An audit released this week by the New Orleans inspector general found that nearly half of the rape cases studied had been incorrectly classified as lesser crimes, making the city appear to be safer than it actually was.
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux told WWLTV that his auditors reviewed 90 cases, and found that 41 of those cases had been misclassified, and not reported to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.
Quatrevaux’s biggest concern was that the New Orleans Police Department automatically classified potential sexual assaults as a “miscellaneous incident” or “Signal 21X.”
The report recommended getting rid of the “miscellaneous” category immediately, and all rape cases should be reported as rapes. When police find that no crime was committed, a note should be added that the case was “unfounded,” the report said.
The audit found that the practice “effectively shut down investigations for a significant proportion of possible sex crimes.”
Quatrevaux noted that New Orleans’ rate of forcible rape was 43 percent lower than any city in the top 25 U.S. cities with the highest crime rates.
Tania Tetlow, a former federal prosecutor, pointed out that the NOPD had been working to change a culture of misclassifying cases to improve crime statistics.
“I think it’s unlikely that New Orleans has a lower rate of rape than those other cities,” she explained. “I think that it shows that we still have a problem with reporting, and investigation.”
“Before the new administration, rape was effectively decriminalized in the city,” Tetlow added. “There was so little investigation going on, there was so much labeling everything miscellaneous, and not investigating it. I think what this report shows is we still have a long way to go.”
“There was a culture where detectives tried to disprove rapes, where somehow what they were supposed to do was make the statistic go away. And that is changing, but all to gradually.”
Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who took over the NOPD in 2010, insisted in a statement that his department had not misclassified rapes.
“We do not agree that the NOPD misclassified sexual assault crimes, and independent experts substantially validated our data,” he said.
Watch the video below from WWLTV, broadcast May 14, 2014.