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Journalist Says Lax Policing Allowed NFL Player To Get Away With Serial Rape
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Journalist Says Lax Policing Allowed NFL Player To Get Away With Serial Rape

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Journalist Says Lax Policing Allowed NFL Player To Get Away With Serial Rape

Journalist Says Lax Policing Allowed NFL Player To Get Away With Serial Rape
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Former NFL player Darren Sharper pleaded guilty to rape charges involving nine women in four states. ProPublica reporter T. Christian Miller says local police weren't sharing information.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. Citizens of Louisiana were shocked last year when Darren Sharper, a beloved member of the New Orleans Saints 2010 Super Bowl team and an NFL network analyst, was arrested on a sexual assault charge in Los Angeles. It quickly emerged that Sharper had also been accused of rape by women in Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix and Las Vegas. He would eventually plead guilty or no contest to raping or attempting to rape nine women in four states. Our guest, T. Christian Miller of the nonprofit investigative news site ProPublica, looked into why it took nearly three years after the first woman identified Sharper as her attacker for police to make an arrest. Miller worked on the Sharper case with ProPublica colleague Ryan Gabrielson and Ramon Antonio Vargas and John Simerman of The New Orleans Advocate. Their investigation raises troubling questions about how police handle rape cases and, in particular, whether a lack of coordination and information sharing among departments lets serial rapists get away with their crimes. This is obviously a disturbing topic, and our conversation will contain descriptions of Darren Sharper's history of serial rape, which may be upsetting to hear. In more than 20 years of journalism, T. Christian Miller has covered wars, human rights abuses, environmental issues and a presidential campaign. He's won many journalistic awards, including a George Polk Award.

Well, T. Christian Miller, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's begin by just talking a bit about Darren Sharper. Who was he as an athlete?

T. CHRISTIAN MILLER: Darren Sharper was a football player, last for the New Orleans Saints. He was famous for his ability to intercept the ball and for his ability to hit hard - kind of legendary actually. He wound up his career in the NFL final season winning a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints and that season, having recorded the most runs from intercepted balls in league history, setting a new record. So he was a prodigy in his ability, specifically, to anticipate what was going to happen, to intercept the ball and to make tackles when it was most important.

DAVIES: Now, some athletes have arrest records or other things in their backgrounds that gives them, you know, a sketchy reputation. What about Sharper?

MILLER: Nothing like that, Dave. We - when we first started this story, we went to every single police agency in a town or area where he had lived. That was about 20 different agencies. And we filed public record requests for any kind of interaction he'd had with the police. And we got, I believe, two. One which was during his college years, sort of a complaint about loud noises in the dorm and a second was a traffic ticket in Wisconsin. But through all his career, which began with the Green Bay Packers, went on to the Minnesota Vikings and ended in New Orleans, there was never any kind of history or signs of trouble.

DAVIES: So he was a popular player, well-regarded.

MILLER: Yes, and not only well-regarded, but actually known for his outreach on women's issues. He was so well-known that he was actually included in an NFL publication about battered women and domestic violence in which he appeared with his daughter in a photo on the calendar and said, you know, I'm appearing kind of to show my support for women and how they can be exploited and abused.

DAVIES: So before we talk about the allegations against him specifically, you note that there's a culture of NFL off-season parties. You want to describe that world?

MILLER: So what we found is that during the off-season, certain players congregate in big nightclub spots - towns like New Orleans, towns like Miami Beach, those kind of places - where it's - there's a known club scene, a party scene. But at the same time, women who are interested in connecting with or seeing football players and basketball and other sports as well will also go to these towns on the off-season. And there are people in these clubs whose job it is to find women who, for whatever reason, are interested in meeting and connecting with an NFL player. And the NFL players are waiting at these different VIP tables, let's say, and how kind of the women will gather and be collected up and the football player can sort of have his choice of whatever woman he wants to go home with. This obviously doesn't apply to every football player nor to every woman who goes to these clubs. But there is this little system that exists that's to the benefit of the club itself because the club wants to have high-profile players. And the way to keep them there is to make sure that the football players who wish to indulge in this have a selection of attractive and willing women.

DAVIES: And these are well-paid professional athletes that'll drop some cash at these tables?

MILLER: Oh, yeah, one of these intermediaries was telling us it's, you know, $15,000 to have a table. And then you're buying drinks all night and buying fancy things. And you basically spend a lot of money, which helps the club out as well. So, yeah, it's a very lucrative thing for a club to have a player there buying one of these tables. And the way to keep them there is to make sure that if they want to have a woman to go home with that there's some women who want to come to these clubs and do that.

DAVIES: Now, Darren Sharper's playing career ended, I guess, in early 2011. And the first of these allegations comes a very shortly thereafter - March of 2011, two women who are in Miami, I guess, doing spring break there. Tell us what happened.

MILLER: Yeah, so he has his - plays his last game in January of 2011 and then in March he's back at his condo. His main, off-season residence is in Miami Beach. He's at a club in Miami Beach, which is famous for attracting glitterati. It's a very big, urban, pulsing nightclub with lots of visuals and music and all kinds of things. And during the night, he meets some women who are on spring break from the University of Georgia. The intermediaries help them connect up. And one thing follows another and they end up at his condo later in the night. Their story is they were both tired. They had obviously had something to drink. They fell asleep. And one woman recalls waking up with Darren Sharper exposing himself to her. She went back, said stop, then went back asleep. And the next time she woke up Darren Sharper, she says, was straddling her essentially. At that point in time, the woman gets up, contacts her friend. They both notice that they're not wearing any underwear anymore. And they immediately leave and eventually talk to Miami police about this incident.

DAVIES: And so what kind of an investigation was done?

MILLER: So they went to the hospital, and they got what's known as a rape kit. And that's a term which simply means that they had an examination by a nurse who was especially trained to look for forensic evidence that could be used in court. Typically, what happens in those kind of examinations is the nurse will go over you. It's a four-hour to - as many as six-hour long procedure. It can be very uncomfortable. There's a lot of examinations, very intimate examinations, that go on. They're looking for all your clothing, anything on your body that may contain DNA evidence. Those rape kits - what's supposed to happen is they are then sent on to a lab to be analyzed so the lab can say, well, there's DNA on this kit and we - this DNA may match a suspect or not.

DAVIES: And typically what happens is it goes from the hospital to the police's custody and then it's the police's call whether to send it to a lab for testing, is that right?

MILLER: Correct. If the - once the police get the rape kit - now, these rules differ a little bit in every state. But in general, once the police get the rape kit and are doing the investigation, they'll send away the kit for examination to determine what, if anything, is useful in terms of prosecuting the case.

DAVIES: And what happened in this case?

MILLER: In this case, what we know is the rape kit was not sent onward for further examination and instead, was destroyed a year - or maybe more - after the - this investigation was closed. So now there's no chance to go back and test that rape kit. And that also raises a lot of questions about why that was done. We know in Miami, the Miami Police Department did virtually nothing. The police officer took the report from Miami Beach Police Department and closed the case three days later, I think it was. Did nothing in terms of trying to find out more about the case, didn't follow any of the recommendations that the International Police Chiefs Association has issued in terms of how to investigate a rape investigation.

But even you and I can think of things you would have done. You would have tried to go and talk to people who were at the apartment, including Jamie Sharper or Darren Sharper. Or you could have interviewed other witnesses that - what had happened that night. Or you could have waited for the sexual assault kit. You could have submitted that and find out if there were any results. But none of that was done in this case. It was just swept under the rug. And a finding was made that not only had no rape occurred, but the whole incident was reclassified as a miscellaneous incident by the Miami Beach Police Department.

DAVIES: The next allegation came later in New Orleans. Tell us about that one.

MILLER: So about a year after these attacks in Miami, which I want to emphasize they were never charged against Mr. Sharper, there was an incident in Louisiana. This was in September of 2013. And in that case, Mr. Sharper was at a club. He met a girl. They went to another club. And during that partying atmosphere - everybody's dancing around and there's a lot of drinking going on - Sharper goes over to one of his friends and says she's ready. She's on the potion. And then he disappears with her. He takes her to his apartment down in the French Quarter. And according to police, he then basically has sex with her while she's unconscious. There is another woman in the apartment as well who is also raped. And then he has a friend there, who also rapes both women. Woman gets up in the morning, doesn't know what's happened but knows that she's been assaulted and reports that to the New Orleans Police Department.

DAVIES: And was a rape kit performed on those two women?

MILLER: Yes, a rape kit was performed on - well, we know for sure a rape kit was performed on one of the victims, who turns out to be - not - this is particularly relevant, but it makes it a particularly high-profile case in the community. She, herself, is a former cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints Saintsation. So awareness of this incident is circulating in the football community, I guess, you'd call it. So she does have a rape kit done, and it eventually does come back as testing positive for Darren Sharper's DNA. This is one of the things that makes sexual assault and rape cases so very interesting and difficult to pursue because then what happens is, OK, so now I have evidence certainly that this man had sex with this woman, but then it comes down to an issue of consent, which is rape, unlike most crimes, there's not a witness. So it comes down to whether or not a jury will believe that the woman in this particular case said yes or whether she said no and Darren Sharper went ahead and forced his way onward. And that's what makes rape almost unique in amongst violent crimes, is that it depends so much upon the credibility and the believability of the assailant and the victim.

DAVIES: And, of course, on judgments that are made by investigators in the case. What was the reputation of the department's sex crimes unit that investigated this matter?

MILLER: All right. So the New Orleans Sex Crimes Unit was not exactly in the Super Bowl of sex crimes units. It had been thoroughly reviewed by the Department of Justice as well as the New Orleans Inspector General - an oversight body. And in both those cases, the sexual assault unit, as a whole, had been found wanting. They weren't investigating cases. They were filing away cases that were legitimate - or appeared to be legitimate - sexual assault investigations - and calling them miscellaneous investigations.

And then in particular, there were five detectives singled out as being particularly bad in documenting cases. And one of those five detectives was the detective who was - Derrick - Detective Derrick Williams - who wasn't actually investigating Darren Sharper's rape case. And in the report by the New Orleans Inspector General, they singled out Detective Williams as being one of the detectives who had not followed up in 97 percent of his rape cases.

DAVIES: So do we know enough now about the course of that investigation to have an idea of why it didn't go forward?

MILLER: Yeah, we have a pretty good idea, Dave. The case was well-known up and down the New Orleans police structure. Up to the highest levels were being briefed on the investigation that Detective Williams actually believed he had a case because he did have DNA evidence, and he had a witness whose very believable, but that the district attorney in New Orleans and the police chief in New Orleans at the time wanted to have a - like, a rock-solid case that you couldn't lose basically. It had to be absolutely rock-solid. And that that kind of pressure impacted whether or not to go forward with the investigation. And it kind of stalled for a long time once again, until the Los Angeles Police actually arrested Sharper.

DAVIES: And, of course, this happened in New Orleans, where the suspect, Darren Sharper, had helped them win a Super Bowl. He was an enormously popular and influential guy. He was certainly an enormously popular player. Can you tell whether that affected the way the case preceded?

MILLER: So we never got any direct evidence other than the fact that he was of high-profile person and that's why the DA and the police chief were a little bit hesitant about going full forward. We talked to one person who said essentially - one cop - who told us, you know, anybody else, if you've got the woman, a named suspect, a DNA evidence thing, the guy would at least be put in jail to - while they finish the investigation. But this was Darren Sharper. Now, you know, whether or not that was directly linked to his football ability or his fame in New Orleans, it's obviously tied up in there. But we didn't have anybody ever who said, you know, this guy was a football player, so we weren't going to touch him.

DAVIES: T. Christian Miller is an investigative reporter for ProPublica. He co-authored a series of articles about the Darren Sharper case. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, we're speaking with investigative reporter T. Christian Miller. He writes for ProPublica, and he co-authored a series on the Darren Sharper serial sexual assault allegations and reasons why rape cases don't get adequately investigated. Now, so we had a reported sexual assault by Darren Sharper in Miami and then another one in New Orleans. The New Orleans investigators didn't know what had happened in Miami. And as this case unfolds, we see police departments not being aware of previous allegations which fit exactly the same pattern. Would that have mattered if they had known about them? Can you introduce, you know, previous allegations as evidence in a case like this?

MILLER: I think you can see that it would have mattered by the eventual outcome of this case, which is when there was an arrest made finally of Darren Sharper, then all these other police agencies dust off their files and they see oh, we had a Darren Sharper incident too. And most of them began prosecution. One of the fundamental principles in terms of what police recommend for a rape investigation is where else has this guy been and what has he done? And that's kind of the whole point of the stories that we've been doing is that it just should be kind of almost like a protocol step once you get a rape case to look back where the guy has lived before. And that's just not sort of me thinking that.

That's best practice recommendation from The International Police Chiefs Association and training groups and advocacy groups and everywhere else. And the reason is this - it's really interesting - there's some research that shows amongst the violent crimes like murder and assault, rape is the one which has the highest amount of serial offenders. In other words, a rapist, once you catch him, may have - something like a quarter to two-thirds have committed a previous rape.

So there's some sense, I mean, there's just a logical sense that you should go back and see had this guy, when he was living in another place, ever encountered the police? And what we found in our Darren Sharper story and its subsequent stories is that's just not a routine practice. You know, cops are busy. They've got one rape case in front of them. They want to solve that one. But then in reality, those previous incidents can play a role in the decision whether or not to prosecute. It sort of helps the prosecutor, helps the police officer, think this isn't just one incident of he said, she said. It's an incident of they said, he said. And so it gives the police and the prosecutors more, you know, reason to pursue the cases.

There's another whole separate issue about whether you can introduce those in court. And there is legislation passed that allows you to do that - again, unique in criminal justice. But at the very least, I think it's very true that if you're a police officer and you know that this guy's been accused in one or two other places by women - maybe never charged. But, you know, how many times does that happen? How could that be a complete coincidence? And then I think that would make police and prosecutors more aggressive in doing the investigation they have at hand.

DAVIES: Right, and it's not like they'd have to call 50 states. It's not that hard to figure out where a suspect has lived before and call those departments.

MILLER: Right, I mean, both you and I - as in our careers as journalists - I think it seems so obvious to us 'cause one of the first things you do when you're covering a story is you find out Bob Jones is a murderer and then you find out, like, where'd he live and try and call neighbors and then go back and find more neighbors and try and call them. It's almost second nature, I think, to journalists and many others to just kind of look at this guy's background. But for police, there's not really a big reward in that because you just have to solve the case in front of you. It's not necessarily helpful to them to go backwards.

DAVIES: T. Christian Miller is an investigative reporter for the nonprofit news site ProPublica. Later we'll hear how authorities finally put the case against Sharper together and about some investigative shortcomings that make it easier for serial rapists to get away with their crimes. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. We were speaking with reporter T. Christian Miller of the nonprofit investigative news site ProPublica who co-authored a series of stories about the serial rape case against former pro football star Darren Sharper. When we left off, Miller had described accusations by women in Miami and New Orleans that Sharper had drugged and raped them, but neither report led to an arrest. Again, this is obviously a disturbing topic and our conversation will include some descriptions of Darren Sharper's history of serial rape, which may be upsetting to hear.

All right, so there's an allegation against Darren Sharper in 2011 in Miami; another one, 2013, in New Orleans; and then another one after that in Los Angeles - all similar, women who say they were drugged and then apparently were sexually assaulted. And then the one in Tempe, Ariz., near Phoenix seems to have gotten more attention. Why?

MILLER: Yeah, so the Phoenix police, when they get this report, they actually begin doing a fairly thorough investigation. We have the best documentation on what exactly they did. So they immediately interview the witnesses. They get tape from the bars where this happened in.

DAVIES: That's the video surveillance tape, yeah.

MILLER: Video surveillance tapes - right, excuse me - from the bars that he was in. So one of the things that happened is this was a - this assault happened in an apartment where there's a group of women that were all living together. And when one of the assaults was going on - there was two women who were assaulted - another woman called her boyfriend to basically say what should I do? The police had determined that that call had been made. They had actually interviewed the boyfriend, and so they had almost, like, a contemporaneous, another witness to what had occurred. They did get - do rape kits tests. They did send those away to the lab, so that investigation was moving along. I wouldn't say it was moving along with alacrity. There was sort of long periods of time when nothing was happening.

DAVIES: But then the big change occurred when another assault was reported in Los Angeles. And that went to the same detective that had gotten an earlier report, right?

MILLER: Right. So as the Tempe - as the police in Arizona are moving along slowly, Darren Sharper is not. He goes back to Los Angeles back to the same club where he had assaulted two women and assaults another two women. The same police officer catches that report, and whereas before he only had one report, now he has two reports of the same incident occurring with the same club, same guy, same women, same m.o. And he then gets an arrest warrant issued. It's a little too late, although he issued it very quickly, because the same night - I mean, picture this - the same night that he assaults these two women in Los Angeles, he catches a plane to Las Vegas the next day, assaults two more women within 24 hours. And then the Las Vegas police are also onto him. He flies back to Los Angeles and that's where he is arrested at the hotel where he is staying.

DAVIES: And how did these police departments finally begin communicating with each other about Darren Sharper?

MILLER: It was the news. As soon as Darren Sharper was arrested, the LAPD issued a news alert that they arrested this ex-NFL football player. Louisiana read that. Arizona saw that. Florida saw that. And all of a sudden now, whereas before they hadn't shown much interest in investigating these rapes, now they all begin an effort to find out if their victims had also been raped by Darren Sharper. So it kicks into high gear at that point in time. And one of the points in our story was that not that the police did a bad job when they began really investigating Darren Sharper, but that it actually took this high-profile arrest to make them go back and really scrub their files.

DAVIES: And the depressing thought is that if he weren't famous it might not have happened. I mean, these other departments might never have known that a guy had done the same thing with a similar m.o.

MILLER: Sure, I can absolutely see that happening if he was just a regular guy and they found him that it may never have gone out to anywhere else because there is no centralized database of people who commit sexual assault.

DAVIES: And once these cases emerged, was there a clear m.o. for Darren Sharper? What did he do in all these cases?

MILLER: Yeah, so what emerges is a kind of a disturbing picture of a very calculating serial rapist. In most of the cases, he met his victims in clubs. In most of the cases, he slipped a Mickey to the women, as it was called in the old days. He essentially mixed their drinks, and while he was mixing the drinks, he poured in Ambien and - or Valium into the drinks at the same time and then served it to them. And he called those frat drinks in one case and another time, as I mentioned, he called it the potion. And he would give these women the potion. So he would give them Valium. He would give them Ambien, take them back to his apartment. They would often pass out or have very foggy memories of what occurred. They were often very young - college age women - blonde, white women who he picked up in these clubs who, even when you look at their pictures, they look kind of similar. And so it was a very well-known, you know, pattern. You had a guy - sometimes he took photos of these assaults and pictures when they were going - when they were happening. Sometimes he would brag about that in text messages to friends of his. So it was definitely a kind of a deliberate pattern that happened over and over again by this football star.

DAVIES: So eventually all of these cases emerged. It did not go to trial. A plea agreement was reached among many of the prosecutors. What does it provide in jail time, for example?

MILLER: So his plea deal provides for him to get a 20-year sentence. He's - there's a catch though. He's been in jail since his arrest in 2014. So that, along with credit for time - good time - that he's expected to get, will mean that he's only going to serve about nine more years in prison.

DAVIES: Good time essentially - what - you know, time off for good behavior in prison, right?

MILLER: Correct.

DAVIES: So 20-year sentence; if things go to his advantage, he'll end up serving only nine more years.

MILLER: That's right. He'll serve nine more years for the rape of nine women.

DAVIES: There were other conditions imposed along with the sentence, right? Tell us about those.

MILLER: There are a number of other conditions. The one that attracted the most attention was a condition that he wear what's called a penile plethysmograph when so ordered to do by his parole officer. And what that is - a penile plethysmograph is - is essentially a cuff that goes around your penis. You go to a lab, you are shown pornography - violent pornography, often rape pornography - and the device measures your reaction to that. And if you have a reaction which is deemed unworthy, you can be sent to counseling. You can be sent to prison again. But it's something which is at the discretion of the parole officer. So just to be clear, he doesn't have to wear this all the time. But if any parole officer decides he's - needs to be tested with this penile plethysmograph, he would have to come in and undergo this procedure.

DAVIES: Now, it's a - it's lifetime parole, right? So this will be this way - he has to put up with this forever. He's not allowed any alcohol, right?

MILLER: Right, no alcohol.

DAVIES: Has to register as a sex offender.

MILLER: Yes, register as a sex offender. He can't even use the Internet to communicate with other women and attempt to get a date. So what one person told us - what one defensive prosecutor told us when we asked about this deal and was it a sweetheart deal, the person told us this is designed to fail. In other words, there are so many conditions that the expectation is he's going to screw this up and have to return to prison for life. That's a defense. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but that's a defense that was certainly in the prosecutor's thinking.

DAVIES: Not to dwell on it, but it seems to me that the penile plethysmograph would be the kind of test you would give somebody if you'd gotten some counseling and treatment for - to try and deal with this preference for coercive sex. Is that part of what's supposed to happen, too?

MILLER: That is part of what's supposed to happen, but I think you're right to dwell on it, as lurid as it may be, because honestly there's not a lot of science behind this penile plethysmograph as to whether it measures anything or not. The research shows that it can be easily fooled. It seems like a relic of an era when people thought this might actually do something. But there's no real hard science that shows that the penile plethysmograph measures much of anything.

DAVIES: I'm sure Darren Sharper had good attorneys and they negotiated the plea agreement. Have we heard anything from him about these crimes?

MILLER: Yes, he's certainly apologized for his crimes. But there hasn't been any kind of extensive outreach to the victims that I'm aware of - at least not publicly so. He - there's one hitch to this whole plea deal right now, which is that he - both in New Orleans and in the federal level, they haven't yet accepted the plea. So - and there's a lot of speculation as to why that is. We don't actually know - have a very good idea as to why neither the judge in New Orleans nor the judge in the federal district court has not accepted the plea agreement yet. That's not going to happen until sometime this fall, so we're just sort of watching to see if the full agreement is actually enacted.

DAVIES: We're speaking with T. Christian Miller. He's an investigative reporter for ProPublica. He co-authored a series on the Darren Sharper rape case and other issues about pursuing rape prosecutions. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

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DAVIES: We're speaking with ProPublica investigative reporter T. Christian Miller. He recently co-authored a series of stories about the Darren Sharper serial rape case.

You know, clearly, one of the things that you - that went wrong in the Darren Sharper case as you reported is that departments in several states were getting reports of Sharper - and in some cases other folks - drugging and raping women. But they didn't know about the other - the other incidents. And so a nationwide database which connects dots would be a really good idea. And you write that, in fact, decades ago the FBI saw this and tried to build one. What happened?

MILLER: Yeah, that's exactly right. It's a fascinating story about good intentions that were never followed through. So 30 years ago, there was a famous detective in Los Angeles - the LAPD - named Pierce Brooks. And he's most famous - he was the detective in Joseph Wambaugh's "The Onion Field" who solved the murder of a cop killer. So Brooks, who was very forward-thinking, realized that serial killers and other criminals kind of behaved in certain ways that might help identify them. So they might use a certain knife in all their crimes or they might whistle a particular song as they're doing their nefarious activities. And this is long before DNA was a thing, a known science. So it was kind of an early version of trying to identify people not through their genetic materials but kind of through their behaviors - what they did, how they acted during a crime. So Brooks manages to convince Congress - the late Senator Arlen Specter - to fund a program that would look at these behavioral clues. It was called the violent - the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program - ViCAP for short. And it kicked off in 1985 in the same bureau where the profilers, who'd be later made famous in "Silence Of The Lambs," they had this computer system that was called ViCAP and it was supposed to find out, you know, who - what were other serial serial killers doing? Or how could you connect them together? Eventually, it was adapted also for rapists so that rapists, if they behaved in a certain way and offended serially, would be identified by this ViCAP system. And that's how it began and has been in function ever since.

DAVIES: And has it worked?

MILLER: So the short answer to that is not often. It has certainly been used to solve cases. The FBI won't comment on how many cases exactly it's been used. But there are certainly examples, which they provided to me when I was doing my reporting, of how the ViCAP system helped solve some cases. But in general, it's just not used. I mean, the FBI - this is kind of like a forgotten stepchild for the FBI. It began in 1985 - pre-DNA. Then DNA came along and people kind of forgot about this behavioral database. So the agency has never really done anything to promote it very heavily. It's a $800,000 a year program. The budget of the FBI is $8.2 billion, which just, if you put your money where your mouth is, that shows where their mouth is. There's only about 1,400 police agencies which, for today, use this database. And there's 18,000 in the country, so you can see that not very many police agencies are actually using it. And then there's not very many rapes even being entered. There's less than 1 percent of all rapes that occur in the country are entered into this database on a yearly basis. So it's a - everyone that I spoke to for this story said great idea, great potential, it's just not doing the job.

DAVIES: Well, obviously, for it to be effective you need to have data entered from, you know, all of these local law enforcement agencies. What do the local cops say about why they don't bother to enter this data into the system?

MILLER: So there's a couple reasons. Number one, it's just not very well-known because it's not been marketed very well. Number two, when it is known, it's a very cumbersome form to fill out. There's, I think, almost a hundred or so questions which they have to go to. It takes 45 minutes or so, which, for a cop, you know, on the beat, detective on the beat, that's a lot of time to take out. And then finally and kind of most significantly, I think, it's simply not mandatory. In the U.S., at least, police don't have to enter this information into the ViCAP database and so they don't.

DAVIES: You spent some time as, in your reporting here, talking to a lot of people involved in rape investigations and advocates who want to see them done more aggressively and more effectively. Are things changing? Are investigators' attitudes changing? Are techniques and legislation evolving so that this can be more effectively investigated and prosecuted?

MILLER: The advocates that I spoke to have that hope, but I don't know if there's a lot of evidence of that. And the most kind of trenchant statistic I had is that there's about 15,000 murders a year. There's 80,000 rapes a year. If you had one murder in your community, you'd be very upset. And if you have 20 rapes in your community, you probably don't even know that. So there's a sense that, in general, rape is a crime that - it is difficult to solve. It is fraught with all sorts of issues. But it also doesn't appear to be first in the minds of detectives in America's police forces. Some places yes, of course, but in general, the homicide unit is where the best guys work. The sex crimes unit tends to be a place where you clock your time and move on. There's not often, in many agencies, a command focus by leadership on solving rape cases. So in the end, something like 60 percent of violent crimes like murder and assault are solved. Only about 40 percent of sexual assault crimes are solved, according to the FBI. But that statistic is made even different by - there's 15,000 murders a year. We know that. We've seen the bodies. There's 80,000 reported rapes, but by most estimates, only 1 in 3 rapes are actually reported. So if you go by that, there's 240,000 rapes per year in this country and very few of those ever get prosecuted.

DAVIES: Well, T. Christian Miller, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MILLER: Thank you, Dave, I really appreciated being on.

DAVIES: T. Christian Miller is an investigative reporter for the nonprofit news site ProPublica. He co-authored a series on the Darren Sharper case with ProPublica colleague Brian Gabrielson and Ramon Antonio Vargas and John Simerman of The New Orleans Advocate. Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews an album of trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy singing Charles Mingus songs. This is FRESH AIR.

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