Calgary

Calgary's sexual assault 'unfounded' rate plummets under new police protocols

Calgary police say one year after adopting a new sexual offence strategy, its unfounded sexual assault rate has dropped by just about seven percentage points, so that less than three out of 100 potential cases are deemed not worth pursuing. 

Last year the Calgary police service launched a new sexual offence strategy

The Calgary Police Service says the sexual offence "unfounded" rate was 10 per cent in 2017 and is now 2.93 per cent. (CBC)

Calgary police say one year after adopting a new sexual offence strategy, its unfounded sexual assault rate has dropped by just about seven percentage points, so that less than three out of 100 potential cases are deemed not worth pursuing. 

The force began reviewing cases after a 2017 Globe and Mail article reported that 10 per cent of Calgary sexual assault complaints were being classified as unfounded.

Calgary Police Service launched a pilot project in February 2018 that aimed to make sure all sex assault cases were properly investigated. An internal review had found dozens of files had been given the wrong classification.

At the time, police said officials discovered 48 sex offences that were incorrectly coded as "unfounded" — police lingo signifying that investigators believe no offence had taken place or was even attempted.

Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker said as a part of the pilot project's strategy, they adopted the Philadelphia Model.

"Which is a model that was designed in the city of Philadelphia back in 2001, and this would involve any sex assault investigation that was cleared or closed with no charges laid," he said. 

Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker says the one-year pilot project was so successful they will continue using it permanently. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

One year later, Walker said the unfounded rate in Calgary has dropped from 10 per cent in 2017 to roughly 2.93 per cent in 2018.

As a part of the model, sexual assault advocates form a committee and work with police four times a year to review cases.

Danielle Aubry, executive director for Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault (CCASA), is a member of that committee.

"We are looking for things that have plagued sexual violence for years and years. The barriers that people experience whether it's sexual assault myths and stereotypes or attitudes, and we take all of those types of things into consideration," she said. 

"The education and the knowledge of sexual violence and all those insidious dynamics that exist. That's where our specialty and our expertise comes in because we do this work every single day."

The committee then reports their findings back to police.

Walker said at the first two review committee sessions the team looked around 80 files each time.

The third review committee session is set to take place this month, with just as many on the docket.

As a part of their sexual offence strategy — which police have now decided to permanently adopt — CPS have also introduced a dedicated officer to the role of sexual offence coordinator whose responsibility it is to look at every single sex related offence reported to the service.

"They would review it and then offer expertise and experience to the frontline officers who were dealing with the less serious of the sex assault investigations," said Walker. 

Danielle Aubry, CEO of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA), welcomed the move by Calgary police. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

And the advocacy community thinks it's a good move too, according to Aubry. 

"I think it builds capacity within the service because that person is able to go back to a constable or another detective and talk to them  about what they feel maybe they missed or different perspective on things," she said.

Walker said so far the sexual offence coordinator has already reviewed more than 550 cases.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the unfounded sexual assault rate dropped by about seven per cent. In fact, it fell by about 70 per cent.
    Apr 12, 2019 8:01 AM MT

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson