Audit: Portland rape investigations falling short

Audit: Portland rape investigations falling short »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. - On a dark and misty morning a woman walks to work through a Southeast Portland neighborhood.

A man jumps out from behind a car and changes the woman's life forever.

The large, muscular intruder pulls the woman behind a building and violently rapes her.

This crime is like most rapes in Portland. It is unsolved almost 17 months after the attack.

An eight-month investigation into how Portland police investigate, report and solve rapes found the Police Bureau falls woefully short of its peers.

"What concerned us the most was that the number of crimes being cleared, or sexual assaults being cleared, was low and getting lower," said Portland Audit Services Director Drummond Kahn.

Kahn and a team of auditors first noticed issues with the city's sexual assault clearance rate two years ago when looking at major crimes in Portland.

The team found, of the major U.S. cities between 500,000 and one million people, only Tucson, Ariz., rates lower in solving rapes.

Kahn was surprised just how low Portland rated when compared to other cities of its size.

"Yeah, we're below Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Denver, Charlotte, Boston, El Paso, Memphis, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Nashville," he said.

In fact, according to the audit services report released today, Portland ranked 20th out of 21 cities. It found fewer than 17 out of every 100 rapes in the city are solved.

But there are solutions.

The audit team laid out 11 recommendations for improvements. They start at the beginning with training 911 operators on the proper way to take calls from rape victims.

Key improvements, however, center on changes at the Portland Police Bureau and at area hospitals where the auditors say there is not enough nurses trained in handling sexual assault cases and improper equipment to secure evidence.

The team also pointed to the need of more detectives on the Police Bureau's Sexual Assault Detail. Right now there are only four or five members depending on retirements and promotions.

Kahn said hospitals and the police bureau are cooperating and seem enthused about improving Portland's sexual assault clearance record.

In a letter to City Auditor Gary Blackmer, Police Chief Rozie Sizer wrote: "Though some of the recommendations outlined in Mr. Kahn's audit apply to other partners of the Portland Police Bureau, it is vital that we all discuss them and approach them as partners working toward the same goal."

Mayor Tom Potter wrote: "I am pleased at your systemic approach that identifies how we can improve our entire public safety system's response to victims of crimes."

Kahn said he believes the city can improve with the road map laid out by audit services and the cooperation of all parties involved in investigating and prosecuting rape cases and those who treat victims of rape.

In the end, he believes stories like the rape in Southeast Portland can be the exception instead of the rule, and more rapists will be brought to justice.