February 9, 2017
To victims of sexual assault, and to our community,
Earlier this week, The Globe and Mail published a report highlighting the under reporting of sexual violence as well as the rate of unfounded sexual assault investigations across Canada. The article, authored by Robyn Doolittle, outlines the unfounded rate of Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) sexual assault investigations as 27% (19% national average).
The WRPS participated in the full release of all data to The Globe and Mail as well as participated in providing clarifying and other requested information to assist with the data provided for the article. Open data is one step towards building trust, ensuring transparency as well as can lead to thought provoking public policy dialogue.
Since the release of the article, the WRPS has been engaged in ongoing dialogue internally as well as with the Police Services Board to explore the findings of the local data which is higher (8%) than the national average as well as similar to comparable police services in Ontario. We believe it is important to have a larger discussion locally, provincially and nationally to discuss future practices as well as potential public policy changes.
At the February 8, 2017, Police Services Board meeting, Chair Galloway and members of the Board commenced a discussion around the need for review and dialogue with a lens to the future.
On behalf of the Senior Leadership Team, I recommended a multi-faceted approach that included an internal review and audit of unfounded sexual assault investigations in partnership with a research academic, and launching a collaborative Task Force of community leaders and stakeholders to examine the staggering number of unreported sexual assault allegations, investigative practices, alternative models of investigation and the data presented in the article.
The Police Services Board unanimously approved the recommendation and directed the Chief of Police to develop a work plan to move the internal review and audit as well as launching the Task Force.
The WRPS firmly believes that by opening our doors and engaging our community stakeholders and victim advocacy partners, the expertise and diversity of the Task Force will create enhanced awareness as well as deliver long lasting changes that support our victims while reducing the fear of reporting sexual violence.
We believe our community has a wealth of expertise, leadership and wisdom to offer feedback while creating a ‘Made in Waterloo Region’ approach to how we investigate sexual assaults. We recognize that the concerns go beyond Waterloo Region; we also need to reach out to our provincial and national partners to understand how they investigate their reported incidents as well so that we can maintain a consistent national approach while putting victims at the forefront.
With the recent release of “It’s Never Ok – An Action Plan to Stop the Sexual Violence and Harassment” and the pending release of the “Strategy for a Safer Ontario” there is an opportunity to review provincial adequacy standards surrounding sexual assault investigations, police training as well as investing in these areas for future change.
Admittedly, the issues we are facing are complex, will require time to properly review, evaluate and develop a forward-thinking approach. That said, this is a community concern and through a collaborative effort that is hand in hand with our community we are confident that we can develop a more conducive approach to sexual violence within our society.
The WRPS is developing a work plan to reach out and connect with community partners in the coming days to start the series of dialogues aimed at positive change in our community and supporting victims of sexual assault.
Thank you to the many citizens, stakeholders and community leaders who have reached out to offer support, expertise and guidance.
More information will follow in the coming weeks.
Chief of Police