WESTMINSTER -- The state's attorney's office has hired two new investigators to help in the prosecution of child abuse and sexual assault cases.
The new unit is considered among the first of its kind in Maryland, as only a handful of state's attorney's offices investigate child abuse and sexual assault directly.
The two investigators began working last week. They are Ruth Ann Arty, who was a child abuse caseworker for the state Department of Social Services, and Kathleen Lynch, a recent graduate of Loyola College.
The unit, headed by Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill and state police Sgt. P. Jeff Merson, is expected to expand to a total of five investigators by the beginning of next year. The additional three investigators are to be provided by the state police.
"I am excited about this development," said Jo Ann Hare, executive director of the Rape Crisis Intervention Service in Westminster. "Having people who can concentrate solely on child abuse and sexual assault will add quite a lot to how these kinds of cases are handled."
Ms. Hare also said she is excited about the unit's eventual expansion into adult sexual abuse cases.
"This is a very difficult crime to prosecute, and having investigators is a step in the right direction," Ms. Hare said.
Carroll, like the rest of Maryland, experienced a surge in reported cases of child abuse and sexual assault over the past 10 years.
The Department of Social Services reported this spring that such cases had increased 73 percent, from 105 in 1982 to 182 last year.
Before the formation of the new unit, the bulk of child abuse investigation in Carroll was done by the Maryland State Police.
However, that agency's cost cuts threatened to eliminate its child abuse office.
The people chosen to run the state's attorney's unit are no strangers to investigating child abuse.
Ms. Hill is the primary child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor in the office, while Sgt. Merson was the state police's abuse unit supervisor.
State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman went to the county commissioners this spring to request money for the new unit, according to county budget documents.
The commissioners approved Mr. Hickman's request for about $50,000 for the two investigators. The budget documents indicate the unit was to start "during fiscal year 1993."
Mr. Hickman declined to comment on the new unit yesterday, although its funding was approved months ago.
He said that while the formation of the unit is "good news," he wanted to make the announcement himself. He scheduled a formal news conference Aug. 21.
The unit will be run out of the state's attorney's offices on Court Street until October, when it is scheduled to move to offices on Distillery Drive, near many of the county's other social service agencies.