Remarks on behalf of Vanita Gupta and to be delivered by U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter
I am sorry that I cannot stand in person today with U.S. Attorney [Mike] Cotter and these leaders in making this announcement; but my schedule did not allow it, and I did not want to delay announcement of this good news and celebrating the significant accomplishments of the University, the University of Montana Police Department, and the Missoula community.
Our agreement with the University of Montana Police Department (UMPD) following our investigation into the handling of sexual assault complaints made by women in Missoula has been a catalyst for powerful changes in the law enforcement, the university and the community’s coordinated response to sexual assault. We are grateful for the efforts of the University of Montana, the UMPD and the entire Missoula community because, as a result of these reforms, the women of Missoula are safer, more trusting of the criminal justice system, and subject to more fair and respectful treatment by campus police. The University of Montana and the UMPD had the courage and leadership to acknowledge and address these problems on its campus, and as a result, they are poised to become a model for institutions of higher education and campus police departments grappling with these issues around the country.
UMPD’s achievement today is noteworthy for many reasons. The UMPD’s successful implementation of this agreement in just two years shows that reform can happen when government, police and community leaders do the difficult work together to create change. Today, Missoula law enforcement, the university and the community as a whole, are stronger as a result of the UMPD’s efforts. And we know that the UMPD is committed to continuing to improve and evolve, as every law enforcement agency should; to sustaining the reforms they have achieved; and to continuing to work with their law enforcement and community partners to improve their response to sexual assault.
The common factor critical to all of the progress that we have seen across different agencies and agreements is the meaningful engagement of the community providing input at every stage of our work – during the investigation, the development of the agreement and now the implementation of the agreement. Under all of the agreements, the entities involved agreed to establish sustainable mechanisms that allow for input from key stakeholders about their practices and procedures. For example, an important and novel element of UMPD’s implementation of the Agreement was the creation of, and UMPD’s cooperation with, a variety of external methods for evaluating UMPD’s response to reports of sexual assault – from the development of the External Review Panel, to the completion of a Community-Conducted Sexual Assault Response Safety and Accountability Audit, and the creation and implementation of a survey to get input from sexual assault victims about their experiences with reporting to Missoula law enforcement. UMPD’s cooperation with these processes has been essential. These efforts go hand in hand with the university’s second agreement with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education. Pursuant to that agreement, the university agreed to conduct an annual assessment of the effectiveness of its reforms and to consider any recommendations from community members, parents and law enforcement upon sharing information gathered for the annual assessment with such stakeholders. The input that the UMPD and the university have received through these channels is invaluable – and stands as a testament to the credit due to the entire Missoula community for supporting and effectuating the reforms we are applauding today.
I look forward to joining all of you in the coming months as we celebrate additional milestones in these agreements and the continued progress of the Missoula community.