Of the 18 rapes committed in Juneau during 2007, the Juneau police reported none as a sex crime in their public announcements called the "Daily Briefing."
Instead, rapes were categorized as "investigation" only, with no hint that a sex crime had occurred or where.
Chief of Police Greg Browning can't say how long police have been describing rape as an investigation.
A civilian information technology employee made the decision to categorize rape as an investigation, said Cindee Brown-Mills, a manager who oversees the Juneau police dispatchers who produce the public daily record of all crimes reported to police.
Brown-Mills said she believed that person made the change "so that it didn't seem so horrible."
Thirty-two rapes were committed in 2006 and 30 rapes in 2005, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. The numbers do not include cases of incest or sexual abuse of a minor.
Browning said the employee "made the decision based on her interpretation of privacy concerns." Victims of sex crimes are on the list of people whose names are exempt from public disclosure as explained by an Alaska law protecting victims, he said.
Alaska Statute 12.61.140 says a victim's name "shall be withheld from public inspection." The two-sentence law does not excuse police from reporting that a rape occurred.
"Did we do something we shouldn't have? Probably," Browning said.
City Manager Rod Swope, Browning's boss, said there is "value" for the community when police report a rape and its general location in a timely fashion.
"People also need to understand until an investigation is complete, it might not turn into a rape or sexual assault," Swope said.
Records released by the Juneau police state that four of the 22 rapes reported to police in 2007 were found to be false accusations or "unfounded."
Alaska State Trooper's spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said troopers regularly inform the public of various sex crimes in their "daily dispatches" posted on the Internet. It's important that citizens know what crimes are committed around them, she said.
Most recently, troopers listed the arrest of Joseph McMurren, the day it occurred, for more than a dozen counts of sexual abuse of a minor.
In public dispatches, troopers differentiate between rape and child sexual assault, including the varying degrees, Ipsen said. On occasion, troopers will limit the information if it could interfere with an investigation, she said.
Browning said he believed his agency was not withholding crime information from the public. The Juneau Police Annual Report will contain the number of rapes, along with other crimes, and the information is available at various Web sites, he said.
"I don't think they were trying to keep that stuff secret," Browning said. "Just like every other community, we have a high rate of sex crimes."
In terms of public reporting of rape, there is no simple answer, said Saralyn Tabachnick, executive director of AWARE, Juneau's shelter for women.
"The number of sexual assault victims reporting to law enforcement is a small percentage of the actual sexual assaults which occur," she said.
Andre Rosay, interim director of the University of Alaska Justice Center, said he was not aware of any legal obligation requiring police agencies to report rape or sex crimes to their communities.
Browning said the department was correcting the daily reporting of rape to the public and said it would begin to appear in its daily bulletin.
Brown-Mills said dispatch has begun a long-term project to better report, on a daily basis, the releasable facts of all crimes that occur in Juneau.
Rape and all other sexual crimes will appear as a sex crime, she said.
Contact reporter Greg Skinnerat 523-2258 or e-mail email@example.com.
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