Portland sexual-assault report finds progress - but also some major flaws

Portland sexual-assault report finds progress - but also some major flaws »Play Video
Jeffrey N. McAllister.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland city auditor made public a progress report Tuesday that showed improvement in the Portland Police Bureau’s approach to sexual-assault investigations – albeit with at least one disastrous exception and much room for improvement in several other areas.

The report is part of an ongoing response to a 2005 audit that found Portland lagged badly behind other cities in its response to sex crimes. 

At the time, victims had to wait weeks or, sometimes, months before detectives contacted them after they reported an assault. There were also problems at the time with sloppy documentation and detectives who failed to pursue suspects – even when victims told police who had attacked them.

READ: The entirety of the city auditor's new report.

This latest audit found one very troubling case, in which a man named Jeff McAllister allegedly attacked new victims after a woman accused him of sexual assault. The report found that the victim was reluctant to talk with detectives, but that the victim later called the district attorney’s office. When the D.A.’s office contacted police, they made one attempt to page the victim and then closed the case. 

“Some cases may still have tragic outcomes despite these improvements,” the audit reports.

The audit also showed improved police response times to sexual-assault reports, although that again comes with an asterisks. In “most cases,” the sex-crimes unit (SCU) contacted victims within 48 hours – down from the months-long wait some victims endured 10 years ago, but still delayed at times by a 10 percent increase in detectives’ caseloads.

That increased caseload points to what’s become a troubling trend – as detectives have conducted more thorough investigations, they’ve learned sexual-assault in Portland is a larger problem than they had realized.

That, in turn, has led to fewer cases cleared and detectives who are overworked. The number of Measure 11 crimes – the most serious offenses – assigned per detective is up 10 percent.  That comes despite the fact the bureau added two Victim Services Specialists.

The audit found that the city had made improvement in several areas, including improving medical resources for victims, reducing turnover among SCU detectives and improved dedication to providing friendly meeting places between detectives and victims.

Still, there is no specific policy that all victims will be contacted by a detective or specialist, and nobody is tracking how often it happens.

The city has also worked to improve 911 dispatchers’ interactions with victims. Though the audit found that dispatchers were inconsistent in their dealings with victims, it said the Bureau of Emergency Communications had gone “beyond our recommendations.”

The audit made seven suggestions for improvement:

  • The Portland Police Bureau develop up-to-date policies and procedures describing the duties and responsibilities of SCU specialists, as well as their job descriptions.
  • The SCU revise policies and require detectives to make one last attempt to contact victims after periods of inactivity, before closing a case.
  • The supervisor of the SCU develop and track statistics on progress toward meeting the goal of contacting all victims.
  • The police bureau revise SCU procedures to ensure that all inquiries by victims or by representatives of the District Attorney’s Office as to the status of cases be reported to the SCU supervisor.
  • The SCU revise procedures to ensure that when interviewing victims, officers and detectives ask directly and report explicitly, if the victim wishes to proceed with an investigation and prosecution.
  • The police bureau undertake a review of case load and performance within the SCU to determine why clearance rates are declining.
  • The Bureau of Emergency Communications continue to emphasize the need for 911 call-takers to consistently follow their procedures for giving information on evidence preservation.

Mayor Charlie Hales and Chief of Police Michael Reese both lent their support to the investigation’s recommendations.

“We will now move forward and implement the new recommendations identified in the current audit,” Reese wrote in a release.