January 24, 2013

I. Background

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is one of the 10 largest local police agencies in the United States and serves as the primary law enforcement agency for the District of Columbia. The department includes more than 4,400 members, of which approximately 3,800 are sworn police officers and 600 are civilian employees. [85] Although a number of other law enforcement agencies operate in the District (including the US Park Police, the Metro Transit Police, the Capitol Police, and the Secret Service) most local crimes fall under MPD’s jurisdiction. [86]

The Criminal Investigations Division of MPD includes a specialized Sexual Assault Unit (SAU). A lieutenant is responsible for overseeing the unit, which includes two sergeants and 16 detectives.[87] The SAU is responsible for the primary and follow-up investigation of all sexual assaults that occur in the District of Columbia involving adult victims.[88]

MPD Procedures for Investigating Sexual Assault

According to the unit’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), cases are assigned to the unit in a number of ways: communications (i.e. dispatchers), hospitals, anonymous calls, walk-ins, other police agencies, or referrals by advocacy groups. [89] A review of incident reports shows that most sexual assaults are reported via a radio run (a response to a 911 call), a walk-in, or on-scene (an officer was flagged down on site or called to the scene).

According to MPD’s website, a person reporting a sexual assault can expect the following:

  • A visit by a police officer to the location of the reported incident when a dispatcher receives a call.
  • A police officer to ask some questions about what happened.
  • The responding police officer to contact the SAU once an incident involving sexual assault has been reported.
  • Transfer of the investigation to the detective once he or she arrives at the scene.
  • The detective to conduct a more detailed interview.
  • The detective to contact the Forensic Science Division to respond to the scene to collect evidence at the location of the crime.
  • The detective to arrange for the victim to be taken to the hospital for a forensic exam, if necessary.
  • A specially trained nurse to conduct the forensic exam.

The role of the responding officer is limited.[90] The officer is to contact the witness, conduct a basic interview to find out the “whens, wheres and hows.”[91] If there is any mention of sexual assault, the patrol officer contacts the SAU.[92] “Members [responding patrol officers] shall not question the victim in detail about the offense” (emphasis in original order).[93]

An SAU detective is required to respond to the scene of all complaints of sexual assault, even if it is not the primary crime being reported, and all crimes that appear to have sexual overtones.[94] Under the current policy, the SAU detective, not the responding officer, also takes the victim to the hospital if the victim consents to a forensic exam.[95] Forensic exams are typically offered to victims who report within 96 hours of their assault, though in some circumstances it may be possible to collect evidence beyond that period.[96]

Some sexual assault victims, however, report first to a hospital. The designated hospital for care of adult sexual assault victims in D.C. is Washington Hospital Center (WHC), which has hosted the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program since late 2008 (see Methodology section).

The SANE Program is activated through a hospital hotline when a victim (patient) appears at a hospital or reports an assault to police.[97] According to SANE program protocol, the hotline contacts the SANE nurse on call, an advocate from the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, and, if the patient has not already gone to police and would like to report an assault, law enforcement. As a result of reforms instituted since 2008, the hospital dispatch system contacts the SAU directly and an SAU detective responds to the hospital so that the victim only has to speak to a single law enforcement officer.[98]

When patients arrive, they are put in a quiet room to await their exam.[99] If law enforcement (an SAU detective) arrives first, the detective may interview the patient in the quiet room before the exam. The rape crisis center advocate is not allowed to be present for the law enforcement interview, but is available to provide information and emotional support otherwise. The SANE nurse then interviews the victim again and conducts a head-to-toe examination of the victim’s body, documenting and photographing visible physical injuries, performing a pelvic exam, and collecting biological samples. This usually takes four hours.[100] The various swabs and samples are placed in separate envelopes or tubes, labeled, sealed, and put in a large envelope—the forensic evidence kit (or sometimes called a “rape kit” or Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit).

The SAU detective is responsible for picking up the forensic evidence kit and delivering it to the Crime Scene Investigations Branch within 24 hours of completing the exam.[101] The detective is supposed to schedule a follow-up interview with the victim at the SAU office as soon as possible—but in all cases within 72 hours[102]— to review the completeness of the preliminary investigation, determine the scope and direction of the follow-up investigation, and submit all the paperwork to an SAU official for review.[103] The detective continues the follow-up investigation in accordance with police protocols.

The Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) includes representatives from Washington Hospital Center, the US Attorney’s Office, the MPD’s Sexual Assault Unit, the Office of Victim Services, the US Park Police, and the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. According to the MPD’s website,

SART is [a] partnership of public and private agencies that work to coordinate a high-quality, multidisciplinary, victim/survivor-centered response to sexual assault cases. This partnership allows for better communications among all those involved in responding to the victim. It improves the process for reporting and prosecuting cases.[104]

The team has had notable success in improving medical treatment for survivors.[105] However, one member noted, “It seems to me that in our efforts to improve the treatment of and for victims of sexual assault, MPD is one of the biggest obstacles.”[106]

Policy guidance governing the procedures and behaviors of officers involved in sexual assault cases can be found in the MPD’s General and Special Orders on Adult Sexual Assault Investigations and in the MPD’s Standard Operating Procedures.[107]

These procedures contain no information on drug-facilitated sexual assaults and do not discuss non-stranger rape, although most assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.[108] Nor is there mention of possible impact of trauma on victims. However, in other respects, these policies are appropriately victim-centered. New policies, discussed below, have been implemented since June 2012 in response to Human Rights Watch recommendations. In large part, however, the problems documented in this report do not appear to stem from MPD policy (though this should be reviewed with a view towards improvement), but rather from police practice that is inconsistent with it. This problematic behavior is detailed in the following two sections.

Reforms Since 2008

In its responses to Human Rights Watch, the MPD described a number of changes implemented since 2008 or currently in progress, including a change in personnel from some of those who had been associated with the lawsuit described in this report, the new improved SANE Program at Washington Hospital Center, and some training initiatives.

The MPD also stated that it has “reemphasized its role in the Sexual Assault Response Team” since 2008, embracing the multidisciplinary approach to handling sexual assault investigations.[109] It indicated it has increased its collection of specimens for drug-facilitated sexual assault cases and stated that SAU detectives attended a training on drug-facilitated sexual assaults at the US Attorney’s Office in June 2010.[110] In addition, the MPD is in the process of developing a formal case review process in which a panel of members will review, on a bi-weekly basis, all cases which have been investigated and are not forwarded to the US Attorney’s Office for prosecution. MPD is also developing a more extensive selection process for detectives assigned to the SAU, including assessing the candidates’ commitment to a multi-disciplinary and victim-centered approach. An updated General Order that sets forth MPD policy for handling sexual assault cases, cited throughout this report, was released in August 2011. An analysis of the new order shows it is nearly identical in substance to the 2006 General Order governing sexual assault investigations that it replaced. The primary changes are: (1) reference to the “Command Information Center,” (2) the SANE exams are conducted at Washington Hospital Center instead of Howard University Hospital and a hospital hotline is used to contact the on-duty SANE nurse, and (3) the Crime Scenes Investigations Branch is now referred to as the Forensic Science Services Division.[111] As with the previous policy, it stresses the importance of responding to and investigating all sexual assaults and the need to be sensitive to the needs of the victims and to provide victims with information and assistance.[112] In addition, the unit has grown by three detectives since 2008, including two detectives assigned to handle “cold cases.” New leadership has also been added to the unit. References to these changes appear throughout this report.

Since being informed of this report’s findings on May 30, the MPD has undertaken a number of significant additional reforms to its handling of sex abuse cases. On June 8, 2012, the MPD issued a reminder to all members of the police department that they are required to take an incident report for “all alleged sexual assaults and assaults with sexual overtones regardless of the circumstances” in accordance with police policy.[113]

On June 12, 2012, Commander George Kucik of the Criminal Investigations Division issued a division memorandum incorporating many of Human Rights Watch’s recommended changes, including allowing victims a sleep cycle prior to being re-interviewed; requiring that detectives respond to complainants within two days of the complainant’s call; conducting interviews in a comfortable environment; requiring a supervisor review of all sexual abuse and sexual allegation cases at regular intervals, which will be documented in WACIIS; requiring consultation with a supervisor about upgrading classifications of allegations within 24 hours; requiring weekly audits of kits at WHC to ensure the kits are picked up within three days of a sexual abuse report; requiring monthly reviews with the commander, captain, and lieutenant of open cases; and requiring commander review and approval of cases closed as unfounded.

Victim Services is now required to expand its involvement and offer services to all victims of sexual abuse, including cases that are classified as allegations (or cases in which “the victim’s initial report did not indicate all the elements of a sexual assault”). Victim Services is also preparing a survey to provide victims with an opportunity to rate police service, which will be reviewed by the commander. A copy of the June 12, 2012 memorandum is attached as an appendix to this report.

On September 19, 2012, MPD’s Victims Services coordinator informed Human Rights Watch that the unit’s caseload had indeed increased “significantly” and they had received approval and funding to hire two new staff members to work with sexual assault victims.[114]

On September 25 and 26, 2012, a nationally known forensic nurse examiner conducted a joint training program for law enforcement, nurses, and advocates.[115]

In addition, in September 2012, the MPD informed Human Rights Watch that a mandatory sexual assault response training is being developed for all members of the force, and the MPD has coordinated a “sexual assault awareness campaign” targeted at the alcohol establishments in the district. A number of prosecutors and others Human Rights Watch spoke with felt that the new detectives were an improvement and that the unit was getting better.[116] Most would like to see more resources devoted to the unit.[117] The SANE medical director said in October 2012 that, “In the last six months, things are moving in the right direction and communication with the MPD has really improved.”[118] In late October, two victims reported that MPD agreed to reopen their cases in response to their complaints about how their cases were handled; one received an apology from a commander.

After receiving Human Rights Watch’s letter and recommendation for a department of justice investigation on May 30, 2012, Chief Lanier asked the Department of Justice for an independent review of its handling of sexual assault cases.

On December 20, 2012, Chief Lanier also indicated the SAU had undertaken the following reforms:

  1. In 2012, MPD developed an online Sexual Abuse training course which was mandated for all sworn members of the force.
  2. MPD issued a directive to first responders to notify a Sexual Abuse Unit detective whenever they respond to a scene where there are sexual overtones.
  3. MPD changed the process of collecting data in sexual assault cases.
  4. The Mayor’s Office of Victim Services has contracted with paid advocates (Network for Victim Recovery of D.C.—NVRDC) to provide resources to the victims of sexual abuse (formerly this was handled by volunteers).
  5. NVRDC provided training to all of the members of MPD’s Sexual Assault Unit on the impact of trauma and proper approach to victims of sexual assault.
  6. MPD undertook a concerted outreach effort to provide victims with resources including the launch of the UASK [119] application, and meetings with the owners of ABC establishments [establishments with liquor licenses] throughout the city to advise them of the prevalence of sexual assaults that are related to their establishments.
  7. That the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center is currently working with MPD to do a gap analysis to identify possible future changes that can improve our processes.[120]

MPD objected that “Human Rights Watch did not take the time to find out about the impact of the outreach efforts described above.”[121] However, some of these initiatives are not new (police have been instructed to immediately contact the SAU in sexual assault cases since at least 2006)[122] and others, such as the decision to contract with NVRDC and the launch of UASK,[123] are not police initiatives. However, any follow-up investigation undertaken by Human Rights Watch will consider the results of these initiatives.

[85] Metropolitan Police Department, Brief History of the MPDC, http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1230,q,540333,mpdcNav_GID,1529,mpdcNav,%7C31458%7C.asp (accessed April 26, 2012).

[86] See Washington Metro Transit Authority, http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/transit_police/; The United States Park Police, http://www.nps.gov/uspp/; United States Capitol Police, http://www.uscapitolpolice.gov/faq.php; United States Secret Service, http://www.secretservice.gov/whoweare.shtml (all accessed January 10, 2013).

[87] Human Rights Watch interview with Commander George Kucik, Lieutenant Pamela Burkett-Jones, Sergeant Keith Ronald Reed, and Tyria Fields, program manager for Victim Services, Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C., May 30, 2012. Detectives for the SAU are generally selected from a pool of veteran detectives. Two of the 16 detectives are assigned to investigate cold cases.

[88] General Order, MPD, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” August 25, 2011, p. 1.

[89]MPD, Sexual Assault Unit SOP, p. 28; Human Rights Watch interview with Commander George Kucik, Lieutenant Pamela Burkett-Jones, Sergeant Keith Ronald Reed, and Tyria Fields, May 30, 2012.

[90] Metropolitan Police Academy, Recruit Officer Training Program, “DC CODE Crimes against Persons,” Sergeant Richard Ehrlich, May 2011, p. 39, on file at Human Rights Watch (“Patrol officers need to determine whether it was a sexual act or sexual contact that took place, what method did the suspect employ to achieve the act or contact and what is the relationship between the actor and the victim.”).

[91] Deposition testimony of Detective Elgin Wheeler, --- v. The District of Columbia et al., October 3, 2008, p. 72; Deposition testimony of Sergeant George Maradiaga, July 14, 2008, pp. 26-28, 30-31

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Commander George Kucik, Lieutenant Pamela Burkett-Jones, Sergeant Keith Ronald Reed, and Tyria Fields, May 30, 2012.

[93] General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” Series 304, Number 06, effective date August 25, 2011, p. 4. Although this order post-dates much of the research for this report, as discussed below, it is nearly identical in substance to the 2006 General Order governing sexual assault investigations that it replaced.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid., p. 6.

[96] D.C. SART Meeting Minutes, October 23, 2008 and November 5, 2008, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[97] If the patient reports to a different hospital, they are supposed to be transferred to the Washington Hospital Center unless they have acute injuries requiring urgent attention. Victims under 18 years of age are referred to the Children’s National Medical Center, www.dcrcc.org/sexual_assault/getting_a_forensic_exam/ (accessed May 23, 2012).

[98] Letter from Chief Lanier to Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2012, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[99] D.C. SART Meeting Minutes, October 23, 2008 and November 5, 2008, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[100] “The D.C. SANE Center: A Best Practice Model,” Physician, Washington Hospital Centre, July/August 2009, http://www.whcenter.org/documents/Physician%20Publications/PhysicianJulAug09.pdf (accessed May 23, 2012), p. 10

[101] General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” Series 304, Number 06, effective date August 25, 2011, p. 11. A prior Special Order, “Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Program,” dated April 2, 2001, SO-01-06, also instructed that it was the detectives’ responsibility to deliver forensic exams to Mobile Crime “immediately after the examination, or at least within 24 hours.”

[102] General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” Series 304, Number 06, effective date August 25, 2011, p. 12. The prior General Order about adult sexual assault investigations does not specify a time frame but indicates that an SAU detective responding to the scene of a sexual assault is responsible for scheduling a follow-up interview with the victim at the SAU’s office. General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” Series 304, Number 6, effective December 22, 2006, p. 12.

[103] Ibid.

[104] Metropolitan Police Department, “Sexual Assault Response Team,” http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1232,q,556790,mpdcNav_GID,1523,mpdcNav,%7C31417%7C.asp (accessed April 25, 2012).

[105] Victims, advocates, and others interviewed for this report all reported positively about the quality and efficiency of care for victims at Washington Hospital Center, which is described as a significant improvement over the prior SANE program.

[106] Email from medical staff to OVS, April 6, 2009, on file at Human Rights Watch. However, the Washington Hospital Center chief medical officer, Dr. Janis Orlowski, emphasized that in her view, the “MPD has been a strong partner” since the beginning. Though Dr. Orlowski has never attended a SART meeting, she received reports about clinical programs. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Janis Orlowski, chief medical officer and chief operating officer for Washington Hospital Center, September 20, 2012.

[107] See Metropolitan Police Department, “Operational Handbook for the Directives System,” effective date July 25, 2006, www2.justiceonline.org/dcmpd/sop-Directives.pdf (accessed May 23, 2012); and General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations.”

[108] See, for example, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report,” November 2011, www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf (accessed November 19, 2012), pp. 21-22 (only 13.8 percent of victims report being assaulted by a stranger; most victims knew their perpetrator).

[109] Letter from Chief Lanier to Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2012, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[110] Ibid.

[111]  General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” Series 304, Number 06, effective date December 22, 2006. The new order is also organized slightly differently and excludes instructions for those who take calls from sexual assault victims. Other word changes are minor. For example, in 2011, SAU detectives are to “make every attempt to arrive on scene as soon as practicable.” In 2006 the SAU detective was to “make every attempt to arrive on the scene within an hour.” In 2011 the Order references picking up the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit within 24 hours of the completion of the exam; in 2006 detectives were to pick up the kit “when the exam is completed” (though a separate order from 2001 specifies kits are to be picked up within 24 hours).

[112] General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” August 25, 2011,

[113] Metropolitan Police Department, Washington D.C., “Reminder to Members Regarding Sexual Assault Investigations,” June 8, 2012, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[114] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Tyria Fields, program manager for Victim Services, Metropolitan Police Department, September 19, 2012.

[115]Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Heather Devore, SANE medical director, Washington Hospital Center, October 10, 2012.

[116] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with J.F., assistant US attorney, Washington D.C., September 18, 2012; with Dr. William Frohna, chairman of the Emergency Department, Washington Hospital Center, September 18, 2012; with S.W., assistant US attorney, Washington D.C., September 19, 2012; and with E.M., assistant US attorney, Washington D.C., September 19, 2012.

[117] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with E.M., assistant US attorney, Washington D.C., September 19, 2012; with C.L., Assistant US attorney, Washington D.C., September 18, 2012; and with S.W., assistant US attorney, Washington D.C., September 19, 2012

[118] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Heather Devore, October 11, 2012.

[119] According to its website, UASK (University Assault. Services, Knowledge) is a joint project between Men Can Stop Rape and the Office of Victim Services. It provides information about resources to sexual assault survivors. See http://www.uaskdc.org/about-u-ask (accessed December 21, 2012).

[120] Letter from Chief Lanier to Human Rights Watch, December 20, 2012, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[121] Ibid.

[122] Testimony from a 2008 lawsuit indicates that since 2006, responding officers were required to “immediately notify the Sexual Assault Unit.” Testimony of Detective Vincent Spriggs, October 23, 2008, p. 80-81; see also testimony of Sgt. George Maradiaga, July 14, 2008, pp. 150-51.

[123] “UASK is a project of Men Can Stop Rape and the District of Columbia Executive Office of the Mayor Office of Victim Services,” http://www.uaskdc.org/about-u-ask (accessed January 9, 2013).