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Guest Editorial: Rape cases deserve immediate attention

As a state task force examines ways to improve handling of sex assault cases, police departments should not delay examination of their policies and protocols for investigating such cases.

Victims can't wait for task force recommendations and legislative action to get justice. Assaults won't stop as better methods to handle the cases are developed.

The formation of the task force by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson was spurred by an investigative series in the Star Tribune that unveiled breakdowns in rape investigations across the state. A review of more than 1,200 sexual assault files, including in Mankato, found hundreds of cases in which police failed to take basic steps, such as collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses.

The task force has a lot on its plate. It will look at reworking sex crime statutes, proposing more funding for officers and training, and issuing best practices for police investigations. Those are all worthy goals that indeed state leaders need to work toward. In addition, emphasis on sensitivity to victims and holding officers accountable when shoddy investigating occurs are being discussed as those subjects should be.

The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women has recommended the Minnesota's Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which licenses officers, have the authority to sanction those who repeatedly fail to follow sexual assault policies. Putting teeth behind requirements is a proposal worth consideration when so many agencies handling so many cases have failed so many victims.

The task force is to spend more time doing research and will then compile recommendations in November and approve a report for the Legislature by sometime in December. The Legislature needs to seriously consider the recommendations and efficiently act on them.

Some of the women in the newspaper's series said they'd never even gotten a callback from an investigator after reporting their assault. That's an unacceptable response — one that every police department needs to change immediately if they haven't already.