WWL-TV published a story in early August noting unspecified statistics that point to a 61 percent increase in rape, presumably relative to this point in 2014.
The article quotes Mary Claire Landry of the New Orleans Family Justice Center as saying victims “believe that they are being believed, that this is not something that they’re making up or that they’re lying about. I think the response has been better because of the training that we’ve done.”
There is no easy or logical way of measuring trust in rape/sexual battery victims, but Calls for Service data provides an interesting method for analyzing changes in NOPD behavior. The rise in rape and sexual battery incidents is shown in the graph below. This graph uses all reported rapes and sexual battery incidents regardless of their disposition. These crimes are grouped by Aggravated Rape in blue and Simple Rape and Sexual Battery in red.
Simple & Aggravated Rape, 2011 – 2015. Source: NOPD.
The increased pace of rape and sexual battery in 2015 is highlighted by the below table. This table shows the number of rape and sexual battery incidents, regardless of disposition, every year since 2011. It is worth noting that the city’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics solely captures rape victims, while this table shows both rape and sexual battery incident reports.
Rape and Sexual Battery Incidents by Year, 2011 – 2015 (*estimated). Source: NOPD.
The other part of the WWL-TV article revolves around a reported change in the way NOPD responds to rape and sexual battery incidents. The article quotes Tania Tetlow, chair of the Sex Crimes Reform Advisory Committee as saying, “We know that the more reforms we make, the more reporting will increase, so it creates this strange counter-intuitive dynamic where doing better work actually means more victims trust you and they’re going to report.”
Reviewing changes in how rape and sexual battery cases have been reported over time clearly highlights a change in NOPD’s practices. The below chart measures the percentage of rape and sexual battery incidents marked Report to Follow (RTF) and Unfounded (UNF) by NOPD officer in Calls for Service since 2011. This chart measures the ratio of Aggravated Rape (blue and purple) as well as Simple Rape and Sexual Battery (red and green) over a 365-day span.
Rape and Sexual Battery Incidents by Disposition, 2011 – 2015. Source: NOPD.
As can be seen, around 75 to 80 percent of rape and sexual battery incidents between 2011 and 2012 were marked RTF, with about 15 to 20 percent of incidents being classified as unfounded. The number of incidents being marked unfounded jumped to nearly a quarter in early 2013 before falling steadily since. A full 87 percent of aggravated rape incidents and 81 percent of simple rape and sexual battery incidents in 2014 were marked RTF, while only around 10 percent of those incidents were unfounded.
As of mid-October 2015, 93 percent of aggravated rape and 91 percent of simple rape and sexual battery incidents this year were being marked RTF. This is a positive reflection of how NOPD is handling these very important cases in 2015.
It is important to reiterate that an RTF or UNF disposition reflects an NOPD officer’s initial reflection on an incident. It is not intended to serve as the final judgment of a trained sex-crimes professional. An initial ‘unfounded’ disposition in no way implies that a victim is lying about an alleged sex crime. Conversely, an incident initially marked RTF may be ultimately deemed UNF after investigation by a sex-crimes professional.
Perhaps a more troubling trend is the fairly dramatic rise in three categories of crimes that measure domestic violence: domestic aggravated assaults & battery, domestic simple assaults & battery, and domestic disturbances. These measures were all fairly steady from 2011 to 2013 before rising substantially over the last two years.
To highlight this, I’ve calculated domestic simple assaults and battery incidents, domestic aggravated assault and battery incidents and domestic disturbance since 2011, regardless of the incident’s disposition. I estimated 2015’s totals for the pace of incidents in each category as of mid-October. The results are provided in the table below.
Domestic Violence by Year, 2011 – 2015 (*estimated pace). Source: NOPD.
This chart shows that domestic disturbances are on pace to be up 43 percent relative to 2011 as of mid-October 2015, simple domestic assaults and batteries are on pace to be up 45 percent and aggravated domestic assault and batteries are on pace to be up 32 percent.
Looking closer at these crime incidents by disposition shows relatively little change in how simple and aggravated domestic assaults and battery have been reported by NOPD and an interesting change in domestic disturbance reporting.
Domestic Violence Incidents by Disposition, 2011 – 2015. Source: NOPD.
The disposition of simple domestic assaults and batteries has changed little over the last four and a half years with between 60 and 66 percent being marked RTF and between 30 and 34 percent being marked UNF. The disposition of domestic aggravated assaults and batteries has vacillated a bit and a spike in unfounded dispositions in 2015 is worth keeping an eye on to see whether it is a “blip” due to a smaller sample size or the start of a larger trend.
The above chart does show a clear change in domestic disturbance dispositions since 2011 when there was a pretty even split at roughly 46 percent of incidents being marked both RTF and UNF. In 2014 and 2015, however, the split changed to 60 percent of domestic disturbances getting an RTF disposition and 33 percent being marked UNF (with the remaining 7 percent being marked duplicate, void or necessary action taken).
Graphing domestic disturbance dispositions since 2011 highlights this change even further. More domestic disturbances began receiving the RTF disposition in 2012 before peaking in mid-2014 at around 60 percent. The below chart measures the percent of domestic disturbances being marked RTF and UNF over 365 days between 2011 and mid-October 2015.
Domestic Disturbance by Disposition, 2011 – 2015. Source: NOPD.
I am not a domestic-violence expert and the data do not suggest an obvious explanation for what these observations mean in the big picture. What is clear is that reported incidents of domestic disturbance are increasing rapidly and NOPD is finding fewer percent of these incidents unfounded.
I spoke with Tetlow, the domestic-violence expert, about these findings to get her thoughts on what might be driving the pattern of increasing domestic violence in New Orleans. We came up with three hypotheses:
- More victims are coming forward – This hypothesis suggests increased incidents of domestic violence in 2014 and 2015 are the result of more victims coming forward in a manner similar to what is believed to be driving up sex-crime reports. Although plausible, this hypothesis seems like an unlikely cause because of the rapidity of the rise in domestic violence incidents.
- More domestic violence is occurring – Fairly straightforward, this hypothesis suggests the data mean exactly what they seem to mean. In other words, indicators of domestic violence are up as much as 45 percent relative to where they were in 2011 because domestic violence is occurring that much more often.
- The police are doing a better job of documenting and labeling domestic violence – This hypothesis suggests that improved NOPD training and practices are leading to more cases of domestic violence being accurately labeled as such. The city has placed an increased emphasis on domestic violence over the last year or so through programs like Blueprint for Safety, suggesting this hypothesis is certainly plausible.
A combination of more incidents and more accurate assessments of domestic violence seems the most logical explanation, but there is no way to know for sure from the available data. Acknowledging these important changing trends is the first step toward understanding whether the cause is positive –such as describing incidents more accurately — or a negative issue that needs to be addressed — such as more domestic violence. Hopefully this analysis can lead to further understanding of the drivers of increased domestic violence reporting in New Orleans in 2015.