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Reported rapes in Baltimore up 20 percent since policy shift

Sexual AssaultAssaultFBIU.S. Senate

Rapes investigated by Baltimore police are up nearly 20 percent this year, a sharp increase since new procedures were sparked by a Baltimore Sun investigation showing the city leading the nation in rape reports dismissed by police.

As of Aug. 28, city police report 112 rape cases this year, compared with 94 at this time last year.

In June, two weeks before The Sun report, rape cases were down 15 percent for the year. After the story was published, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ordered an audit and police immediately implemented new protocols prohibiting patrol officers from declining to take a rape report on the streets.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, said the recent uptick is not due to a rash of new sexual assaults, but rather is the result of "counting them better."

"There's been a really clear change in some of the protocols for these things, and the Police Department is really trying to be responsive to the issue," said Gail Reid, the emergency room program manager for TurnAround Inc., a Towson-based resource for victims of sexual assault that is reviewing cases with Baltimore police.

The issue will get national attention on Tuesday when a U.S. Senate subcommittee holds a hearing to examine systemic failures in the reporting and investigation of rape cases nationwide. Among those testifying will be Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, the director of the Office of Violence Against Women, and two rape victims.

No one from Baltimore was asked to testify, officials said. But the hearing was requested by Carol E. Tracy, director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia, who said she was spurred, in part, by the articles in The Sun.

Tracy called the hearing "a long overdue step toward justice for rape survivors who were re-victimized by the systems that should have protected them."

A review of national FBI data shows significant disparities among large American cities in the number of reported rapes. Though most cities have a percentage of cases deemed "unfounded" that is in the single digits, some report zero. Baltimore for years has recorded in excess of 30 percent — five times the national average — and no other city except Dallas was over 20 percent in the most recent year for which data is available. The FBI does little to monitor the accuracy of reporting.

According to state and federal statistics, reported rapes have tumbled 80 percent in Baltimore since 1995, a time period during which they declined 8 percent nationally.

Baltimore's problem was twofold: Patrol officers failed to write reports in four out of 10 calls to 911, labeling them "unfounded" on the streets. And once cases made it to the sex offense unit, detectives there consistently marked 30 percent or more of the cases "unfounded," meaning they determined the allegation was false or baseless.

Statistics requested by The Baltimore Sun show fewer cases have been discarded by patrol officers since the start of July, with reports being written in 77 percent of the 138 instances in which alleged victims called 911 to report a rape. In the instances where a report was not written, police noted that they could not find a victim, no police service was necessary, or that the address given in the report did not exist. Four calls were recorded as "unfounded" by patrol officers.

In contrast, for the first six months of the year, officers wrote reports in 60 percent of the 345 calls to 911 to report a rape.

There remains a disparity between reported rapes and the number of reports written for a call to 911 to report a rape, but Guglielmi said that officers are documenting their justification for how they classify a crime.

"Not all are rapes, by definition. When the reports are written, they're investigating them further, and if for whatever reason, if it's not a sex offense, they have to articulate" that justification, Guglielmi said.

He provided a sampling of some reports that came in to 911 as a suspected rape and were later classified otherwise, showing the complexity of cases presented to police.

•- On July 13, a woman called police and said she was trapped in a vacant house and had been sexually assaulted. When officers arrived, she said she and a male friend had been smoking crack, and that the man asked her for sex but left when she said no. She began hearing voices and speaking to them, according to the report. Detectives were consulted and they determined the case needed no further investigation.

•- A 19-year-old woman said she had a sexual encounter July 17 with a man she had met on an Internet dating site. She said they engaged in consensual oral sex but that she refused when he tried to pursue intercourse. She said she made several demands that he stop trying, then left and called police. The report was listed as a "common assault" and forwarded to detectives for review.

•- A 25-year-old woman said she was forced to perform oral sex at gunpoint July 12 in the 100 block of Washington Blvd. The federal guidelines for rape include only forced vaginal intercourse, so the incident was categorized as an aggravated assault and referred to sex offense detectives. Tracy, in her testimony to the Senate subcommittee, will argue the need to update the federal definition of rape to include such cases.

Among other examples given by city police: One incident took place in Baltimore County and was referred to police there; in another, a grocery store manager called police because a man and woman were arguing and he heard her say she had been raped. When the officer arrived, the woman had left. In another, a woman said she was struck in the face several times while at a swingers' party but did not indicate that a sexual assault had taken place.

Meanwhile, a review by a task force of city prosecutors, police and advocates for rape victims began late last month. Two teams — each consisting of two detectives and a counselor from TurnAround Inc. — began working two weeks ago to track down women who said they had been raped and whose cases were marked unfounded by sex offense detectives over the past year-and-a-half.

"It's been hard to make contact with victims, and I think their reactions are mixed," Reid said. "Some have closed that over and don't want it reopened, and for others they at least appreciate that someone is reaching out to them. We're trying to offer those victims services regardless of what happens with the case. There's different ways to offer a sense of justice."

Police have still not filled a top position to oversee reforms in the sex offense unit. Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III tapped Maj. Scott Bloodsworth, commander of the Southern District, to fill the position in early July, but Bloodsworth opted to retire instead. Officials say they continue to search for a replacement.

Col. Dean Palmere, who heads the criminal investigations division, has been overseeing the implementation of reforms in the interim.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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