Monday, November 12, 2018

Whistleblower: Austin PD fudged rape clearance rates to boost numbers, pretend hundreds of crimes were solved when no arrests were made

A former Austin police sergeant who was in charge of APD's sex crimes unit claims she was forced out after refusing to clear cases where arrests were never made and no one was prosecuted, even if the suspect had been identified. The result was to give a false impression that the department had solved many more rape cases than was really the case.

The podcast, Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, covered the topic of clearance cases in rape cases, and about 2/3 of the way through the episode (~35:10 mark), they hone in on Austin as their primary case study. Go here to listen. The former sergeant in charge of the Austin PD sex-crimes unit described being ordered to re-categorize cases, refusing because they did not meet the criteria, then being moved out of the job and replaced by people who immediately made the data changes she would not.

Police chief Bryan Manley was quoted giving puffed up stats to the Public Safety Commission, then unconvincingly defended the decision to re-categorize cases as closed to reporters after Mayor Steve Adler ordered him to sit down with reporters.

Manley comes off as non-responsive, while the Sergeant comes off as credible, with specific facts and data to back up her claims. The chief framed the issue as a simple difference of opinion which was resolved when the sergeant left the position. But the whistle blower saw more politicized motives at play in re-categorizing so many cases. While allowing that Manley may have been misled by subordinates, she insisted the re-categorization of cases as "exceptionally cleared" - which means cops had probable cause to arrest a suspect but could not, for some legitimate reason - simply wasn't justified for the cases in question.

Manley denied he was "blaming the victim," but his only explanation for "clearing" more than 1,400 rape cases in which a rapist had been identified, but not arrested, was that the "survivor" would not participate in the investigation. Problem is, victims can't participate if they don't know what's happening. The example of a UT student whose case was used to frame the story definitely fit the sergeant's characterization more than the chief's. She had to learn from reporters that Austin PD had found her rapist but closed the case without referring it for prosecution. She said she would have been willing to testify. It's hard to imagine, from the data presented by reporters, that that was an isolated circumstance.

Grits doubts we've heard the last of this topic. I'm looking forward to hearing the city council's next public conversation with the chief - perhaps this Thursday, when they finally approve the union contract and enact a new oversight system - in which council members have an opportunity to raise these questions.

Beyond Austin, a lot of the podcast focused on law enforcement gaming clearance rates, which is a topic this blog has returned to repeatedly over the years. Just to review a few of those items:

Clearance rates may represent the results of departmental-level decisions and priorities. For example, research shows that departments that are more focused on generating revenue through traffic tickets have lower clearance rates.

Low clearance rates are a source of political vulnerability for police, so there's an incentive to puff up the numbers, especially on something like rape where public sentiment is easily inflamed. Even so, clearance rates for many property crimes, in particular, are exceedingly low.

Homicide clearance rates have been on the decline in recent years, and one of the odd, unexplained ironies of modern criminology is that murder rates have declined even more than clearance rates, meaning the fact of solving a lower proportion of murders did not prevent overall homicide reductions. On the podcast in September,  Mandy Marzullo and I discussed (and for the most part, dismissed) a theory by an academic that those reduced clearance rates were a result of reforms achieved by the innocence movement.

MORE: This post brought to mind this classic, cinematic commentary on police clearance rates:


Anonymous said...

Why would cases need to be "re-categorized" if the categories had been intelligently categorized in the fires place? Is this yet another example of "lack of forethought" that is so ubiquitous in law enforcement? Is it another example a abject laziness and incompetence? Let's just change to rules of the game without telling anyone.

The next time someone calls our fire station to put out a house fire, maybe I'll just refuse, and state after the fact that the owners told us to let the house burn.
It doesn't matter that it's untrue because it's my word versus the homeowner. I'll get to keep my job (so I can pay my mortgage on my un-burned home.) It sucks to be anyone depending on me to do my job.

If Manley doesn't want to do the job thoroughly and transparently, maybe he needs to be "re-categorized" to to a position he can handle..."jobless, without pay".

Fire Marshall Bill said...

I this the same Manley who drove the Austin crime lab into disarray, causing it to be closed permanently because of improperly trained (and ultimately untrainable) analysts?

Good Gawd.

Anonymous said...


I saw Rep. Moody has filed HB 63, which would lower penalties for possession of marijuana to a civil penalty ($250). I strongly support this legislation, but I also recognize it may not be in perfect form to practically pass. I saw a comment on a Texas Tribune article about bills being filed this evening here:

The comment states:
"j. davis

Nov. 12 @ 1:41 p.m. | Registered Texas Tribune User

Re HB63: I'm sure the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, and its members, are sure to support a bill that provides them an opportunity to file a civil action in a justice court under which they may receive a civil penalty not to exceed $250.00, especially since the bill provides that the actor is liable "to the state", not the county, for any civil penalty that is imposed."

What are your thoughts of this criticism? This seems like it would be easy enough to remedy. Have the $250 go to the county where the offense took place in to encourage enforcement of the new law, or have the fine split so half of it goes to the state and the other half to the county (and perhaps increase the fine to $350).


Anonymous said...

She needs to write a script and give it to Steven Spielberg. Nothing else will work. As a federal employee I blew the whistle on corruption and the agency I worked for steadfastly refused to allow me to take a polygraph even though a lie detector was, and still is, a condition of employment to get a job. The system is rotten to it's very core be it local, state or federal.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Police Chief should just re-categorize all current rape allegations as consensual. Then there would be no rape kits and clearance would be 100%.

Great Job, Manley! /s

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ Fire Marshall Bill, Art Acevedo was chief when the crime lab was run into the ground, but Manley was his assistant.

@8:39, TDCAA's members are split over the pot question more this session than ever before, and IMO the commenter's naysaying is overstated. Bigger issue is that the GOP platform endorsed civil penalties while Greg Abbott endorsed reducing criminal penalties from Class B to Class C. The debate IMO will be over those two options.

Unknown said...

I have personally witnessed Brian Manley commit perjury and I have the transcript containing his perjured statements. Brian Manley may be less dishonest as Art Acevedo, but he is still not averse to being dishonest.

Unknown said...

By the way, my name is Jermaine A. Hopkins and my email address is

Anonymous said...


When were the comments made?
Are they "material"?
Did you pass on your concerns to the District Attorney?
Did you pass on your concerns to the Defense Attorneys?
Did you pass on your concerns to the Judge that he perjured himself to?
Who else knows of the perjured comments?

J. L. said...

In 1986 I was raped off Slaughter Lane by an acquaintance while getting a ride home from a after-work gathering. I was ashamed because I had been drinking and went home and showered before telling my husband. I reported it to the police the next day, providing the identity of the rapist to the police. I did visit a doctor who did a rape kit exam and provided me an RU48 prescription. The police interviewed the man who admitted he had sex with me but said it was consensual, I contacted his employer who transferred his work location but did not fire him. I was willing to face him in court but the police said the prosecutor wouldn't take the case and it was closed. If you want more graphic details read the poem, I was raped off Slaughter Lane in my book Homeless Joy: an expose in poetry