Bolstered by provincial funding over the next two years, Brantford Police Service will be taking a closer look at how it can better handle allegations of sexual crime.
In partnership with the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant Victim Services of Brant, Brant Community Healthcare System and a researcher from Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford police submitted a successful application to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ new community safety grant program designed to improve police response to sexual violence and harassment allegations.
The $147,165 in funding made available to the police service and its partners will support an advocate case review of sexual assault investigations, leading to the development of best practices in sexual assault investigations. The grant is for one of 15 police pilot programs funded with $1.8 million by the Ontario government. The funding is part of the province's It's Never Okay plan to end sexual violence and harassment.
“I welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with victim advocates and subject matter experts to identify opportunities for improvement in our response to allegations of sexual offences," said police Chief Geoff Nelson.
The project will consist of an examination of current best practices in sexual assault investigations, a review of sexual assault cases from 2014 and 2015 by a panel comprised of representatives from all of the project partners and a legal expert on violence against women.
“I feel a profound sense of privilege and a profound sense of responsibility as we embark upon this remarkable shared journey," said Joanna Brant, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant. "The Sexual Assault Centre of Brant, like all rape crisis centres across Ontario, is committed to creating healing and change for survivors of sexual violence. The project that Brantford Police Service has initiated is a marvelous step in that direction.”
Brantford police will also collaborate with nationally recognized experts on trauma and advocate case review, including Dr. Lori Haskell, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, and Sunny Marriner, executive director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre.
Two products the city police will develop as a result of the review are an enhanced training program for officers and improved uniform crime reporting coding practices, used by police services across Canada to supply Statistics Canada with data.
Announcement of the police response to sexual offences grant is timely considering a recent series of Globe and Mail articles highlighting the often high percentage (an average of 20 per cent across Canada) of sexual assault investigations police concluded as being "unfounded." Unfounded means that a police investigation has established that a crime did not happen or was not attempted.
According to the Globe and Mail, the Brantford Police Service's average unfounded rate for sexual assault allegations based on statistics gathered for the years 2010 to 2014 is 30 per cent.
Brant News made a request to the Brantford Police Service for similar data, but to date only the number of sexual offences (including exploitation, luring and offences against children, etc.) have provided for the years 2012 to 2016. For further data, Brant News was referred to Statistics Canada, although that government agency has not collected statistics on unfounded criminal allegations since 2002.
In 2012, Brantford Police Service investigated 146 complaints of sexual offences, 200 in 2013, 144 in 2014, 166 in 2015 and 164 in 2016.
Nelson said the funding application and announcement has no connection to the Globe and Mail articles.
"However, in light of the report, we will be looking at both the investigations and the coding," he said.
Nelson said Brantford police and its partners applied for funding in October 2016 and learned the application was successful in December. The first Globe and Mail article was published on Feb. 3, 2017.
Janet Okrafka, coordinator of the Brant Community Healthcare System's sexual assault and domestic violence care and treatment centre, said she believes the "innovative initiative" and advocate case reviews "will be one more step to ensure patient-centered care.”
Penny McVicar, executive director of Victim Services of Brant, said she is confident the reviews "will result in enhanced training for police and the partner agencies.”
“Promoting a compassionate and effective police response is one of many measures our government is taking to help more survivors of sexual violence feel comfortable coming forward," said Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Marie-France Lalonde.
Indira Naidoo-Harris, Minister of Women’s Issues, highlighted the importance of survivors receiving "the compassionate and appropriate response they deserve from professionals across all sectors."
MPP Dave Levac said the program will not only promote safety in Brantford, but also improve police practices in general.