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Westminster officially joins Carroll County’s sexual assault response team

Multiple county agencies are working together to help victims of sexual assault though the Carroll’s Sexual Assault Response Team.

Westminster officially joined this effort earlier this month with action by the common council, but the city had already been cooperating with the effort.

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Thomas Ledwell, chief of Westminster Police Department, presented a memorandum of understanding to the council, which outlined the purpose and responsibilities of Carroll’s Sexual Assault Response Team, during a Jan. 11 meeting.

Although the directive was introduced and approved at that meeting, Ledwell said the department joined the team in 2019 after Carroll’s Child Advocacy and Investigation Center stopped investigating most adult sex offenses.

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“I think the MOU is just formalizing what we’ve done in practice,” Ledwell said.

Westminster Police Chief Thomas Ledwell poses for a portrait at his post on the city staff desk at the Westminster Mayor and Common Council Meeting Monday, March 11, 2019.
Westminster Police Chief Thomas Ledwell poses for a portrait at his post on the city staff desk at the Westminster Mayor and Common Council Meeting Monday, March 11, 2019. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times / Carroll County Times)

“The proposed Carroll County Sexual Assault Response Team Memorandum of Understanding would improve services available to victims of sexual assaults by providing sensitive, efficient, interdisciplinary services while ensuring accurate evidence collection that promotes the appropriate investigation and prosecution of perpetrators,” a Westminster mayor and common council document states.

The team includes Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office, Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, Springboard Community Services, Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault/Sexual Assault Legal Institute, Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Westminster Police Department, Maryland State Police — Westminster Barrack, the Carroll County Health Department and Carroll Hospital.

“We’re lucky we have good cooperation and collaboration with the county,” Ledwell said.

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Brian DeLeonardo, Carroll’s state’s attorney, also said the county entities already worked together prior to the agreement.

“We’ve worked this model for a very, very long time,” he said. “The MOU is really bringing now a formality to certain aspects.”

DeLeonardo, who served two terms on the Rape Crisis Intervention Service board, said it’s a “tremendous benefit” and that he can notice the shortcomings in communities that do not have this team. He’s not sure how common response teams are but those without them can windup hurting the victim.

Montgomery County and Baltimore City also have SART teams.

The state’s attorney said his office not only makes sure the team works together but they also work with the victim throughout the case. They also review the direction of the case to ensure a thorough investigation.

From left, Liquor Board Chair Dave Brauning, State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo, and Senior Liquor Inspector Keith Benfer came to the Board of Commissioners to present the Diversion Program Jan. 9, 2020. Under the program, servers who sold alcohol to minors may be prosecuted criminally or undergo an educational program.
From left, Liquor Board Chair Dave Brauning, State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo, and Senior Liquor Inspector Keith Benfer came to the Board of Commissioners to present the Diversion Program Jan. 9, 2020. Under the program, servers who sold alcohol to minors may be prosecuted criminally or undergo an educational program. (Mary Grace Keller)

The memorandum states Rape Crisis Intervention Service representatives provide emotional support, help victims understand the legal procedure and attempt to provide continuity of care. Carroll County Sheriff’s Office will investigate, provide resources to victims and keep them informed of the case’s progress. Westminster Police Department will do the same with cases in the city.

Springboard Community Services provides free case management services. Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault provides training and assistance when requested. Carroll’s health department can provide medical expertise, training and medical follow-up to victims. And some of the services Carroll Hospital can provide are medical forensic examinations, testing for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy testing and prevention when appropriate.

Janice Kispert, CEO of Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, said another purpose for the team is to train all the members, including first responders like paramedics, with trauma informed care and “to give them an understanding of the impact of trauma.”

She said the pandemic hit just as they were getting started with training.

This response team existed when she first arrived in the county 40 years ago but evolved over time into the Child Advocacy and Investigation Center, Kispert said. As that program does not serve individuals 18 or older, Rape Crisis stepped in.

Photo by Phil Grout Janice Kispert: CEO of the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County. processed by IntelliTune on 06102008 135240 with script Transport
Photo by Phil Grout Janice Kispert: CEO of the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County. processed by IntelliTune on 06102008 135240 with script Transport (BSMG file photo)

The Rape Crisis CEO said she met informally with county leaders a year and a half ago and revived the SART team. She said it was a challenging process getting everyone on board but now they meet biweekly to discuss cases.

“What this will do is provide an opportunity to these victims whatever gate they go in,” she said.

Whether it be through the police, the Rape Crisis hotline or to the hospital, victims will be offered all the services available and will not have to repeat their story to separate entities so any retraumatizing is avoided.

“Hopefully, it’ll be seamless for the victim,” Kispert said.

Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County is not seeing clients in person but can be contacted through its 24-hour hotline at 410-857-7322 for teletherapy.

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