Municipal police in New Brunswick keep poor crime statistics and often close investigations into sexual violence without interviewing key witnesses.
That's according to a provincial government audit of sexual crimes obtained by CBC News.
The audit also revealed that most of the victims of sex crimes in New Brunswick are children. Seventy-four per cent of the victims in the 217 cases were under 19, with the majority being under the age of 12.
"That was an awakening that caught a lot of people off guard," said Steve Roberge, executive director of the New Brunswick Police Commission, the province's police watchdog.
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Despite this, the review found some officers didn't understand the crimes they were investigating, particularly sexual exploitation of children, and were confused about the age of consent.
"It was noted by the policing consultants review team that officers, more so primary response officers, did not necessarily understand the elements of the various sexual crime offences in the Criminal Code," the report says.
Review examined five years' of cases
The provincial government launched a review into how police investigate sexual violence after a Globe and Mail investigation found New Brunswick had the highest rate of sexual assault cases deemed "unfounded" in the country. When a case is declared "unfounded," it means investigators believe the crime never happened or was never attempted.
The review examined sex crimes investigated by municipal police between 2010 and 2014.
No one from the Department of Justice and Public Safety was available for an interview about the review on Tuesday afternoon.
Roberge said he plans to give police chiefs and the provincial Department of Justice and Public Safety time to make changes before he decides whether to do his own review into the issue.
Crime data 'cannot be relied on as accurate'
The government review found that police have been routinely misclassifying "unfounded" cases, all because of serious shortfalls in the way New Brunswick municipal police keep crime statistics.
"Since inconsistencies in data submitted to [the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics] is widespread across the province, crime data in general cannot be relied on as accurate enough to analyze with a level of confidence," the report says.
It suggests there is confusion around who is responsible for making sure a file has the correct classification.
Even if the police force has cases reviewed by a civilian who is trained in proper classification, they can still make incorrect assumptions if the officer doesn't have a proper investigative file, the review found.
No one in the province is trained to guide municipal police forces on how to keep accurate crime data and reviewers suggest the provincial government should have a co-ordinator.
Police failing to interview key witnesses
The review also flagged serious problems with how quickly police give up on investigating sex crimes.
In nearly half — 42 per cent — of "unfounded" cases, police closed the case when there were still witnesses that could have been interviewed.
Often, victims will tell another person about what happened to them before they go to police, crucial evidence that some officers in New Brunswick are missing.
"Witness testimony from the first person disclosed to is important corroboration for a crime that often lacks physical evidence," the report says.
In cases involving children, police are required to report allegations to the Department of Social Development.
But if the child doesn't disclose the abuse during a screening by Social Development, reviewers found police will typically close the case without interviewing other witnesses.
"The majority of complaints involving children will have resulted from a child disclosing to an adult," the report says.
"More often than not, a statement was not taken from the person disclosed to."
Police often don't even interview the suspect in the crime.
The audit showed a suspect was interviewed only 38 per cent of the time in cases categorized as "unfounded," and 66 per cent of the time in founded complaints.
Woodstock officers to get trauma training
The report recommends more training for police on investigating sex crimes.
Victims should only be interviewed by an investigator who is trained specifically on trauma, but "only a small number of police officers" in the province currently have that training, the report says.
Even though it uncovered shortcomings with the way police close investigations into sex crimes, the review rejects the idea that police don't believe victims of sexual violence.
Woodstock Police Chief Brent Blackmore agreed that police don't get enough education on trauma or how to properly code sexual assault cases, including unfounded cases.
"Looking at how some of the departments were scoring it, you knew there was going to be some discrepancy between agency to agency," he said.
His police force will be partnering with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre to train Woodstock officers on trauma, joining Fredericton Police Chief Leanne Fitch by bringing in outside experts.
Blackmore also plans to do the same case review next year see if the police force improves.
"I think it behooves every chief leader to get out there and say, 'These are some very solid recommendations,'" Blackmore said.
"Why wouldn't you accept those recommendations and make your force better and provide a better service?"
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