“I’m dismayed to learn Harford County continues to use this outdated practice with survivors,” she said. “We’re hopeful that they will re-examine their policies. If not, we will bring it to the legislature next year for further discussion.”
State Del. Susan McComas, a Republican representing Harford County, raised questions about the county’s use of the waivers.
“This is concerning,” she said, though she said there could be explanations. “How soon after the rape was the waiver signed? Did the victim have the advice of an advocate who could guide the victim through the process?”
State Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Republican who represents Harford County, was cautious in his criticism.
“It’s probably a system that merits a second look, but I’m hesitant to say a police officer was not intending to do the right thing at the time,” he said.
Cassilly said he didn’t have a problem with putting a “pen to paper” to mark the victim’s intent, but that it is important that the victim not make such decision in the immediate aftermath of the assault.
“Sometimes you want that decision to be impressed upon her that it is her decision and not that of others,” he said. “But it needs to be in a space where she feels comfortable to make these decisions and that she understands it’s not irrevocable. That needs to be clear.”
Cristie Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday, “We continue to review policies and procedures to ensure we are operating in the best interest of our community members.”
“I would encourage the Delegate [McComas] or anyone who has questions about this process and/or procedure to reach out to their local law enforcement agency,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins had previously said sometimes victims do not want to move forward with an investigation and the waivers are a “formality” to document a victim’s wish not to pursue an investigation any further. She said victim advocates are available to speak with the victims and explain the process. She said the sheriff’s office does explain that victims can change their minds and informs them of the procedures for destruction of the evidence.
Victims may opt out of an investigation and often do so without a form, according to Tom Tremblay, a consultant for police departments and the U.S. Justice Department.
Most jurisdictions in Central Maryland have a policy to not use such waivers for sexual assault victims.
Marcus Jones, assistant chief of Montgomery County Police, told The Sun it has not used such forms since at least 2004 because they could discourage those who already have a reluctance to come forward.
“We made the decision, in case a victim changed their mind, that they had option to do that by not having a waiver,” he said. “We don’t want women to feel they are under any pressure.”
Spokespersons for law enforcement in Baltimore City, Howard County and Carroll County told The Sun they do not use any such form for sexual assault victims.
A Prince George’s County police spokesperson told The Sun eight sexual assault victims over three months in 2018 signed the forms — but use of the forms was in error.
“When command staff overseeing sexual assault saw the cases coming in with these release forms, they said, ‘What is this?’” said police spokesperson Jennifer Donelan. “And they made a friendly call to the state’s attorney’s office to confirm that these forms were not good ideas for sexual assault victims, and it was stopped.”