MISSOULA (AP) — The police chief is turning over the handling of daily operations to his assistant chief so he can focus on Missoula's response to a federal investigation over how his department handled reports of rape and sexual violence.
The U.S. Department of Justice DOJ investigation, released in May, found some investigative practices by Missoula police made it more difficult to uncover the truth and discouraged women from cooperating.
A city agreement with federal agency requires the Police Department to better implement or revise its policies for investigating reported assaults, provide training to officers and their supervisors; and change practices that discourage women from reporting sexual assaults.
It also requires the department to work with an independent monitor, community-based organizations and others to implement the changes and ensure they are effective.
"Making this change will ensure that I have sufficient time for engaging citizens and partners outside the department to meet the extensive community-based requirements of the DOJ agreement," Police Chief Mark Muir told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/16aq39e) in a story Thursday.
Assistant Chief Mike Brady will oversee daily operation in his absence.
Muir said officers are already more sensitive to the way their efforts to investigate are perceived by victims, and they do a better job of explaining why they're asking such sensitive questions.
Training sessions are scheduled next week and in September, and a panel of professionals will review closed cases to determine if any more policy or procedural changes are needed, he said.
"We continue to disagree with the Department of Justice with respect to whether we were violating people's rights, but we see that there are better ways that we could accomplish both our work and to improve the outcomes of the criminal justice process," Muir said.
Last week, a federal monitor visited the city to see gauge the working relationships of police with community partners, especially those who work to prevent violence against women and children.
"He hadn't been given anything more specific than the findings that were written by the DOJ, so he was sort of led to believe that ... law enforcement was on this little island, which is clearly not the case," Muir said.
The chief hopes to have much of the work done before he retires in December.
Muir noted that in the 10 weeks since the announcement of the DOJ agreement, Missoula police have received 27 reports of sexual assault — more than the total for either of the past two years. Not all of the latest reported crimes were recent and one dated back to 2006, outside the statute of limitations.
"We'll continue to see if it's a pattern or a trend that continues," Muir said of the increase in reports.. "It's a real unknown for us, but it's very unexpected."
Muir said no rapes were reported in the city during the six-week period after Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson was acquitted of rape on March 1. His trial drew national attention, in part because the DOJ was investigating the way University of Montana security, Missoula police and the Missoula County attorney's office respond to reports of rape and sexual assault.
The DOJ investigation was announced months after the university hired retired state Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz to look into reports of sexual assaults involving students. Her investigation uncovered nine alleged sexual assaults, with at least one involving a Montana football player who has since been convicted.
She also found evidence of sexual assault that had not been appropriately reported and investigated.