Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Loss of Detectives, Lack of Evidence Stymie Sexual Predator Convictions
Since the Crimes Against Children Unit dwindled from eight detectives to just six, the workload has increase and it has become more difficult for them to do their job.
He's behind bars on charges of raping a 9-year-old girl and trying to have sex with a 14 year old.
But if you look at Ralph Hernandez's record, this isn't the first time he's been accused of this kind of crime. Officials say similar cases have fallen through the cracks because of a lack of resources.
It is being called a breakdown in the system of a fine-oiled machine made up of district attorneys and detectives whose goal is to find evidence to convict sexual predators.
But since the Crimes Against Children Unit dwindled from eight detectives to just six, the workload has increase and it has become more difficult for them to do their job.
Hernandez, 49, has been on the Anchorage Police Department’s radar for a while, but the problem is that previous accusations didn't keep him in jail. District attorney Brittany Dunlop said a case accusing Hernandez of sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl back in 2007 was dismissed at the time because of insufficient evidence.
“Those are the type of cases that unfortunately fall through those cracks, because a victim doesn’t feel understood or supported,” said Erin Patterson, lead advocate for Standing Together Against Rape.
This becomes an issue when an offender has more than one hundred victims, but the victims are too afraid to talk about what happened.
“That's pretty much the modem of operation for sex offenders in our community,” said Patterson. “The important thing here is to really understand that there is a long grooming process with a lot of these offenders and they are well-rehearsed at trying to keep children quiet.”
In order to get a conviction, enough evidence and actual proof must be gathered before police can make an arrest and send the case to the courts. However, obtaining evidence can be challenging if victims are unwilling to speak.
“What mostly the case ends up hinging on is the interview that the detective does with the child,” said Sgt. Cindi Stanton, supervisor for the APD Crimes Against Children Unit.
She said a victim might wait several years to even come forward about the assault.
But a downsized staff has affected how detectives are able to break the silence.
Last year, Stanton assigned 470 cases to eight detectives. Now that the department is short two detectives, that adds 20 more cases to each detective throughout the year.
“To think that we get to arrest on every case that we get, it just doesn't happen,” she continued.
Stanton said with the extraordinary number of cases the unit handles, she hopes the powers that be see the importance in getting her unit back up to workable numbers to get sexual offenders in jail.