NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The NOPD said Friday that it has hired three full-time social workers to its Special Victims Unit in an effort to better handle the needs of sexual assault victims.
"We've made total overhaul of the Sex Crimes Unit in the Special Victim's Unit. We have all new policies in place," Chief Michael Harrison said.
When a scathing Inspector General's report surfaced last year accusing the department of mishandling or ignoring hundreds of sexual assault cases, the city knew it had to act.
"So, we totally and fully investigate these things much differently than we used to by making sure there's accuracy, there's accountability in the way we handle and respond to sex crimes," Harrison said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Harrison also established a committee of advocates, survivors and members of the D.A.'s office to offer solutions. One solution was to hire social workers to increase support for any victim of sexual assault.
"Social workers will be going out on scenes with the detectives. They'll be going to the hospitals, and afterward they'll have a dialogue with the survivors so that line of communication doesn't end," Commander Doug Eckert said.
Three full-time social workers will be assigned to the Special Victims Unit.
Call volume has gone up.
"Last year at this time, we handled 271 cases of sexual assault. That's for adult and child victims. Currently, we are at 471, so that's 200 additional cases this year," Eckert said.
Sexual assault investigations are up 57 percent this year. Harrison believes the increase is the result of more victims trusting the NOPD.
"We believe those changes in particular are making citizens more comfortable in reporting rape and don't forget, we are still investigating. We have a task force, led by Commander Noel, who are still investigating a number of rapes that were brought to our attention last year," Harrison said.
The task force, assigned to re-investigate more than 360 cases from last year and prior, is making progress. The NOPD says 75 of those investigations are now complete. Rape kits are also being processed in 30 days, giving the NOPD key evidence needed to make arrests.
"They'll never be relieved of what they've been through, but we want to lessen what they'll go through once this has happened," Eckert said.
Next year's budget includes money to hire four additional DNA analyst in the crime lab. That will help to process rape kits even faster.