Police officers from all over Massachusetts gathered at Boston University last week for an intensive weeklong Sexual Assault Investigator Certification Training program held by the commonwealth’s Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC). The program is cotaught by a law enforcement officer and a rape crisis advocate to reflect the necessary multidisciplinary approach to sexual assault cases. Several instructors addressed a range of topics, such as investigating a sexual assault crime scene, cybercrime, persons with disabilities, adolescent sexual assault, and sexual assault nurse examiners. A total of 61 officers from 26 divisions across Massachusetts and from area colleges participated in the training. They included 11 BUPD officers from the Charles River Campus and 4 officers from the Medical Campus. After completing the 40-hour training program and passing an exam, the officers were certified as sexual assault investigators.
The training is essential to the investigation of sexual assault cases. Under Massachusetts law, police officers who have not yet earned certification are unable to investigate sexual assault crimes. Those officers who have already passed certification must be recertified every five years, says Scott Paré, BUPD acting chief and deputy director of public safety. Every BUPD detective has attained certification, Paré says, and several attended last week’s training for recertification. Not all BUPD officers have been trained yet, but the number is growing—a trend Paré welcomes.
“We want to have the best possible response for when these terrible crimes are committed,” he says. “Sexual assault is a very serious crime. This training will assist officers to be responsive to the needs of the survivors and help them prepare a better case for prosecution.”
Last year, eight rapes on BU property were reported to the BUPD, as well as four indecent assaults, says Peter Shin, an officer with the BUPD Crime Analysis Unit. According to BU’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center 2015–2016 annual report, during that school year 74 students came to the center for help after being sexually assaulted.
“A lot of times, the victims do not want to speak to police,” Shin says, because it requires them to relive the traumatic event. “There is a reason it is an underreported crime.”
MPTC sexual assault coordinator Maura Landry, who led several of last week’s classes, says that the program’s aim is to train officers and detectives to approach cases with a mind-set that is “victim-centered, offender-focused.”
Sexual assault victims must deal with issues different from that of victims of other kinds of crimes. That requires special training on the part of police officers, says MPTC training coinstructor Bob Wile, a police detective in Amesbury, Mass.
Whereas robbery victims might feel frightened to be in their own house, they “can change their locks,” says Wile. But there’s no escape for victims of sexual assault. “You can’t change your body. You can’t change your mind. You have to live with that until the day you die,” he says.
The intensive certification training program can be emotionally difficult for officers, Landry says. To help with the training, she and Wile have a strategy that they say may seem odd.
“We try to use humor whenever it is appropriate to do so,” says Landry. They never make light of the scenarios they teach, she says, but they are not afraid to rib each other or make fun of themselves. It can loosen the tension and help officers learn how to handle these very serious situations.
Ian Evans can be reached at email@example.com.