape and their conversations will help dispel myths on and off campus.
"I think our students are immersed in the conversation, surrounded by supportive people who are aware of this issue 24 hours a day," he said. "I do firmly believe that our culture is changing."
Missoula Mayor John Engen said he, too, sees the change in conversations he's having in the community.
"I can tell you as a 50-year-old white male, I understand more about it and I have a degree of responsibility," he said. "I am immersed in the topic and have an understanding of what our shortcomings are – and our strengths as well. It has really been eye-opening. I am having conversations with folks that I would never have had. These are conversations with young people and my mother, who is 85 years old."
In 2012, the Department of Justice began investigating the Missoula Police Department, the UM Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney's Office, alleging the organizations demonstrated a gender bias in their sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.
In May 2013, both police departments entered into agreements with the DOJ, pledging to improve sexual assault investigations.
And in May 2015, the DOJ announced the city police force was the first department to successfully comply with the conditions laid out in the agreement.
Under the leadership of former County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, the Missoula County Attorney's Office initially refused to cooperate with the DOJ, claiming the federal department didn't have jurisdiction over the local office. His office embarked on a two-year standoff with the DOJ that ended in 2014 under the guidance of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.
The County Attorney's Office has not yet fully complied with the conditions of the agreement.
Engen and Engstrom both commented Friday that the journey to meeting the DOJ's expectations wasn't easy and came with an array of hurdles. The first difficulty was acknowledging the errors made in sexual assault investigations.
"You have to own that you have made mistakes," Engen said "It's very difficult to read a report that says there's been a practice of discrimination against a class of citizens in your community. It's been difficult to acknowledge that someone has been injured on your watch, that you can do better and haven't. That you haven't had your eye on the ball and that's just my part of it.
"There is a point at which you just have to recognize you have a problem and that's the tough part, but once you get there, it's a gratifying thing knowing that you are helping people."