Commerce City-Brighton Sexual Assault Taskforce making a difference for local victims
One year after Commerce City and Brighton set out to create an innovative system to handle sex related crimes, the joint Sexual Assault Taskforce (SATF) has made great strides in how the two communities are confronting the issue. The SATF is comprised of specially trained, dedicated staff members who focus on investigating sex crimes, managing sex offenders, and ensuring the voices of victims are heard. Using a victim-centered approach, the two communities have changed the dynamic of investigating sexual abuse.
“Allowing detectives and victim advocates to specialize in sexual assault cases has made a tremendous difference in both their efficiency and their ability to build actionable cases,” said Commander Greg Sadar of the Commerce City Police Department. “The taskforce has truly been a game-changer for sex related investigations in Commerce City and Brighton.”
In 2018, the SATF handled 225 criminal investigations (119 in Commerce City, 106 in Brighton), representing a 69 percent increase from 2017 for the two jurisdictions combined. The jump is largely attributed to increased reporting and public outreach and not necessarily a spike in the occurrence of such crimes in the two communities. The number of sexual assault cases filed with the district attorney’s office also increased significantly in 2018.
Before the SATF can begin its work, the process starts with a victim gathering the courage to report a sex crime (traditionally among the most under-reported types of crime). The Commerce City and Brighton police departments use the You Have Options Program (YHOP), which allows victims to decide when and how to report the incident and determine how a case progresses.
The Victim Services Unit plays an essential role in assisting investigators by serving victims from the initial incident report to the courtroom. Volunteer victim advocates provide information and referrals as well as support, comfort, and compassion to sexual assault survivors. Victim advocates assigned to the taskforce served a total of 223 primary victims and nearly 200 more secondary victims (e.g., family members of assault victims) in 2018.
“We work with victims who have been through a traumatic event, and it’s our goal to make sure they feel the support they need to move forward,” said Victim Services Coordinator Kim Messina. “It’s not just about catching the bad guy, it’s also about giving victims access to resources including medical and advocacy services.”
The SATF was created in 2018 thanks to $1.1 million in matching funds provided by the Commerce City and Brighton police departments and a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Following the three-year grant period, the cities intend to continue their partnership in the project, which has the potential to become a national model.
Congratulations to the Commerce City-Brighton Sexual Assault Taskforce (SATF) and Victim Advocate Shasta Baca on their recent awards from the 17th Judicial District Victim Assistance and Law Enforcement (VALE) Board. The SATF received the Sean May Award for “outstanding leadership that has resulted in a measurable difference in services for victims of crime” and Shasta Baca received the Gayle Voyles Award for “outstanding direct victim services provider.” Learn more about the VALE Board at 17vale.org.