Part 2: Investigating allegations of adult sexual assault

Response of the New Zealand Police to the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct: Fourth monitoring report.

In this Part, we set out our assessment of the progress the Police have made to improve their investigations of adult sexual assaults.

We looked at the Police's progress with implementing the three recommendations about investigating adult sexual assaults we made in our third monitoring report. Those recommendations were:

  • to give their investigation work the necessary attention, priority, and resourcing to further progress the Commission's recommendations about adult sexual assault investigation;
  • to implement their "catch-up plans" for specialist training for adult sexual assault investigations, so that all police staff who could be involved in or supervise such investigations complete that training by 31 December 2012; and
  • with the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), the Ministry of Health, and South Canterbury District Health Board, to resolve any outstanding issues with the availability of Sexual Abuse Assessment and Treatment Services (SAATS) in the South Canterbury area.

We expected the Police to have:

  • taken action to improve how they deal with sexual assault complaints;
  • improved victims' experiences of the investigation of a sexual assault;
  • recorded how well they are performing with their investigations and how that performance has changed over time; and
  • identified and, where possible, mitigated the risks to maintaining and strengthening improvements in their handling of adult sexual assaults.

Summary of our findings

We consider that the Police have largely met two of the three investigation-related recommendations from our third monitoring report. The Police have improved their management of sexual assault investigations and know what else they need to do. Further improvements are needed in training, case management, and communication with victims.

The Police recognise that sexual assaults can have destructive long-term consequences for victims. The Police also recognise that their response to a sexual assault victim can have a major effect on how quickly and well a person recovers from the assault.

The Police have given greater priority to sexual assault investigations, and there are signs of improved performance. Since our last report, the Police have implemented in full two important initiatives – case management and tiered training of investigators.

There are still gaps in specialist support services for sexual assault victims in parts of the country. Addressing these gaps is not entirely within the Police's control because other public sector and community organisations fund specialist services.

Improving the investigation of adult sexual assaults

The Police have given high priority to investigating adult sexual assaults

In our view, the Police have given priority to improving how they deal with sexual assault complaints. For example:

  • There is more focus on the needs of victims.
  • The Police now use a case management approach for adult sexual assault investigations, which includes review mechanisms.
  • The Police have introduced a tiered training system in line with the roles of those investigating sexual assaults, including training investigating officers to carry out formal evidence interviews and record what the victim says.
  • Investigating officers also have access to specialists with advanced training in interviewing adult witnesses, and a few investigating officers have had this training themselves.
  • There are more quality reviews and monitoring of caseloads for adult sexual assault investigations in police districts and nationally.
  • Seven of the 12 police districts have at least one adult sexual assault team.
  • All police districts have at least one adult sexual assault co-ordinator, who assigns, monitors, and reviews cases.

The Police are using a case management system

Sexual assault investigations are now "case managed" through the National Intelligence Application (NIA), and investigation processes and procedures are the same for all police districts.

We note that the Police's Adult sexual assault investigation (ASAI) policy and procedures (the ASAI policy)1 state that police staff should promptly record a new complaint in NIA. This is also stated in the Police National Recording Standard. To ensure that all complaints are recorded, we suggest that this requirement be emphasised earlier in the ASAI policy, with more clarity about who is responsible for recording the complaint into NIA. We also suggest that the Police ensure that all staff who have the initial contact with a victim of sexual assault understand this.

The requirement to use NIA as a case management tool for adult sexual assault investigations was applied to all police districts from late 2011 to early 2012. A standard Case Investigation Plan should be used for all sexual violations and any sexual offence involving multiple victims.

In our view, using NIA for case management of these investigations supports greater accountability and transparency because it enables more regular quality reviews and checks. It also enables the Police to review and identify, at a district and national level, where there might be gaps in resources.

The Police have enhanced their approach to investigation training

During 2013, the Police introduced a tiered training model for all new recruits and detectives that specifies the training required to investigate adult sexual assaults:

  • Level 1 – Basic training (all officers): Training in immediate action, which includes referring all incidents to the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB).
  • Level 2 – CIB Selection and Induction Course: Files about sexual assault should be assigned only to investigators who have successfully completed this training. A police officer trained to Level 2 can lead a sexual assault investigation but must be supervised by an officer trained to Level 3 or Level 4.
  • Level 3 – Detective Qualified Course: An officer trained to Level 3 can lead a sexual assault investigation and can act in a Level 4 role, but must not close files.
  • Level 4 – CIB Supervisor Course: An officer trained to Level 4 must be a detective sergeant or detective senior sergeant. With the appropriate signed approval, the officer supervises, manages, and reviews sexual assault investigations, including closing investigations.

When tiered training was introduced, catch-up training was carried out in all police districts. The aim was to ensure that all existing CIB investigators and supervisors had completed training to the appropriate level. All officers, other than those seconded elsewhere or on leave at the time, received the training.

The tiered training is a more detailed approach to training than previously. It matches required skills to the level and type of involvement in an investigation. In our view, this approach better equips police officers to investigate adult sexual assaults.

Need for ongoing improvement: Training in investigation and support

In some police districts, there are increasing numbers of sexual assault cases reported to the Police. This puts pressure on those districts' resources. The priority given to investigating sexual assaults will be sustained only if it has enough resources allocated to it and it is not displaced by other priorities. When we did our audit fieldwork, the Police had started looking at the resourcing of child protection teams and adult sexual assault teams to inform its deployment decisions for specialist investigators and trained staff.

Police districts are responsible for organising ongoing and refresher training for longer-serving staff. Keeping training current for a wide range of subjects, including adult sexual assault investigation, is a constant logistical challenge for the Police. The Police told us that ensuring that any staff seconded to sexual assault investigation teams complete the relevant CIB modules and investigators' course and receive support from more experienced colleagues is also a challenge.

People acting in supervisory investigation roles also need to have the required level of investigative training. The Police have reinforced that district leaders are responsible for staff in these positions receiving training at the appropriate level.

We consider that the Police have met our recommendation to introduce catch-up plans for specialist training. The Police carried out a stocktake to identify who, at a district level, needed to do catch-up training. We were told that there are processes for all new investigators to get the right training.

Training police officers and other staff who might have first contact with sexual assault victims is also important. For some victims, the first contact a person has with the Police about their complaint could be with a frontline officer,2 a person working on the front counter of a police station, or a member of staff who answers external telephone calls.

Currently, frontline officers receive basic training but are expected to hand over quickly to the specialist-trained CIB. Front-counter staff might not have had training in dealing with sexual assault victims.

The Police are considering how to ensure that frontline officers and front-counter staff have enough training in dealing with victims in an empathetic manner and that complaints are always recorded, as required by, and explained in, the ASAI policy. The Police told us that they are preparing a training package for frontline and front-counter "watchhouse" staff, which adult sexual assault co-ordinators will roll out.

In our view, it is important that any training focuses on attitude and behaviour, as well as process.

The Police have identified that monitoring compliance with training requirements would be helpful. We support that view. Tighter control and co-ordination of case management for adult sexual assault investigations would also help to ensure that all investigators are up to date with practices. Refresher training in case management would help police staff use the approach consistently and to its full potential.

Improved focus on the needs of victims

The Police expect their staff to have a strong focus on the needs of crime victims. The Police's Prevention First strategy and Policing Excellence programme clearly articulate this expectation.

Understanding and addressing needs of victims of adult sexual assaults is reflected in Police guidelines, policies, and procedures for the investigation of sexual assault cases and the training for staff who have contact with adult sexual assault victims. From the evidence available to us, it was clear that, generally, the Police have a strong focus on the needs of victims, particularly in terms of crime prevention work.

Some of the victim support organisations that we spoke to said that the Police were more empathetic than previously. They showed greater respect for victims and were focusing on what is right for the victim. This was consistent with what the Police told us about the feedback they had received directly from victims. Police staff, particularly longer-serving members, agreed that the explicit focus on victims' needs was an important shift that had improved the experience for victims.

During interviews and focus group discussions in the four police districts we visited, we consistently heard that staff believed that communication with victims and the experience of victims had improved. The observations of the Police's Assurance Group3 have confirmed that investigators and Public Safety Teams (who are frontline staff) are focused on the experience of victims.

An internal survey of a few victims of family violence and other serious crimes indicated that the Police were usually prompt in responding to calls, helpful in referring victims for immediate and continued advice and support, and professional and sincere in how they worked with victims.

However, some of the victim support organisations we spoke to thought that the Police could improve their communication with victims further. The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) told us that most complaints are about communication matters. The internal survey also noted that some respondents felt that they had experienced negative behaviour from police staff that would deter them from calling the Police.

The Police have introduced a range of tools to improve communication with victims, including:

  • mandatory use of the pamphlet "Information for Victims of Sexual Assault" and guidance about the frequency of contact with victims, supported by mandatory recording of contact with victims in NIA (as part of the case management approach); and
  • providing police officers with smartphones and tablets to facilitate communication with victims.

Interview facilities have improved

The ASAI policy also states that formal interviews with victims should be carried out in a dedicated interview room.

Since our third monitoring report, there have been improvements in the Police's facilities for interviewing sexual assault victims.

The four police districts we visited have access to dedicated interview rooms for interviewing victims. The rooms have soft furnishings and should never be used to interview alleged offenders. Some stations within the police districts use external facilities, and some have purpose-built facilities with specialist interviewing equipment. Two districts have separate centres with forensic medical examination facilities that can be used if needed, purpose-built interview rooms, and welcoming facilities for families and supporters of victims of sexual assault and child abuse.

The availability of support services has improved but remains inconsistent

The availability of specialist support services, medical support, and forensic services for sexual assault victims has improved since our third monitoring report. Most police districts have SAATS agreements4 with district health boards and others to provide specialist support services to sexual assault victims. However, inconsistencies in the availability of these services remain.

In four of the 12 police districts, there is a long-standing lack of Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (or DSAC doctors)5 in rural areas. This means that victims have to be taken long distances to reach appropriate medical services. Other service gaps reported in some districts were:

  • a lack of training for victim support workers (two districts);
  • a lack of access to services to support male victims (two districts);
  • services that were not operating at all hours, every day of the week (one district); and
  • no specialist support services for victims of sexual assault (one district).

In our view, there is an increased risk to the quality of response sexual assault victims might get in remote areas, where:

  • the response to the victim depends on the actions of individuals;
  • specialist support services are more difficult to access; and
  • changes in the workplace culture might not be apparent.

In remote areas with small or single-person police stations, the risk that sexual assault victims might not receive the desired high standard response is higher. It is imperative that police staff have had adequate training. We also heard that some staff in remote areas were among those who were harder to influence in terms of the cultural changes, including their attitudes to victims (see paragraph 4.28).

A SAATS agreement is not yet in place in South Canterbury

At the time of our third monitoring report, a formal SAATS agreement was not in place in South Canterbury. We recommended then that the Police (with ACC, the Ministry of Health, and the South Canterbury District Health Board) seek to resolve this.

Despite discussions in the last two years aimed at resolving this situation, the Police, ACC, and South Canterbury District Health Board have not yet set in place a formal SAATS agreement. The delay reflects, in part, challenges South Canterbury District Health Board faces in rebuilding its site after the Canterbury earthquakes. South Canterbury District Health Board intends to include facilities for sexual assault assessment as part of the rebuild. However, approval for funding is needed before a time frame can be produced. This approval is likely to be in March 2015.

South Canterbury District Health Board and ACC have considered other interim agreements because of the lengthy time frame but have not yet resolved this matter. We encourage the three parties to continue their discussions to reach an interim agreement that will provide the best service possible for sexual assault victims.

In the meantime, the Police refer victims in South Canterbury to three DSAC-trained doctors6 allied with Victim Support.

The Police have specialist support service agreements with the three district health boards in the Central police district. However, the Police have indicated that they might need to review the agreements to ensure that they are working well.

Need for ongoing improvement: Further improve understanding of victims' experiences

To support the Police in giving effect to the Commission's recommendations, the Police's Assurance Group has suggested that the Police:

  • carry out a national review of the actual availability of specialist support services compared with what is recorded in the agreements for those services; and
  • introduce a national stocktake of sensitive interview facilities, looking at the availability and standard of those facilities.

We endorse these suggestions.

We agree with the Police that they need to understand how to improve victims' experience of the Police during an investigation. The Police's National Sexual Violence and Child Protection Team is preparing a survey of adult sexual assault victims to help the Police better understand how victims experience the service they receive from the Police and make improvements where necessary.

In our view, the Police could do more to collate and analyse feedback from victims. They could make more use of complaints information (to identify patterns and lessons, and gaps between the service received and the victim's expectations) and NIA case management information (to better understand trends in the time taken to complete cases). The Police are intending to draw on the new series of monthly reports of recorded crime published by Statistics New Zealand7 to help identify patterns of victimisation.

What the Police know about their sexual assault investigations

The Police carry out internal reviews of their work to implement the Commission's recommendations

The Police's Assurance Group carried out a recent review to assess progress in implementing the Commission's recommendations about sexual assault investigations. The review noted some good practices and identified aspects that required further action. We also noted many of these aspects during our audit fieldwork.

The Assurance Group has recommended improving the use and quality of the monitoring tools, including how the Police could make better use of quantitative performance information to help target improvement activities.

Senior managers within the Police have agreed with the recommendations to improve the monitoring of sexual assault investigations (apart from one that we understand is not possible to resource at this stage).

The Assurance Group will carry out further reviews of the Police's progress in implementing the Commission's recommendations until 2017.

The Police regularly monitor sexual assault cases

The Police monitor their performance in investigating adult sexual assaults through the following:

  • Weekly monitoring of sexual assault cases (drawn from the Police's statistical analysis system) shows how well police staff are using case management. This monitoring started in December 2013 and could be analysed by each police district from 31 March 2014. It uses information from NIA.
  • Quality Assurance Improvement Framework reviews look at compliance with case investigation requirements. The first bi-monthly report about the reviews was produced in December 2012. An analysis of returns from December 2012 to August 2014 showed that the proportion of reviewed sexual assault case files rated as satisfactory has improved. However, the Assurance Group report noted that the National Sexual Violence and Child Protection Team needs to promote greater consistency between police districts in using monitoring tools and providing reliable data.
  • Monthly reports on the performance of the CIB are relatively new and are taken to the National Tasking and Co-ordination meeting. That meeting makes decisions about moving staff to meet demand.
  • Quarterly reports to the Police Executive from the National Sexual Violence and Child Protection Team give an overview of reported and investigated case volumes. These reports also highlight risks and outline work by police districts to mitigate or remove risks.

In our view, these are all useful reports. They show that the Police are actively monitoring sexual assault investigations and the associated risks to managing them.

A senior manager in the Police told us that, with these types of information, "We know our business [the] best we have ever known it." We agree that the Police now have better reporting systems to provide a good view of their activities.

The information indicates that the Police's performance in investigating adult sexual assaults has improved. For example:

  • The percentage of cases awaiting assignment has decreased and was about 5% in October 2014.
  • Commanders in police districts have redeployed staff to ensure that priority is given to investigating sexual assaults.
  • Caseload reports from October 2014 show that few investigators hold more than the recommended number of sexual assault cases.
  • Reviews of the Quality Assurance Improvement Framework show improving compliance with case investigation requirements over time.

Improving the monitoring of performance with investigations

The Police have identified some risks with their current monitoring and potential improvements. For example, in August 2014, the Police identified that a few sexual assault cases were assigned to sections in Police National Headquarters. District-level monitoring did not cover these cases. Some of these cases had been assigned for more than one year, with little recorded supervision during that time. A team from Police National Headquarters is following up on these cases.

In our view, the Police should continue to refine the monitoring of their performance in sexual assault investigations, including checking (and, where necessary, improving) the consistency, accuracy, and coverage of the monitoring approaches and information collected.

1: The ASAI policy was published on 12 November 2013, after a review of the Adult Sexual Assault Investigation Guidelines published in 2009. The ASAI policy set out that the desired outcomes are to:

  • enhance the welfare and safety of sexual assault victims through the service, information, and support provided; and
  • improve the investigation, resolution, and accountability of adult sexual assault complaints.

2: Officers in Public Safety Teams and Neighbourhood Policing Teams and other officers deployed where they are likely to have contact with the public are often referred to as "frontline" officers.

3: The Assurance Group carries out internal evaluations and assurance audits, including follow-up work on implementing the Commission's recommendations. The Police have recently appointed a senior advisor to specifically carry out this follow-up work.

4: SAATS is a medical forensic service providing triage, assessment, treatment, and referral services for all victims of sexual abuse. It is designed to provide a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service; timely medical triage by a medical specialist or nurse with training in sexual abuse care; expert medical assessment, sexual health advice, and treatment that meets health, injury, and forensic needs; referral to, and co-ordination with, other services in a timely manner; and follow-up treatment, treatment that is provided in a suitable environment, and treatment that meets forensic requirements.

5: See the DSAC website,, for more information.

6: DSAC doctors are accredited. DSAC-trained doctors have been trained but are not yet accredited.

7: See Recorded crime victims statistics – Police district and area boundaries, available at

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