Vancouver PD grant aims to enhance sex assault services

Vancouver PD is only police force in the state of Washington to be awarded the grant

The Vancouver Police Department, November 3, 2017 (KOIN)
The Vancouver Police Department, November 3, 2017 (KOIN)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Over a 4-year period the Vancouver Police Department has seen a steady increase in reported rape and sexual assault cases. And of those reported cases, nearly hafl the victims were between the ages of 13 and 22.

Now, through a $74,389 grant, Vancouver police will be in a one-year pilot program beginning in 2018 to enhance the police response to victims of sexual assault.

Vancouver Police Assistant Chief Chris Sutter, November 3, 2017 (KOIN)
Vancouver Police Assistant Chief Chris Sutter, November 3, 2017 (KOIN)

“We know, nationally, that rapes are under-reported,” Assistant Chief Chris Sutter told KOIN 6 News on Friday. Even factoring in population growth, they’re still seeing an increase “So, we want to take a proactive approach to working with our victims and solving these crimes.”

2013: 74
2014: 89
2015: 112
2016: 117
Source: Vancouver PD

The Vancouver PD is the only police force in the state of Washington to be awarded the grant, which was made by the Washington State Office and Crime Victims Advocacy, plus funding from the US Department of Justice and the Office on Violence Against Women.

Sutter said the Vancouver PD will take a 2-prong approach: creating a more victim-centered environment and be more informed on how trauma impacts victims.

Through the grant, the plan is to focus more on training for patrol officers, the people who may have the first contact with the victim of a sexual assault.

“We know historically many victims — and 99% our victims are females — are reluctant to come forward because of fear of retaliation, or retribution or fear they won’t be believed by the police or by others,” Sutter said.

“So the first thing is we want to create an environment where victims feel safe coming forward and making a report to the police department.”

The second prong of the plan is educating and training officers to better understand the trauma a victim may feel.

A Vancouver police car, November 3, 2017 (KOIN)
A Vancouver police car, November 3, 2017 (KOIN)

“Someone who has been exposed to extreme trauma may not, at the immediate contact with police, have perfect chronological recall of the events,” he said. “Which, in the past, may have led a police investigator to believe the victim was less credible.”

Understanding trauma and how it affects memory, he said, “is really critical for all of our officers, especially our first responders.”

Sutter believes the better education and training will help them “solve more cases, get better interviews, better rapport with our victims, which should lead to holding offenders accountable, making more arrests and successful prosecutions.”

The grant for the pilot program will focus the training on patrol officers. “Our first response to sexual assaults and rape cases is always at the patrol level, so we’re going to focus training and emphasis on developing a higher level of expertise in patrol.”

That effort will help them look at cases “wholistically, from first patrol response through investigations to conclusion.”

At the end of the year, Vancouver PD will evaluate what worked best and what their outcomes were. Sutter said VPD will “evolve our practices” as they learn more through training.

Assistant Chief Chris Sutter said he wants everyone in Vancouver to know the police are there to protect and serve.

“They can have faith in their police department that we will provide the very best possible service to victims of sexual assault and rape.”