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Will probe bring justice in Illinois town’s rape scandal?

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"Every piece of evidence in there represented a person who was raped and who came for help ... and got nothing," Smith says. "What does that do to you for the rest of your life? Can you trust the police — or not?"

At the heart of this scandal is what the Robbins police did or didn’t do — and how to explain it.

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"Lack of capacity — that’s the best-case scenario," Smith says. "The worst-case scenario? Indifference to the crime."

Dart calls it "raging incompetence, neglect and a lack of concern" and attributes it to several factors: A part-time force (most officers work three days a week). Inadequate training and supervision. And paltry pay. Some officers, he says, earn just $10 an hour.

"To be honest, you get what you pay for," the sheriff says. "... For $10 an hour you can go to a lot of fast-food restaurants."

What makes matters worse is "these issues have been there for decades and decades and decades. It’s almost institutionalized," he says. "Have there been all sorts of red flags? Oh, God, please. Absolutely."

Last week, there was more turmoil.

Police Chief Melvin Davis, in office only since June, was told in writing that he was being dismissed as of Nov. 22, according to Smith. During his tenure, Davis had fired more than 20 percent of uniformed officers because, he said, they weren’t "cut out for the job."

It wasn’t immediately clear whether his firing was connected to the resignation of a part-time police captain, who also left last week, amid charges he misrepresented his credentials. Both had been hired to try to clean up the department. Mayor Tyrone Ward responded to the furor, issuing a press release saying he’d work with Dart but there would be "no takeover" of the Robbins police by the sheriff’s office.

In an earlier interview, Davis blamed the problems with the rape cases on a department "mentality of old-school policing," with officers trying to solve crimes by knocking on doors. "They weren’t up-to-date on technology," he said. "Some of these cases were solvable if they were just properly trained."

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Davis also said he believed many rape investigations were dropped because of insufficient evidence

Sheriff’s investigators now have police reports in just 45 rape cases and have interviewed about 10 victims so far. Smith says tracking them down has been very difficult.

One of the few to shed her anonymity is Rosa Pickett.

She approached Dart after the town meeting and said she’d been raped in 1977 — her case was older than those being reviewed.

But she still wanted answers, and asked him: "Why aren’t you looking into mine?"

Her assault, she says, occurred Sept. 3, 1977, when she was 17: She was heading to her sister’s birthday party when a man grabbed her from behind, choked her with a belt until she temporarily lost consciousness, pummeled her face and raped her. At the hospital, she spoke with a Robbins police officer, who photographed her bruises.

Pickett later described her attacker and was confident of an arrest. "I just knew they’re not going to let me down because of the way he beat me," she says.

Pickett, now a 53-year-old grandmother, says she never heard from police again.

The rape, she adds, all but destroyed her.

"At 17, I had plans. ... I wanted to do a lot of things with my life," she says. "I wanted to be someone successful. ... But after that happened to me and there wasn’t nothing done about it. ... I got rebellious. I was mean and angry. I did not finish school. I became a bully. I ended up on drugs."

A decade later, while using drugs, she says, something incredible happened: She encountered her attacker at a gathering at a friend’s house. She rushed to tell police, who she says informed her it was too late.

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