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Police, others train to fight sex assaults

ALPENA — Prosecutors and law enforcement officials from around northern Michigan met in Alpena last week to learn advanced techniques in investigating and prosecuting sexual abuse crimes.

The goal of the two-day training, offered by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, is to help those investigating non-stranger sexual assaults to provide the strongest possible case at trial, according to Michigan Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark, one of the instructors for the training.

Representatives of the Alpena Police Department, Alpena County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Montmorency County Sheriff’s Department joined others from up to four hours away in learning how to conduct effective interviews and gather corroborating evidence.

Participants worked together in small teams to plan an investigation based on an actual case, with names and identities removed.

“We get them to think about the case in a better way,” Hagaman-Clark explained. “What evidence do you need? What evidence is available, to take this case from that ‘he-said she-said’ into a guilty verdict at trial.”

Officers who have a more thorough understanding of trauma and its effects on the brain can better communicate with and draw helpful information from a sexual assault victim, Hagaman-Clark said.

Officers at last week’s training, held at Alpena Community College’s World Center for Concrete Technology, received guidance in conducting trauma-informed interviews of victims and witnesses. They were reminded of the neurobiology of trauma, which dictates that victims of sexual assault can be expected to speak and act different from other victims, and covered methods of unlocking good investigative information from a victim using appropriate interview techniques.

The trainees also learned ways to enhance a successful prosecution by writing meaningful reports, conducting effective suspect interrogations, and collecting evidence beyond the victim’s testimony — which, Hagaman-Clark said, should be only one piece of the investigation.

The sexual assault investigations training, a new program presented for the first time last week, was brought to Alpena at the request of local advocacy organization Hope Shores Alliance. The training will be offered three other times this year, all at downstate locations.

“The science of sexual assault investigation is ever-evolving, and we try to never stop learning about the best ways to not only deal with the victims but also to prosecute the suspect,” summarized Officer Lee Grant of the Alpena Police Department, who attended the training.

Many local police officers have been in law enforcement for many years, but new learning is always needed, Grant said, noting that law enforcement evolves alongside changes seen in all other aspects of society.

In northern Michigan, Grant said, courts are not confronted by the volume of sexual assaults that may be found downstate.

“But, when they do come, we want to be able to prosecute them to the best of our abilities,” Grant said.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.