WRPS to invite community groups to task force

Photo by Alex Trkulja

After an investigation by The Globe and Mail, it was found that approximately one in five reports of sexual assault are dismissed by police forces across Canada.

The Waterloo Regional Police Services are taking action to review past sexual assault cases that were deemed unfounded.

Police Chief Bryan Larkin announced earlier in February that the WRPS will be reviewing how police can approach sexual assault complaints.

Now, he plans to have representation from 30 various groups and agencies from the Waterloo Region on a task force to review cases deemed unfounded.

The unfounded rate in the Waterloo Region was 27 per cent from 2010 to 2014.

Police board member, Peter Ringrose, was announced by Larkin as the board representative of the task force.

“I think our sense, right now, is that we are probably finding some cases to be [considered] unfounded that really are valid cases that should be prosecuted and it’s a question of finding out how is that happening, what are we missing and how do we then change our practices so that those cases don’t get treated as unfounded when they’re really founded cases,” Ringrose said.

Other representations on the WRPS task force include the YWCA, the Crown’s office, hospitals and regional school boards and the Family and Children’s Services of Waterloo, as well as the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo.

Sara Casselman, executive director of SASC, said that within 24 hours of issuing a statement about The Globe and Mail’s investigation on the centre’s official website on Feb. 8, WRPS reached out to the centre and asked them to be a part of the task force.

According to Casselman, the police are also hoping to review a sampling of previous cases that were originally labelled unfounded.

“We’re still kind of sitting tight and waiting to see how that first meeting gets organized and it is in the works,” she said.

Larkin also said the services will be looking into the Philadelphia model to examine unfounded sexual assault cases. The model suggests that these services give sexual assault centres access to review sexual assault cases deemed unfounded.

According to The Record, cities in the United States who have used this model have seen their unfounded rates significantly reduce. The model was also recommended by SASC in their statement.

“We were very pleased to see that they were looking into the recommendations that we made, specifically giving them serious considerations so we actually were very pleased to hear that they’re looking at models like what happened in Philadelphia to address unfounded rates moving forward,” Casselman said.

According to The Record, Larkin is also hoping to get feedback from the community in order to ensure survivors of sexual assault are confident in coming to the police.

He also said an internal review will be looking into a random sampling of cases labelled unfounded and how they were originally processed, where Larkin hopes to look at them through “a different lens” approach.

According to Ringrose, the.

WRPS are also open to continuously providing local media with information on the task force.

“When I was at the police meeting the other day, there were certainly inviting the representatives from the media to sit in on the task force so that they can participate and hear what’s being said and the various questions that are being considered so yes, it’ll be very much open,” he said.

Casselman was also pleased to see transparency between the task force and the local media, especially in a community with a large  student population.

“We’re looking at about 150 survivors [out of 550 reports] in the community every year whose cases are labelled unfounded, so this is impacting so many lives in our community,” she said.

“We know that young women between the ages of 16 to 24 are four times more likely than any other age group to experience sexual violence, so this is an issue that disproportionately impacts women that are in university. It’s a really important story.”

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