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NOW Seeks Inquiry Into Police Investigations : Crime: The Police Department's failure rate and alleged insensitivity to victims are targeted.

December 02, 1990|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — A women's advocacy group this week plans to request investigations of the Police Department's failure to solve a high percentage of rape cases and allegations that some officers are insensitive to rape victims.

The local chapter of the National Organization for Women plans to ask the new Citizen Police Complaint Commission to determine whether the department is pursuing rape cases as aggressively as it should. Last year, police failed to make arrests in 74% of the cases of reported rapes.

The 11-member commission, which will be receiving public requests for the first time when it meets Wednesday, was approved by Long Beach voters last April to review reports of police misconduct.

NOW will also ask the commission to recommend ways to improve the department's "attitude and treatment of (rape) victims," said Gerrie Schipske, the group's president.

"There seems to be an attitude in the department that this is not important enough," said Schipske, who accused police of being insensitive to the seriousness of the crime. "(There is) the sexist belief held by many police that somehow rape is a crime of sexual passion and that the women involved asked for it."

Department officials would not comment on Schipske's statements but have said repeatedly that the an understaffed Police Department is the main factor in the department's poor track record in solving rape cases and other serious crimes. Officials at one point ordered mandatory weekend overtime to try to reduce the backlog of unsolved cases in the detective bureau, where some complaints have sat for months before anyone could get to them.

Schipske, however, questioned whether the understaffing is a valid excuse. "It can't be that they're just busy doing other things," she said.

Last year, Long Beach police had the worst record of any major city in California for solving serious and violent crimes.

Police solved 65 of the 247 rapes reported in the city last year, a 74% failure rate surpassed only by the percentage of unsolved robberies, among serious crimes. Police failed to solve 87% of the robberies, 52% of the murders and 41% of the assaults.

A study by the California Department of Justice found that Los Angeles police failed to solve 51% of the rapes reported to them in 1989, while San Diego police failed to solve 52%. Oakland police had a failure rate of 34%, Anaheim police 28% and Santa Ana police 19%.

"Rape is a felony, but it has not gotten the attention of the department," Schipske said. "Rape is a crime that is committed against women and for it to be so neglected, we want it looked into."

Officials of Rape Hotline of Long Beach also are expected to ask the commission to investigate concerns that disparaging remarks by a few patrol officers have discouraged some rape victims from pursuing their complaints. Rape Hotline volunteers answer emergency calls and help victims through police interviews, doctor examinations and court hearings.

In the past three months, hot line officials referred to the department two complaints of officers making offensive remarks to rape victims.

In one case, a female officer called a young woman "a little whore" before realizing the woman had been raped, according to Julie Dodge, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Agency, which runs the 24-hour hot line. In another case, a rape victim withdrew her complaint after becoming upset about a police officer's comments. Dodge declined to discuss specific details of the incident to ensure the victim's privacy.

Police are investigating both incidents, Deputy Chief Robert Luman said.

Luman insisted, however, that the department generally is doing an excellent job dealing with rape victims.

"The hot line takes about 200 calls a month. That's two (complaints) for 600 contacts, so it doesn't seem like an overwhelming problem. Obviously, we'd like it to be zero," Luman said.

Dodge acknowledged that only a few patrol officers may be making insensitive remarks but argued that more training should be established.

"We need to blow away some of the myths, such as somehow, the victim did something wrong," Dodge said.

She also expressed concern that officers may not be responding as sensitively to a rape victim who appears calm after an attack. "She may look as if she's OK, but she's not. She's in shock," Dodge said. The rape victim who appears calm is not likely to receive as much support as the victim who is emotional, Dodge added.

Hot line officials are working with sex-crime investigators to prepare a training program for all patrol officers, Dodge said. The program would be a refresher course for officers, who receive training in how to conduct sexual assault investigations when they first join the force, Luman said.

Dodge has also suggested that detectives from the sex crimes detail, rather than patrol officers, be assigned to respond to calls about alleged rapes when possible. A Rape Hotline representative also should be requested, and a police surgeon, if necessary, she said.

Investigators with the sex crimes detail said department officials had ordered them not to comment.

NOW also plans to ask the commission to study whether rape cases involving victims who are poor or minorities are being pursued vigorously, Schipske said. "Traditionally, if the woman is not a blonde and socially upscale, the rape is not considered a rape," Schipske said.

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