July 17, 2016

Felony Sex Crime Case Processing: Report, Analysis, & Recommendations

Examining how the numbers Chicago agencies release related to felony sex crimes are created, what they mean, and what is hidden behind those numbers.

Criminal justice agencies play an important role in assisting communities in securing their neighborhoods from crime and violence. The basis for how successful these agencies will be in this role depends greatly on the level of trust built up between each individual agency and community members. This trust can only be established by empowering community members to become fully engaged partners with the agencies. This partnership relies heavily on the ability of community members to validate the actions of the agencies, so that each agency is operating in the best interests of the public. This becomes impossible  when community members are denied access to the data created by the agencies or are ill informed about how the data is collected and what is missing from the data released by the agencies.

There is a gap between the system’s stakeholders’ (community members, crime victims, policy makers, advocates for victims, and academics) understanding of what data is collected and each agency’s data-related practices. This gap inhibits the ability of those stakeholders to hold the agencies accountable for poor practices related to felony sex crime allegations. In lieu of data access, the stakeholders are dependent on sporadic and superficial media coverage and press releases from the agencies. CJP seeks to close that gap with this report that specifically examines the data-related practices of three agencies in the Chicago and Cook County criminal justice system: the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), the Chicago Police Department (CPD), and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) in order to verify their data capturing, maintaining, and releasing practices related to allegations of felony sex crimes.

US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs held an 88 minute hearing on September 14th to discuss the issues surrounding rape statistics in the United States. You can stream a video of the hearing and get access to the written testimony submitted by witnesses at this congressional action.

It is of utmost importance that communities validate these practices because these agencies help frame the public discussion regarding the prevalence and seriousness of felony sex crimes in our communities. The numbers captured by the agencies become the official record and challenging those figures is nearly impossible because of the restrictions on data.

With the current level of restrictions on data it is impossible to judge the impact the practices of one agency is having on other agencies within the local criminal justice system. It is very likely that if the SAO is rejecting acquaintance rapes at a high level, that the Chicago Police Department would bring less of those cases in the future to felony review. To what degree this impact plays in the real world can only be known by examining data from all agencies involved.

One of the police departments that participated in the hearing and is thought of as a good model was Philadelphia. They invite advocates for survivors into the police department once a year to review case files to make sure they have been investigated properly and not categorized into oblivion. The Department is now run by an ex-CPD officer named Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.

We have to understand how a felony sex crime allegation brought to the attention of the criminal justice system proceeds through the system (i.e, how OEMC, CPD, and SAO respond to the allegation). Below we present a  flow chart that describes how an allegation makes it way through the system and where the discretion points within the system are located. Current data practices are insufficient in capturing data to allow stakeholders to validate the practices of the agencies.

This report studies how three targeted agencies capture and then release data to the public related to allegations of felony sex crimes. This flow chart shows how a felony sex crimes allegation proceeds through the system and where the discretion points are within the system. Improvements in each agency’s data practices would benefit both stakeholders and the agencies themselves.

Felony Sex Crime Flow Chart – From Assault to Criminal Court


Discretion Points

Highlighted in red on the flow charts are the discretion points within the system. It is at these points where the discretion of a single individual or a small number of individuals plays the largest role in the life course of a felony sex crime allegation within the Chicago criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, it is at these points where the least amount of data is captured by the criminal justice agencies. Current data capturing practices do not allow either stakeholders or the agencies themselves to validate the judgment used at these points.

It is at these points where advocates for sex crimes survivors argue that the differential response to acquaintance vs. stranger assaults is most dramatic. CJP sought to use data from the criminal justice agencies to either validate or disprove the points brought to them by advocates; however, CJP encountered data capturing practices that make any reliable analysis impossible.

The data related practices of each of the agencies either prohibit access to data that stakeholders need access to in order to be informed partners, or the limited access that is provided inappropriately frames what the stakeholders can understand about the agency’s practices. Our detailed findings and recommendations can be found in our report. You can download a copy of our report, the associated fact sheets, and copies of our original data below.

New Boss Same as Old Boss

April 16th will be the 25th anniversary of a letter to the editor published in the Chicago Tribune from Laura Kaufman, the then program coordinator for the Chicago Chapter of the National Organization for Women. In the letter, Ms. Kaufman chastises then Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley for failing to make data available to victims regarding their prosecution of rape cases.

“Cook County State’s Atty. Richard M. Daley doesn’t seem to think that women have the right to know whether his office is doing a good job of prosecuting sexual assault cases under Illinois’ new rape reform law. Chicago NOW and other women’s groups have been asking Daley for months for statistics about what happens to sex crimes cases after they have been turned over to him by the police department. After a lot of stalling, however, Daley’s staff now claims that his office doesn’t keep organized records of decision made by its felony review unit, and that the numbers just aren’t available.

Daley’s lack of cooperation makes us twice as curious about those numbers. Could it be, for example, that the state’s attorney doesn’t accept very many felony sex crimes cases for prosecution-that too few rape victims get their day in court because their version of an attack isn’t believed?”

Laura Kaufman, Program Coordinator, Chicago Chapter, National Organization for Women, April 16, 1986

Major Recommendation – Creation of Sexual Assault Task Force

CJP is assisting in the creation of a Task Force that will seek to work with the three agencies on reforming their data practices to provide for the needs of stakeholders. For more information on the Task Force, it’s membership, and goals, see here.

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