Training levels for sex-crime investigators vary widely
In recent years at the College of Charleston, where 60 percent of students are women, the campus police force has averaged more reports of sexual assaults than most similar-size schools nationwide.
The school reported that it had six on-campus assault reports a year from 2009 to 2011. That compares with an average of 2.4 reports in 2010 at public four-year institutions with between 10,000 and 14,999 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In South Carolina, the average number of sex assault reports for public four-year schools was 1.4 in 2010, the most recent year for which data were available.
Colleges that receive federal grant money are required to report such information under the federal Clery Act.
In spite of the higher clip, College of Charleston officials maintain that it has the resources to thoroughly investigate the cases.
A law approved by the Legislature in 2007 requires school police officers at all public colleges to investigate reports of sex assault on campus. Before the College of Charleston assumed those duties for the first full year in 2009, the Charleston Police Department investigated the cases.
Over the past five years, the primary investigator in a softball player’s allegation of sex assault has amassed 28 hours of training specifically pertaining to sex crimes.
Meanwhile, investigators with the city’s Special Victims Unit undergo continual training, spokesman Charles Francis said. A typical investigator has completed about 40 hours of specialized training since 2010, he said.
At the University of South Carolina — which has an undergraduate population that’s three times larger than the College of Charleston’s but has reported four fewer assaults annually — officials take pride in their lead sex-crimes investigator.
The lieutenant, a woman, has 20 years of experience and “several hundred hours of advanced training” in investigating assaults on campuses, school spokesman Wes Hickman said. She also works on Richland County’s sex assault response team and has helped develop protocols for dealing with on-campus assaults statewide.
Two investigators and a female sergeant at Clemson University’s police agency have taken a six-hour sex assault course in the past year, spokesman John Gouch said.
But besides the basic requirements to become a police officer in South Carolina, no standards govern the extent of specialized training for sex-crimes investigators.
Minimally educated law enforcement officers all have a degree of training in sex-assault cases, said Florence McCants, spokeswoman for the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
She said basic courses on domestic violence, harassment and vulnerable-adult abuse all contain elements of such training.
Recruits who complete the minimal 522-hour course load to become officers can later enroll in the advanced six-hour class on sex assault that the Clemson investigators took. But the academy doesn’t have a minimal requirement for officers shooting to become sex-crimes investigators.
“We don’t have a recommendation for training hours,” McCants said. “There are so many opportunities out there (such as national conferences) that can help you investigate those crimes.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.