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DOJ: Missoula Police complete 1st reform agreement stemming from UM rapes

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U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Michael Cotter. (MTN News photo) U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Michael Cotter. (MTN News photo)
Results announced at Monday morning press conference (MTN News photo) Results announced at Monday morning press conference (MTN News photo)
MISSOULA -

Federal officials say Missoula has completed one agreement stemming from the investigation into sexual assaults tied to the University of Montana, with good progress being made on the remaining three agreements with local agencies. 

Attorneys with the Department of Justice say that means Missoula is well on its way to being a much safer community. 

In special joint press conference Monday morning, the DOJ announced that the City of Missoula and the Missoula Police Department have satisfied terms of the agreement that was signed two years ago, implementing changes the Feds wanted to correct problems in how UM, the city and county were dealing with reports of sexual assault. 

"Because of the vision, the diligent work and unwavering resolve of your community leaders Missoula is a different place. It is safer. And it is a stronger community," U.S. Attorney for District of Montana Michael Cotter said.

"In short this community has come together to institute long-term systemic change to protect and insure the safety of generations to come and we are here to celebrate that," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ Vanita Gupta said. 

"There is no question that the kind of reform required to effectively response to sexual assault can be very difficult. And although there is always room for improvement even within the best departments, the change MPD and the City of Missoula have achieved, as part of its agreement with the Civil Rights Division is real, and it's making a very significant difference," Gupta added.

Those changes include formation of a Special Victims Unit within MPD, an external review panel to see how sex cases are handled, surveys and audits with victims, better working arrangements with other agencies, and nearly 4,000 hours of training for patrol officers and detectives. 

"At the bottom of everyone of these statistics is a human life. A real person who has suffered unnecessarily and should never suffer again at the hands of the people charged with taking care of them," Missoula Mayor John Engen said. 

"This community, meaning the University of Montana campus and all of Missoula, have come together to work to protect our citizens from sexual assault," UM President Royce Engstrom said.

Three agreements with DOJ are still outstanding. Two with UM and it's police force, and the Missoula County Attorney's Office. Those settlements are running on difference schedules, but the attorneys say they're pleased with the progress being made. 

Cotter and Engstrom told reporters the timing of today's press conference was based upon the timing of the first agreements announced two years ago this morning, and that it was "coincidental" the announcement came while the controversial book "Missoula", which focuses on the UM rape scandal, is on the best seller charts.

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