Report: Baltimore Lacks Tech to Track Sexual Assault Cases

Baltimore Police are not able to “sufficiently overcome” technology and staffing inefficiencies in order to meet requirements imposed by the consent decree regarding sexual assault investigations, a recent report found.

(TNS) — The Baltimore Police Department is not able to “sufficiently overcome” technology and staffing inefficiencies in order to meet requirements imposed by the consent decree regarding sexual assault investigations, a recent report found.

The department’s Annual Sexual Assault Investigations Data Report largely focused on the department’s inability to track the data, including “demographic information of both victims and suspects," along with case classification, and evidence testing procedures. The report, filed in federal court, is required as part of the department’s compliance with a federal consent decree.

“BPD recognizes, however, that its data collection and reporting processes currently are hindered by numerous technological inefficiencies," the report released Friday said. The report notes that the department continues to struggle with “paper based reporting, data system silos, antiquated data systems.”

But the report also says that the department is working to improve things.

“The [Sex Offense Unit] has embarked on an organizational change to make the unit a trauma-informed, victim-centered, and offender-focused operation. Implementation of new policies, procedures, and training has taken the SOU to higher ground in the climb of reform,” the report said.

The consent decree was reached between the city and the U.S. Justice Department in 2017 after a federal investigation found unconstitutional policing by the Baltimore Police. It requires widespread policing reforms, including to how the department investigates sexual assaults. It requires specific training for investigators and patrol officers when responding to reports of a sexual assault. The department also must reform how it collects information on such cases.

The reforms were included in the consent decree after the Justice Department’s investigation found the department “persistently" neglected to test rape kits
 or gather forensic evidence, regularly disregarded claims from sex workers, and failed to follow up on indications of serial suspects.

The consent decree mandates the collection of “six distinct data points on which BPD must report," to help the agency commit to "a more transparent data strategy.” That includes more robust tracking of demographic information of both victims and suspects, case outcomes, case classification, and evidence testing procedures.

The data shows that the city’s sex offense unit handled 298 cases in 2018, identifying 210 suspects and a total of 303 victims.

Of those, 74.6% were for rape, with the remainder for various other sexual assaults and attempted assaults. Data shows that 41 of the cases stemmed from domestic violence incidents.

In about a third of all cases, the suspect was identified as an acquaintance. In others, 50 were strangers, 32 were “brief encounters” and 28 involved an ex-spouse or former boyfriend/girlfriend.

Because of its paper-based reporting, the department is unable to determine how many victims identify as transgender, queer or nonbinary, the report said.

Jacqueline Robarge, head of Power Inside, a nonprofit that provides services to women who have been the victims of assault, said the report does not do enough to address all issues.

“I am concerned that the report does not discuss steps to remedy gender-biased policing,” Robarge said. "The number of survivors who trust BPD enough to report a sexual assault will likely increase if constitutional policing with groups such as Black women, LGBTQ people, and sex workers is prioritized. With only 303 cases reported, I would expect BPD to pull each case and get data needed to focus on the survivors with open cases and who wish to come forward but assume they will not be believed or treated with sensitivity.”

Of Baltimore’s 298 cases, only 247 qualified as sexual assault cases under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting “UCR” Program. The program collects data from agencies across the country, and standardizes cases. Only the department’s classification of rape cases, rape sodomy, and attempted rape cases are considered to be a part of the UCR data for sexual assaults.

Of those 247 cases that are UCR cases, police made an arrest in 57 of those cases. Investigations determined a crime was not committed in 15 cases, making them unfounded, while 44 were cleared by exception, which means police have enough to make an arrest but don’t for various reasons, such as the suspect is deceased.

The report noted that cases sent to prosecutors are not fully tracked. Investigators submitted 132 cases to prosecutors in 2018 for review, but the report said the police department does not currently track data on what happens with those cases.

Forensic exam kits were completed in just under two-thirds — 187 of the 298 cases. Some victims might decline to be tested, and some victims might not be tested if an assault is reported more than five days after an incident because the kit would be compromised, the report said.

©2019 The Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.