Madison Police Chief Noble Wray spoke about "trust gaps" and "trust challenges." But it's hard to see how his department's new policy will do much to address them.
For all Wray's nice-sounding words about treating victims with sensitivity and respect, the policy he unveiled at a press conference Tuesday explicitly allows the use of police trickery and deception against people who report being victims of rape and domestic violence, albeit as "a last resort." As one detective present explained, "This isn't a shift in the way we operate."
Drafted at the direction of the Madison Common Council in response to my book about a Madison rape victim against whom these techniques were used, the new policy gives examples of situations in which lies might be justified - for instance, if the victim's statements are contradicted by independent witnesses or forensic evidence. It then goes on to say this list "is not exhaustive." (For the policy, see this story at TheDailyPage.com.)
Capt. Tom Snyder, who oversaw the policy rewrite, argued that police must weigh several interests, including the need for public safety and the rights of the accused: "The investigative process cannot be solely victim-driven."
But no one at the press conference, including two detectives with decades of experience, could identify an instance in which deception had proved essential in unraveling the story of a purported victim. Instead, Det. Marion Morgan told of a woman she got to recant under strong questioning, without using any lies.
"We struggled with saying, let's eliminate [these techniques]," said Wray. But this option was rejected.
Wray also said the policy allows but does not require interrogations employing these techniques to be videotaped, as is now done for all adult felony and juvenile suspects. Does this mean a detective who plans to confront a purported crime victim with a bunch of lies to see if she cracks does not have to videotape the encounter?
"Absolutely," replied Wray, saying he considers the use of video equipment "really intrusive. I am not going to order that we stick a video camera in anyone's face."
Kelly Anderson, executive director of the local Rape Crisis Center, is glad for the wording about "last resort" but still considers this problematic. "As we've seen, it can happen in cases where the victim is telling the truth."
Ald. Austin King, the Common Council president whose resolution directed Wray to act, calls the new policy "a written-down copy of the same policy that was already in place." He predicts there will be some "dissatisfaction" among council members. But he's not sure this will make a difference, since Chief Wray has told King he has no intention of amending the policy. Nor did he ever.