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Department of Justice Says Missoula Showed “Reliance on Gender Based Stereotypes” In Sexual Assault Response, Reaches Settlement With City of Missoula

Department of Justice
Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel/Flickr

Today, May 15, representatives of the Department of Justice, the city of Missoula and the Missoula Police Department met to disclose a comprehensive agreement over the response to sexual assault in Missoula.

United States Attorney for the District of Montana Michael W. Cotter, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Roy L. Austin Jr., Missoula Mayor John Engen, and Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir announced the settlement via a conference call.

Austin described the settlement as “another step forward,” in fighting sexual violence. A consistent theme throughout the speeches was the idea that Missoula would be a “national example” or “gold standard” in how to correct bias and properly prosecute crimes of sexual assault.

“Our hope is, first of all, that other jurisdictions will look at the findings, look at the agreement and will consider what they themselves are doing, and make the necessary changes,” Austin said. “This letter of findings, and this agreement, is something that we will note in all of our meetings with national police groups, encouraging them to look again and ask their membership to make the changes that are necessary.”

Austin said that the Missoula police department had “deficiencies” and “does not communicate as it should” with the network of resources designed to prevent sexual assault. Furthermore, Austin said there was evidence of bias in the way sexual assaults were handled, and that there was a “reliance on gender based stereotypes.”

Still, Austin pointed out that the biases and stereotypes were “not unique to Missoula” and that the Missoula Police Department had been “proactive” in working to correct its deficiencies. Austin said it was no surprise these shortfalls were found, but that the surprise was how well Missoula cooperated to correct them.

The details of the agreement between the Department of Justice and the City of Missoula as published by the Department of Justice are as follows:

  • implement or revise policies, provide training and change practices to improve its response to sexual assault, including combating gender bias;
  • work with an independent Monitor, community-based organizations and other stakeholders, to develop and implement the reforms described in the agreement, and to evaluate OPS’ success in effecting meaningful reform;
  • demonstrate that its implementation of the agreement has eliminated a pattern or practice of constitutional violations and that it has put in place systems and oversight that will prevent patterns or practices of unconstitutional conduct from recurring; and
  • develop procedures for gathering and analyzing data to assess the incidence and outcomes of reports of sexual assault.

Today, the public found out that the independent observer required by the agreement will be paid for by the City of Missoula and possibly by the University of Montana in cooperation.

In response to a question by Emily Adamson from KECI TV on if the city would pay for the observer, Mayor Engen replied “we certainly intend to foot it, we hope to be able to do that in cooperation with the University of Montana that has a similar agreement.”

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