Local News

Fayetteville adjusts sexual assault notification policy

Posted January 25, 2010 4:20 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2010 6:52 a.m. EST

— The public will be notified within 72 hours of a sexual assault where the suspect is unknown, according to a policy change unveiled Monday night by City Manager Dale Iman.

The old policy stated the public may be notified.

Adult criminal assaults in Fayetteville will also be communicated through the media. Releases will include the date and time when the crime was reported and the general area where the crime was committed.

The policy changes are related to the city’s reporting of a series of recent burglaries and sexual assaults. The changes are effective immediately.

Six women in Fayetteville and a seventh in Hope Mills reported sexually assaults since late June. In each case, the victim said a man who broke the home – usually an apartment – late at night while they were alone, according to police reports. In an eighth case, a burglar tried to sexually assault a Fayetteville woman before fleeing.

Police said they notified neighbors after each attack, but they didn't publicly connect the cases until Jan. 11, when they announced the formation of a task force to investigate the crimes.

Two women who live on Glenwick Drive, where the first two attacks occurred in June, said police never told them about the rapes. Officers conducted a community meeting about a month after the assaults only to warn of recent crimes, the women said.

Police Chief Tom Bergamine, who took over the department in 2007, has defended his department's delay in notifying the public about the attacks, saying investigators needed time to connect the dots to determine if the cases were related.

Iman has said that officers were also concerned with protecting the victims' privacy and unduly alarming the public.

Mayor Tony Chavonne told Iman last week that it must be easier to inform residents.

The Rape Crisis Center of Cumberland County, which read Iman’s policy change proposal prior to Monday night’s meeting, has expressed concern about its impact on future reports of rapes.

Councilman Bill Crisp, who said the old policy needed to change, was the only person to vote Monday night against the new one.

Crisp said he believes it could compromise a victim’s privacy.

“My concern was when we had more than one assault within the same neighborhood. My concern was that we need to let the residents in that neighborhood know, not so much the media,” Crisp said.

"There's nothing that's gonna be perfect about anything that we do," Councilman Robert Massey said. "But, by the very same token, the bottom line is the people need to be informed regularly."

Fayetteville resident Sheryl Mathews believes the old policy had to go, but has mixed feelings about the new one.

"It's a start. It's an attempt," Mathews said.

Anyone with information about the assaults is asked to call Detective J. Rodriguez of the Fayetteville Police Department at 910-433-1856.