Calgary’s police department says it will give unfounded sexual assault cases to a committee for a second look.
Police say that the committee will be made up of five organizations with experience dealing with sexual assault issues, including the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and the Alberta Ministry of Status of Women.
It says the agencies will meet with police at least three times a year to review all new, unfounded sexual assault cases to make sure the allegations were thoroughly investigated.
Private information and identities in the cases will be protected, but police say the agency representatives will have access to all other details in the files.
Police say the idea is based on an approach that was first used 17 years ago in Philadelphia.
They note the decision follows a national media investigation that determined police were closing a higher rate of sex assault cases as unfounded than academic research considered accurate.
“Calgary’s unfounded rate was lower than average, both nationally and provincially,” Staff Sgt. Bruce Walker with the Calgary Police Sex Crimes Unit said in the news release.
“But there are still other police agencies that are doing better than us. We felt it was important to learn from their successes and see what we can do even better here.”
The Calgary Police Service said it had an unfounded rate for sex assaults of about 10 per cent at the time of the media investigation, while the force said most studies show the actual unfounded rate ranges between two and eight per cent.
After the media stories were published, police in Calgary said they reviewed unfounded sexual assault cases over the past five years. One case was reopened for further investigation and 47 were reclassified from unfounded to “open, inactive,” which police said means an offence may have occurred but the investigation cannot proceed without more evidence.
Committee members will also provide advice on training for officers, and on how policies can be improved.
The CEO of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, which is represented on the review committee, said they’ve known the rate of unfounded cases has needed to be addressed and are hopeful the new committee will be able to address it in Calgary.
“In addition, we are pleased that the Calgary Police Service has taken a leadership role in recognizing the importance of this issue,” Danielle Aubrey said in the release.