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How Local Cops Struggle To Track Sex Assault Cases

Evidence Kit
Evidence Kit | Image by Douglas Sacha/Getty Images

Several North Texas counties have submitted their state-mandated sexual assault response team reports, revealing some gaps in the handling and investigation of these crimes.

The biennial reporting of sexual assault response team (SART) efforts is required by state law, thanks to the passing of SB 476 in 2021. The compilation of the report is overseen by each county’s commissioners court, yet the ultimate aim is to improve the ways the various agencies involved in sexual assault cases serve victims.

SART project coordinator Deepika Modali from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) is working on a summary of the hundreds of reports submitted in order to identify better ways of improving SART responses and conducting these reports in the future, per the Dallas Observer. Nevertheless, a cursory analysis of the inaugural SART reports submitted by Dallas, Collin, Denton, and Tarrant counties revealed some significant differences in terms of resources and protocols.

Dallas County

The Dallas County report was submitted several months late and is the shortest of the four reports at just nine pages long — the minimum page requirement. While it identifies the actors involved in the county’s SART efforts and outlines their duties and future commitments, no data is provided on sexual assault cases.

The report cites several hurdles to collecting this data, such as jurisdictional issues related to the fact that of the 40 different law enforcement agencies serving the county, only three — including the Dallas Police Department — regularly participate in SART. Moreover, Claire Crouch from the Dallas County District Attorney’s office claimed that technical difficulties stemming from the county’s switch to the Odyssey system had corrupted indictment data on sexual assault suspects since May 2023, per the Dallas Observer.

As covered in The Dallas Express, Dallas County has faced cybersecurity attacks and spurred efforts to shore up the security of its servers.

Nevertheless, Dallas County’s SART report — absent of any data or analysis of cases — left much to be desired.

“[T]he response [Dallas County authorities] provided signals that there is likely a significant gap in collaboration and dedication from the criminal justice side of the SART,” Haleh Hekmat, TAASA’s systems change strategist, said of the information missing from the Dallas County SART report, according to the Dallas Observer.

In Dallas alone, there had been 48 incidents of rape reported this year as of March 31, according to data from the City’s crime analytics dashboard. Yet many others may go unreported in part due to the significant officer shortage within DPD, which fields only 3,000 officers despite a City analysis recommending 4,000. DPD recently began piloting a new sexual assault reporting protocol at Parkland Health to avoid forcing victims to wait for hours before undergoing forensic evidence exams.

Collin County

In contrast to Dallas County’s report, Collin County submitted a 22-page report rich in data thanks to the efforts of The Turning Point, a Plano rape crisis center. Local SART stakeholders — including advocacy groups, the Collin County Sheriff’s Office, and forensic nurses — meet twice a month to report on their response to sexual assault cases and address any issues. Several multi-disciplinary training sessions were also held on various topics, including how to use a trauma-informed approach to sexual assault cases.

A considerable amount of data was provided on the sexual assault cases seen between 2021 and 2023, including demographic information on the victims, where they received forensic examinations, and what happened to the cases once they reached the Collin County District Attorney’s Office. Overall, 852 sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement between 2020 and 2023, whereas only 163 arrests were made. Meanwhile, the snapshot of data from September 2021 to December 2023 shows that of 124 cases filed with the DA’s Office, 48 were no-billed, 59 led to indictments, and 44 led to dispositions after indictments.

“The majority of [sexual assault] cases do not end in a conviction,” Hekmat told the Dallas Observer. “This is why SARTs are tasked with strengthening health and judicial outcomes for survivors.”

Yet Hekmat noted that there was a great deal of transparency in Collin County’s SART report, which addressed its failure to provide a case review and indicated that it had the goal of creating a case review process in the future.

“The case review process is an essential component of SART because it helps teams evaluate their protocols to ensure they are effectively responding to survivors and minimizing traumatization,” Hekmat told the Dallas Observer.

Denton County

Denton County’s SART report is 62 pages long and details the continuing education events organized for SART members between 2021 and 2023, as well as the case reviews that took place during their meetings.

For instance, in August 2023, Denton County Assistant District Attorneys Michael Dickens and Rachel Nichols presented a post-trial review of a sexual assault case in which the suspect was found not guilty by jurors. They highlighted how the verdict might have been influenced by the length of time between the cause being investigated and filed by law enforcement, the length of time it took for the DA’s office to work the case and take it to a grand jury for indictment, and the delays caused by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

The report also included important demographic information on sexual assault victims as well as some of the circumstances surrounding their attacks. For instance, some trends were identified, including the ingestion of drugs or alcohol by some victims prior to their assault, some having met their assailant via social media, and some having been raped by their intimate partners.

However, Hekmat noted a concerning discrepancy in Denton County’s SART report, with just 228 reports of sexual assault investigated despite 273 reports having been made during the studied period.

“I think this is an important point to discuss and look forward to seeing more information on this data,” Hekmat told the Dallas Observer.

Tarrant County

Much like the SART report filed by Denton County, Hekmat noted a difference in the number of sexual assault cases reported and investigated in Tarrant County’s SART report.

“Particularly within Fort Worth, 8% of reported cases [were] filed with the DA’s office,” Hekmat told the Dallas Observer. “In Arlington, only 14% of reported cases were filed with the DA’s office. While this is not uncommon, it is definitely an important topic that deserves discussion and strategic planning.”

Nonetheless, the 72-page report outlined SART’s activities — such as quarterly meetings and trainings held since October 2021 — and provided a considerable amount of data on the 1,758 reports of sexual assault made in which the victim was 17 years old or older during the studied time period. A total of 253 resulted in felony cases filed with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.

Hekmat applauded Tarrant County’s SART report for its transparency, noting that it included a list of response team members participating in each of its quarterly meetings.

“Transparency goes a long way in building trust and showing a SART’s commitment to identifying opportunities for improvement. Tarrant County provided copies of sign-in sheets, their case review process, and other SART work products within their report,” she said, per the Dallas Observer.

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