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Grant awarded to train officers in sexual assault cases

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A $278,000 grant was awarded to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice to train city police detectives on sexual assault investigations, city officials announced Thursday.

The Byrne Grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention will fund training, as well as new case-management software, video recording equipment, a victims' advocate, outreach materials and biological evidence testing.

"This grant will support a victim-centered approach that will allow us to better identify, apprehend and prosecute offenders," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.

The award comes after articles in The Baltimore Sun showed Baltimore led the country in the percentage of rape allegations deemed "unfounded" and dismissed by detectives and that, in many cases, officers were failing to take reports or discarding a high number of claims.

The Police Department has since undertaken reforms, appointing a new head of the unit that investigates sex offenses, changing protocols for rape investigations and sending detectives to training. The department has also begun a review to determine if cases marked as "unfounded" since 2009 were properly classified.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the department hopes to eventually serve as a model for sex assault investigations.

"This much-needed funding will significantly aid in our ability to thoroughly investigate sexual assault cases," Bealefeld said in a statement.

The grant will provide Sexual Assault Response Team members with new software to measure the progress of cases and share information.

In also will fund an advocate who will help support sexual assault victims when they report crimes. The advocate will also provide follow-up, including in cases where victims recant their stories.

The grant will also help fund the analysis of evidence gathered in sexual assault cases, including DNA evidence. The Police Department has a backlog of untested biological evidence because of the lack of funds, according to officials.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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