More than half of nearly 100 rape reports that Baltimore police decided were false or baseless have been reclassified as rapes or other sex crimes, according to an audit presented Wednesday to a City Council panel. The findings came from a review prompted by a Baltimore Sun analysis that exposed flaws in the way police handled sex offense investigations. Baltimore has long led the nation in the proportion of rape reports classified as "unfounded" - meaning the incident did not happen.Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the audit, along with other comprehensive changes in recent months, "has forever changed and improved the way sexual assault cases are investigated in Baltimore, ensuring that all victims of sexual assault have their complaints investigated fully and are treated with dignity and respect." Rawlings-Blake asked the panel in late June to evaluate recent reports of rape and sexual crimes. The Sexual Assault Response Team, which includes police, prosecutors and victim advocates, reviewed 98 rape investigations classified as unfounded between January 2009 and August 2010. It found that 52 should be considered rapes or other sex crimes. Those cases and others will get a fresh look from new detectives, but officials stressed that the reclassifications have yet to produce arrests. The audit constituted one piece of the city's rape-reporting overhaul. Police instituted new policies, making sure all sexual-assault reports were referred to a specialized unit and could not be dismissed on the scene. Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III also selected a new commander for the sex offense unit, sent detectives to training and obtained grant money to beef up investigations. A U.S. Senate subcommittee convened a hearing on the topic. Bealefeld called the steps "the beginning" of an improved process. "I do not view this as ... the end of the mission," he told a City Council committee reviewing the findings. "I simply view this as a good start."
Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun