Balto. Co. changes sex assault protocols
High percentage of ‘unfounded' rape reports prompts review of process
Baltimore County officials announced changes to the way sexual assaults are investigated and prosecuted after an independent review of more than 100 reported rapes that police classified as unfounded.
The county's focus on sexual assault comes as state lawmakers are considering bills that could make it easier to convict alleged rapists, at a time when high-profile assault cases have drawn attention to the issue.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, joined at a news conference Wednesday by interim police Chief Terry Sheridan and State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, said police officers will no longer be allowed to label a rape accusation as unfounded. Now, the state's attorney's office will make that determination.
Police deemed 34 percent of rape accusations in Baltimore County in 2014 to be unfounded. The national average that year was 7 percent. A BuzzFeed News report on the county rate drew national attention and spurred Kamenetz to seek a review.
“While we disputed some of the allegations, we also used it as an opportunity for self-reflection, to see how we could improve our investigatory process and, frankly, what we could do better in our police department,” Kamenetz said.
The review by retired Judge Barbara Kerr Howe and Lisae C. Jordan, director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, found that none of the 124 “unfounded” rapes in Baltimore County from the past three years should be moved forward for prosecution.
But they found the county could do a better job investigating and prosecuting rape and sexual assault cases. In addition to recommending that the authority to determine whether a case is unfounded be given to prosecutors, they recommended that:
“We embrace each of these recommendations,” Kamenetz said. He said some of the training and communication improvements are already underway.
Jordan said she was pleased the county was willing to make changes.
“It's never easy to hear someone say, ‘Hey, you need to make some changes and things aren't perfect,' particularly on such a sensitive issue,” she said.
The county also is backing a state effort to clarify the legal definition of rape so that “force or threat of force” is not a requirement to charge a suspect with rape.
Sen. Delores Kelley of Baltimore County and Del. Kathleen Dumais of Montgomery County are pushing a bill to change the legal definition of rape — an effort last attempted more than a decade ago.
Kelley said the new definition would “bring Maryland out of the Stone Ages.”