NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A look into New Orleans sex crimes shows a drastic increase in reported rapes, but an arrest rate that lags far behind the national average.
In 2014, the New Orleans Inspector General's office and the Department of Justice slammed NOPD's sex crimes unit for under-reporting sexual assaults and an unwillingness to believe victims. The criticism led to an overhaul of the sex crimes division.
Since 2012, the number of warranted and reported rape cases - meaning those deemed credible and able to be investigated by police - has increased every year. According to NOPD statistics, 136 rape victims came forward in 2012. That number jumped to 176 in 2013; 244 in 2014; 409 in 2015; and 537 in 2016.
"We can verify that [investigators] are documenting the cases and that we do have good follow-up," New Orleans Family Justice Center Director Mary Claire Landry said.
Landry works with NOPD sex crimes investigators providing support to victims, and she has seen the arrest rate for accused rapists drop in recent years.
In 2012, the clearance rate for rape cases was 33 percent with 45 arrests made. In 2013, it was 40 percent with 71 arrests. The number starts to slide in 2014, with a clearance rate of 25 percent and 61 arrests made. In 2015, it was down to 17 percent with 70 arrests; and in 2016, 16 percent of rape cases were cleared with 86 arrests made.
The average clearance rate for rape cases nationally is 37 percent, according to the FBI.
"As the number of reports continue to go up, we expected that the clearance rate would probably go down because the percentage of these cases that really can move forward with an arrest with an identified perpetrator with evidence that really can be used in the prosecution often times are missing in these cases," Landry said. "This is a very long and strenuous process on victims. It could last two to three years. Many victims just want to move on with their lives."
Landry does not fault NOPD for the low arrest numbers. She said nearly half of the victims do not have doctors perform rape kits on them because of the traumatizing process, and evidence is key to investigators looking to make an arrest.
"It just varies. Sometimes they just can't even find the victims. If it's a homeless person or a tourist that was in the city for an event, a lot of times those cases are a dead end and there's not any investigation that can move forward with them," Landry said.
"I do think it is down to staff time and ability, because there's just not as many resources that there are in other places," Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response CEO and President Racheal Herbert said.
Herbert believes the low clearance rate can also be attributed to NOPD's struggling manpower issues.
"When we are working with NOPD versus our two law enforcements here in Baton Rouge, it's very clear that there's some growth that needs to happen in that investigative unit, and more resources need to be allocated so they can promptly respond to those cases and they can get faster results and higher clearance rates," Herbert said.
"There are cases where I think people feel there is no justice happening in these cases, but I think I have not seen any evidence where a case that needs to be investigated is not being investigated. Generally, what we find is that there is no further leads that will provide them with the documentation and the evidence that they need," Landry said.
Landry believes there are serial rapists who prey on victims in Orleans Parish. In some cases, victims who have a doctor perform rape kits on them do not get a match that reveals the identity of their attacker, but their attacker's DNA matches one or more found in other rape kits.
The New Orleans Police Department did not respond to our request for comment on this story.