Police changing how they report assaults

January 25, 2010 8:50:26 PM PST
Fayetteville is changing their police policy about how rapes and sexual assault crimes are reported to the public.The city council and mayor demanded the changes after police took several months to let the public know a possible serial rapist may be on the loose.

So City Manager Dale Iman proposed that police would notify the public within 72 hours of a rape or sexual assault.

On Monday night, the city council expressed several concerns over the proposed change in policy, before actually voting on it.

"My concern was that we let the residents in the neighborhood, not so much the media, that there's a danger lurking there," council member Bill Crisp said.

"Every taxpayer deserves to be protected whether they're in a community watch or not," council member Robert Massey added.

In a 9 to 1 vote, council members passed it, in hopes it would keep residents informed and safe.

Iman says the policy developed "was both legally defensible and functional."

It has three main parts, which requires news releases to be sent to all media outlets informing the public of adult sex assaults with unknown offenders.

The releases will be sent no later than 72 hours after the incident is reported and will include the time, date and general description of the areas where the attack occurred, as well as tips on how to stay safe.

"Families want to know, individuals want to know want to know descriptions, if there is description information available, we should know," concerned resident Sheryl Mathews said.

However, not everyone is happy with the change.

On Monday afternoon before the vote, the Executive Director of Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County Deanne Gerdes said in a letter to the mayor and city council that the department should maintain its policy.

"We strongly suggest that the police department be able to maintain its current policy for notifying the public," she said. "We feel that a change in policy will lead to a much higher likelihood that sexual assault victims will be identified and potentially harassed by the media, as well as others in the community including the perpetrator."

But Mayor Chavonne who ordered the change doesn't believe it puts rape victims at risk.

"You have to balance that with the public's right to know," Chavonne said. "And we believe that policy has done that. And it's not releasing specific information about rape victims. It's not releasing their address nor their names for sure. The media doesn't do that and nor would we want that to happen."

The mayor says he worked for several years with The Fayetteville Observer and is aware of the paper's policy to not identify rape victims. It's the same type policy at ABC11 Eyewitness News.

In the meantime, council members say they will consider changing the policy again, if for some reason it doesn't work well.

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