Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said a focus on homicides and nonfatal shooting investigations may have contributed to neglect of growing problems with the way the department investigated sex offenses.
Bealefeld also said that the department no longer will allow patrol officers to dismiss rape claims at the crime scene, something that accounts for nearly four in 10 rape calls to 911 failing to generate a police report. All claims will now be referred to specialized detectives, he said.
The Baltimore Sun reported last month that, since 2004, Baltimore has led the country with more than 30 percent of rape reports marked "unfounded" by detectives, meaning police believed the victim was lying. Advocates and sexual assault victims also described harsh interrogation tactics by officers that in some cases compelled alleged victims to recant their story. Those factors might have contributed to an 80 percent decline in rapes since the 1990s, while such crimes fell 8 percent nationwide.
Bealefeld has called the issue a "crisis" and Monday night on Maryland Public Television's "Direct Connection" program said he accepts "full responsibility." Bealefeld credited The Sun's reporting for pointing to a wider problem, saying, "I can't tell you that we would have seen that by ourselves."
He said some of the areas of concern could be attributed to training, burnout or apathy, but he acknowledged that an emphasis on shootings might have distracted officials from other issues.
"In five or six years in Baltimore, we've focused a lot of energy on homicides and detectives handling nonfatal shootings investigations, and the monitoring of what those detectives were doing," he said. "Absolutely, we need to do a much, much better job of looking across the board at what the sex offense unit is doing."
A team of police officials, prosecutors and nonprofits have been tasked by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake with revising policies, and police are conducting an audit of rape cases from the past 18 months. Bealefeld said he has reviewed cases that were marked "unfounded" in 2009.
"There were a few practices that are distressing, and some we can curtail right away," he said. "You can see how they would lend to discouraging victims to move forward with their complaints."
Bealefeld said that patrol officers may no longer determine at the scene not to write a report for a rape claim. "Anyone reporting a rape [will now] be seen by a detective," he said.
The city has established a hot line at 443-279-0379 for those who want police to reopen their cases or report mistreatment by officers.
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