by Grits for Breakfast

More than a clerical error: DPS audit proves Austin PD forced out sex-crimes chief for refusing to fake clearance rates

Auditors from the Texas Department of Public Safety  confirmed allegations that the Austin Police Department pressured the head of its sex-crimes unitto improperly classify rapes as “exceptionally cleared” when that was not the case. She was removed from her position when she didn’t comply.

Chief Bryan Manley announced the results from the DPS audit late afternoon on New Years Eve, hoping it would get lost in the holiday media cycle. That’s a disgraceful, punk move. This is too serious an issue to play media games. UPDATEProPublica reported that Manley received the preliminary results from DPS on Dec. 13, more than two weeks before he released them.

As is typical in Austin, the local press downplayed criticisms of APD, portraying the problem as a clerical error. The Statesman headline was, “Austin police improperly classified some rape cases, audit finds.” KXAN’s headline was, “DPS report: 30 APD rape cases should not have been cleared,” although in fact DPS audited just a sample and those 30 cases represent many, many more.

These headlines could/should have been something along the lines of “DPS confirms whistleblower account of inflated rape clearance rates,” but the Austin press remains in the pocket of local police and rarely publishes explicit criticisms unless backed into a corner by outside reporting and circumstances.

That’s what happened here. Despite local advocates pressuring the department all year over inadequately investigated rape cases, the Austin press didn’t cover the story until a podcast from national outlets reported on the bogus clearance rates.

Notably, although the DPS audit released Monday found a third of audited rape cases were misclassified,  Manley earlier claimed his own staff had audited the cases and found nothing wrong. The Statesman reported in December that “he asked his staff to do a random audit of cases to ensure they were properly closed. He said they found the department was complying with FBI guidelines.”

I’d like to know more about this random audit the Chief supposedly had his own people do. Why did they find zero cases were miscategorized, and DPS found a third of them were? Were these staff incompetent? Or were they given directions designed to cover up the problem instead of expose it? That’s the sort of thing an aggressive local press ought to be digging into with open-records requests, but Grits won’t hold his breath.

All press reports that portray this as some obscure data mix up are misleading. This was a scandal, flat-out fraud and malfeasance, with APD removing the head of a major division because she wouldn’t falsify data to make the department appear to be solving more crimes. As Grits opined on Twitter when the news came out, “This was not a bureaucratic error, as Manley would like to portray it. The head of the sex crime unit was removed from her job because she refused to falsify clearance-rate numbers. Thank God she spoke up!”

The ouster of the sex-crimes-unit head happened on former Chief Art Acevedo’s watch, but Chief Manley’s ham-handed response has made the scandal and its cover-up his own. In a city with an aggressive, watchdog press, he might not survive the scandal. In Austin, he’s betting he’ll limp through thanks to lapdogs in the lame-stream press, and a few years ago, that might have been a safe assumption.

But survivor advocates and city council members are going to read the audit for themselves, and in the wake of the union-contract fight, mainstream media has proven less important in the capital city than ever before when it comes to policing politics. Whether the press report it or not, APD has been caught in a lie for all to see. If he wants to keep his job, Chief Manley must stop the media games and obfuscations and address these topics more forthrightly.

An apology to the rape survivors whose cases APD lied about – claiming their cases couldn’t move forward because the victims wouldn’t cooperate – would be a good start.

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