Ottawa Police Latest to Adopt the “Philadelphia Case Review Model” for Reviewing Unfounded Rape Cases

Earlier this year, an explosive investigative report revealing widespread failure to investigate rape complaints across Canada. (Photo: Flickr via CC)

In the wake of ongoing scandals exposing widespread failure to properly investigate rape complaints, cities across the U.S. and Canada have been turning to our police accountability work in Philadelphia to help improve police response to sexual assault.

Earlier this year, a 20-month investigation analyzing data from 870 police forces across Canada revealed that Canadian police dismiss one in five sexual assault complaints as baseless, and “deep flaws at every step of the process.”


From Unfounded: Why Police Dismiss 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Claims as Baseless:

National policing data, compiled and reviewed by The Globe as part of its 20-month investigation, reveal that one of every five sexual-assault allegations in Canada is dismissed as baseless and thus unfounded. The result is a national unfounded rate of 19.39 per cent – nearly twice as high as it is for physical assault (10.84 per cent), and dramatically higher than that of other types of crime.

True unfounded cases, which arise from malicious or mistaken reports, are rare. Between 2 per cent and 8 per cent of complaints are false reports, according to research from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. The Globe’s findings suggest that police in Canada are closing a disproportionate number of rape cases as unfounded, a phenomenon that distorts the country’s crime statistics.

Inflated unfounded rates create the impression that police receive fewer complaints of sexual assault than they actually do. In turn, that gives the appearance that more complaints lead to an arrest.

This fall, Ottawa will become the latest police force to replicate a best practice for improving police response to sexual assault often referred to as the “Philadelphia Case Review Model.” The Philadelphia Model has been called the gold standard in policy accountability. Canada’s Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recently said, “Without a doubt, the Philadelphia model is one of the most exciting policing initiatives in this area.”

From the recent report in the Ottawa Sun:

The Ottawa police will convene a civilian panel this fall to review the way sexual assault cases have been investigated, with an eye to improving police procedures.

The so-called “Philadelphia model” of oversight is considered to have improved the way police handle sexual assault complaints in Philadelphia, where similar panels have conducted reviews since 2000.

“We’re embracing this internally. It might make us better,” said Ottawa police Insp. Jamie Dunlop.

The Philadelphia Case Review Model is an annual, advocate-led review of unfounded sexual assault files at the Philadelphia Police Department. Every year, the Women’s Law Project and fellow advocates meet and review unfounded sex crime files. We scour the files looking for anything awry, such as miscoding, a questionable lack of follow-up, victim interviews that turn into interrogations, missing rape-kit results, and victim-blaming statements that could dissuade victims from cooperating further with police.

In the late 1990s, the Women’s Law Project led the development of the Philadelphia Case Review Model in response to a scandal. In the fall of 1999, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

published a series of articles revealing that the PPD had downgraded thousands of rapes and other sex crimes to a noncriminal category for almost two decades.

This downgrading eliminated a full and complete investigation of thousands of sexual assault cases. Almost one third of all sex crime reports were buried in the non-crime code “2701‐Investigation of Person.” The victims were never advised that complaints had been shelved.

In addition to establishing the advocate-led review of unfounded rape cases, the Philadelphia police also conducted their own re-investigation going back five years, the statute of limitation for rape at the time. In total, 58% of the 3,119 cases originally coded 2701 were recoded as crimes, and subsequently investigated.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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