The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has begun to take a hard look at how it handles rape allegations in the Lone Star State.
A new policy on the DPS website calls for police officers to report sexual assault if they believe a victim is unable to consent.
The new policy will go into effect next week.
The DPS has been criticized for its handling of sexual assault complaints, with a 2015 investigation finding the department had a policy of lying about its sexual assault statistics.
However, many Texas police departments have begun to rethink their policies in recent years, according to the Dallas Morning News.
In February, the Texas Department Of Public Safety’s internal watchdog recommended the department reexamine its rape policies and procedures.
“The department’s current policies and practices do not meet the standards required for a responsible and effective policing agency, and have the potential to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the law enforcement process,” the inspector general wrote in the report.
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“There is no question that the department is making progress toward reducing the number of reports it receives from victims and offenders,” Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said in a statement at the time.
But she acknowledged that a lot of the progress is “still in the preliminary stages.”
The Texas Police Benevolent Association said the department’s policy will make it “difficult for police to work effectively with victims, and that we must continue to encourage the community to come forward.”
The DPS’s policy does not require police to notify victims of the existence of the complaint, nor do they have to notify the victim’s family.
Instead, the policy states that if a victim believes they are unable to give consent, they can file a police report.
However that information will be confidential and will not be made public.
“It is our policy to respond to all sexual assaults and to assist the victim in determining if they wish to pursue criminal charges against the offender,” the policy reads.
“We have also implemented a number of other changes that make it possible for victims to be provided with additional information to help them make an informed decision about whether or not to file a complaint.”
A Texas Tribune review of rape statistics from the Texas DPS revealed that about 50 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police, and less than 15 percent of them lead to a conviction.
The Travis County DA said that DPS’s rape policy was “unnecessary and harmful” and that it would only deter more victims from coming forward.
“Unfortunately, the majority of victims who are victimized are not able to report these crimes and many of those victims will have to wait years before they can get the help they need to get justice for their assault,” Lehmberg told the Dallas Star.
The Austin Police Department said it’s working to implement the policy, but added that it’s “differing from the DPS’s because it allows the victim to make a statement.”
“In our department, we have a process that will make sure that if an allegation of sexual misconduct is brought to our attention, that we immediately and thoroughly investigate the matter and take appropriate action, as well as conduct a thorough investigation and report on the investigation,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said in an email.
The department also said it is using its own policy on rape reporting.
The agency told The Associated Press in an emailed statement that it “is aware of the new policy and we are working to take necessary steps to ensure that we follow it.”
The Austin American-Statesman, however, noted that the Texas policy does “not apply to the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the agency that handles rape cases in Texas.”
DCJS has declined to comment on the policy.