MISSOULA — Missoula officials announced a new safety and accountability audit to “flush out gaps” in sexual assault investigations at a sparsely attended public forum Tuesday morning.
Mayor John Engen, Detective Capt. Mike Coyler and former county commissioner Janet Stevens Donahue introduced the audit as part of the stipulations laid out in a 2013 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Stevens Donahue has been selected to administer the six-month audit, which will examine the police department’s response to sexual assault cases and make suggestions for improvement.
Shantelle Gaynor, one of 15 people in attendance and program manager at the crime victims advocate office, posed the first and only question from non-media attendees.
“I can’t help but notice there’s all familiar faces in the room,” Gaynor said. “So, I am wondering how are we going to be engaging the community members on a deeper level?”
Coyler was the first to respond, saying officials are in the process of creating focus groups of victims and are working on an anonymous victims’ survey.
“While there are a lot of familiar faces in the room, this may be one of the few times we are going to try and gather everybody from top to bottom in this process,” Stevens Donahue added. “We are going to be looking at forums and policies and … the day-to-day operations and how agencies actually coordinate when a sexual assault is reported.”
Stevens Donahue said officials will attempt to coordinate with every organization involved with a victim from the time the victim reports a sexual assault.
“That could include the hospitals,” she said. “That could include 9-1-1.”
Stevens Donahue and Coyler attended a training last month in St. Paul, Minn., conducted by Praxis International — a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate violence against women and children.
Stevens Donahue said the training introduced them to the roles different agencies that serve sexual assault victims play in other communities. They reviewed reports, accompanied police officers and listened to 9-1-1 phone calls to “flush out where there may be gaps in the process of getting a victim to the right service,” she said.
In Missoula, Stevens Donahue, who is volunteering her services for the duration of the audit, will head a team of people from different agencies who work with victims.
At the end of six months, she hopes to submit a report with recommendations for improvements.
Praxis has conducted similar audits in Lincoln, Neb., and Duluth, Minn., Stevens Donahue explained. She said in each instance, the nonprofit arrived at great recommendations and guidelines to ensure the gaps in sexual assault investigations are closed.
Overall, the city of Missoula is making tremendous progress in its effort to comply with stipulations the DOJ mandated in the 2013 agreement, Engen said.
“I think we are exceeding the expectations of that agreement and I think the community is better for it,” he said.