Investigation Shows How Police Departments Clear Rape Cases Without Making An Arrest

Feb 7, 2019
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We're going to talk more now about these exceptionally cleared rape cases across the country. And a note - this conversation deals with content that may be hard for some listeners to hear. Mark Greenblatt is one of the reporters responsible for the original investigation. He writes for Newsy. He collaborated with ProPublica and Reveal. And he is here now. Welcome.

MARK GREENBLATT: Good to be with you.

KELLY: So we just heard that story from Austin. But nationally, how widespread is this practice of using exceptional clearance?

GREENBLATT: It's unfortunately very widespread. What we did was Freedom of Information Act requests for data from the 100 largest police agencies in the country. And of those that actually responded to us, what we found is that an astounding number of police agencies across America are really inflating the number of rapes that they are solving, oftentimes clearing more cases by exceptional means than by arrests. So they're leaving the suspects on the streets. And sometimes, we tracked, they'll actually go on to prey again.

KELLY: And you found that Austin is actually not the worst offender.

GREENBLATT: Well, there are others that are worse. For instance, I'll tell you about Montgomery County, Md., where in 2016, they report a very high clearance rate for rape. They tell the public they cleared 83 percent. When we dug into their data that they gave to us, we saw that only 22 percent of those were arrests. So the vast majority there are exceptionally cleared.

KELLY: So in addition to trying to get your hands on the police data, you interviewed survivors all over the country. There's one woman you spoke to named Rae Florek in Minnesota whose case was exceptionally cleared. We've actually got a little bit of the tape you got from her. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAE FLOREK: I am worth having my rights validated and protected.

KELLY: It's tough to listen to. Tell me, what is Rae Florek's story?

GREENBLATT: Well, you can hear the emotion in her voice. And she's got a heck of a story in that she reported that she was raped by someone that she had been dating for a number of years. He, at one time, told her that I've been having sex with you while you're asleep. And she, for many reasons, did not know about this and did not like this and ended up actually recording him while he was admitting to this. And she reported to police. So what happened next was that police did their own investigation. They went and interviewed the suspect, who then admitted it in a recorded interview that he was having sex with Rae Florek while she was asleep and unable to consent. And yet they left him on the streets and exceptionally cleared his case.

KELLY: So she wanted to take this to the legal system. Is that right?

GREENBLATT: Absolutely. And she pushed the legal system, calling the DA, calling the local detective, saying, please put this case forward to a jury. There's astounding evidence here. Let the jury decide.

KELLY: There are a bunch of consequences of this practice, one of which is, of course, that if nobody is being prosecuted, there's no record.

GREENBLATT: There's no record, and that becomes an astounding problem in the case that we tracked of a man by the name of Bryan Kind who was investigated for having sex with a 13-year-old in the Baltimore County area. He's exceptionally cleared in Baltimore County despite a trove of evidence that included emails, text messages, motel receipts and eventually goes on to allegedly strike again in Rock County, Wis., where he was arrested. And now he's pending trial for having sex with another young girl there and also possession of child pornography.

KELLY: But his name wouldn't pop up had police in later venues tried to search for it because he was never in the police database in Maryland.

GREENBLATT: The name would not have popped up because there was no arrest. And in addition to that, if the young girl in Wisconsin or her parents were online wanting to search who is this person, they're never going to see a record of any kind of trouble that he got into.

KELLY: I mean, there are legitimate reasons why police might exceptionally clear a rape case, right? I mean, to take a noncontroversial example, if someone is a suspect and they die before they can be arrested and prosecuted.

GREENBLATT: That's a great example of this, and it's intended that the FBI has put this into the Uniform Crime Report so they don't punish police agencies that have done a great job of solving a particular crime but then really are not able to pursue the case. They don't want those agencies to have to take a hit on their clearance rates.

KELLY: We heard how Austin is taking some steps to try to look into this. Are other police departments that you were in contact with following?

GREENBLATT: There are some other police departments. But, you know, what I found here is that the real impetus for change in this sort of thing has likely got to come from the very top of the city - the city councils, the mayors, county commissioners that are out there because we didn't really see, you know, a huge snowball of momentum of change in Austin until those leaders got involved. And it does seem that they have influence elsewhere.

KELLY: Mark Greenblatt of Newsy. His reporting is part of a joint investigation with ProPublica and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Thank you, Mark.

GREENBLATT: So good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.