MISSOULA, Mont. - Wednesday morning The Department of Justice announced a settlement with the City of Missoula to reform the police department's response to sexual assaults.
Michael W. Cotter, United States Attorney for the District of Montana, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Roy L. Austin, Jr., Missoula Mayor John Engen, and Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir participated in the news conference via telephone.
Last May the Justice Department announced investigations into allegations that the University of Montana, campus police, the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney's Office were mishandling reports of sexual assault in the community.
In a report released Wednesday DOJ investigators wrote that the MPD had in fact mishandled several sexual assault investigations. Investigators looked as far back as 2008 and cited several problems with the police department including compromising the quality and effectiveness of response to sexual assaults, discouraging female victims of sexual assault from cooperating with law enforcement and poor communication between the MPD and the Missoula County Attorney's Office.
The DOJ also praised the police department and city of Missoula for steps already taken in an attempt to improve the way sexual assault cases are handled.
An agreement between the DOJ and Missoula Police Department was outlined today. The city has two years to comply with the following:
· implement or revise policies, provide training and change practices to improve its response to sexual assault, including combating gender bias;
· work with an independent Monitor, community-based organizations and other stakeholders, to develop and implement the reforms described in the agreement, and to evaluate OPS' success in effecting meaningful reform;
· demonstrate that its implementation of the agreement has eliminated a pattern or practice of constitutional violations and that it has put in place systems and oversight that will prevent patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct from recurring; and
· develop procedures for gathering and analyzing data to assess the incidence and outcomes of reports of sexual assault.
Mayor Engen says some of the requirements will be implemented immediately, and he's happy to have an outline to move forward.
"It's an interesting combination of relief and hope," said Engen. "I'm glad that we're past the part where we're really looking back and grateful for the fact that we're looking forward."
"I remain convinced that we will be better at taking care of folks in our community as a result of this agreement."
DOJ officials said they're still working towards an agreement with the Missoula County Attorney's Office. If that office continues to not cooperate the DOJ could consider litigation.