It’s close to a year since the city of Missoula entered into an agreement with the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and we’re the better for it.
In the wake of continuing conflict between the DOJ and the Missoula County Attorneys Office and a recent (Feb. 18) opinion piece by Missoula’s former police chief, we think it’s important to remind the public we serve where the city of Missoula stands when it comes to the safety of women in our community.
We’re more responsive and sensitive to the needs of victims of sexual assault, we’re operating under better policies and procedures, we are better trained, we are cooperating better with our partners in law enforcement, the criminal justice system and the community, we’re reorganizing our staff and remodeling our facilities to better serve victims and we’re opening ourselves to external review in an effort to ensure that we’re always improving and that we’re accountable to the citizens we serve.
Since May, when we finalized our agreement with the Civil Rights Division, our team has worked tirelessly to meet the letter and spirit of that agreement, which calls for a victim-centered approach to investigating sexual assault.
Here’s what’s different today from a year ago:
• Nearly every one of Missoula’s police officers has received extensive training in sexual-assault response from a widely respected trainer using nationally recognized best practices. Our officers have been joined by the staff of the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety, the county attorney and members of his staff.
• We have updated our policies and procedures around sexual-assault cases, ensuring that we’re communicating more frequently and thoughtfully with victims, more assertively following up with suspects and turning over the best possible investigations to prosecutors, then following up with their charging decision and documenting those decisions. The city of Missoula, University of Montana and Missoula County Attorney’s Office have agreements in place designed to enhance interagency cooperation with regard to sexual assault.
• Each of our sexual-assault cases is reviewed by an independent, community-based team responsible for holding us accountable to our policies and practices. We make changes in policy, procedure and personnel based on these reviews.
• Soon, we’ll participate in our first annual community audit of our response that will assess how we, the University of Montana and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office are collaborating to address sexual assault, “with a focus on enhancing victim safety, support and participation in the law-enforcement process.”
Today, the women and men of the Missoula Police Department are working diligently every day to ensure that we’re taking care of victims of sexual assault better than any other city in America. We’re not grudgingly operating under an agreement with the federal government, but operating in the best interests of the community we’re sworn to protect and serve.
Mike Brady is the city of Missoula’s police chief and John Engen is Missoula’s mayor.