The Baltimore Police Department is investigating a report of a rape “that may have involved an unnamed member of the department,” officials confirmed Monday afternoon.
As a result of the investigation, which began Sunday, the department pulled 115 patrol vehicles out of service — at a time when officials say patrols are already badly short-staffed — so they could be processed for potential evidence, said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman.
Jablow said the woman who came forward to report she had been raped did not say the alleged assault occurred in a patrol vehicle, but that she had been in a patrol vehicle at some point. By having crime technicians process the vehicles, detectives were hoping to identify who the woman was with, Jablow said.
The department said detectives “are working to quickly identify any officers who may have been involved, and fully establish the facts of the case.”
The department would not describe the woman’s specific allegations or say when or where the assault allegedly occurred.
However, according to an internal memo distributed Monday to some Baltimore Police officers and obtained by The Baltimore Sun, the victim reported that she was near the Charles Village Pub when she met a man named “Rick,” who appeared to be a police officer.
The victim reported the man then took her to a residential area near Camden Yards — she didn’t have an exact location — and forced her to have sex, before dropping her back in the Charles Village area, the memo said.
The woman later went to an area hospital to report the incident, and the Sex Offense Unit is investigating, the memo said.
Jacqueline Robarge, head of Power Inside, a nonprofit that provides services to women who have been the victims of assault, said the report represents the latest of many incidents alleging sexual harassment or violence by city police in recent years. It’s a particularly devastating trend, she said, given the power dynamics at play, which make victims fear reprisal if they talk, from the very people meant to protect them.
“When the police engage in sexual violence, be that sexual harassment, coercion or outright sexual assault, the power dynamic is such that it adds extra consequences should the police officer be rebuffed,” Robarge said. “The victims are least likely to be believed and most likely to be highly vulnerable.”
In part because of that threat, lawmakers passed a law last year making it illegal for a police officer in Maryland to have sex with someone in their custody, regardless of the circumstances. Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat who introduced the bill, said at the time that she was “shocked at the number of women and organizations serving women who have come forward to tell me they have clients who have experienced this. It’s galling. It’s horrible.”
On Monday, Jablow said officials were still trying to determine which of the 115 vehicles would have to be processed for evidence. He said they are being released for use after being processed, and the department was working to minimize the impact of the loss of cars on the daily crime fight. The department has 410 marked cars assigned to patrol, he said.
“We will be doubling up in some cars,” he said, referring to two officer riding in each of the cars still in use.
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Dozens of white patrol vehicles sat unused in the lots of multiple police district stations Monday morning. Jablow said the department was processing vehicles all across the city.
Sgt. Mike Mancuso, the police union president, said the union had “no official information relative to an investigation.”
Robarge said she questions whether the department’s attempts to address the latest incident will lead to real change. And she urged the woman who made the report to reach out for help.
“We want the victims of police sexual misconduct to know that they are not alone, that rape is rape whether the perpetrator is a public official or a celebrity or a boyfriend or girlfriend or a police officer,” Robarge said.
Union and city officials have for years said that the department has too few officers to patrol the city and that the shortage has hurt public safety.
The department has faced a series of serious misconduct allegations in recent years, further undermining public trust in a department in which the Justice Department in 2016 found a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing practices. In that same report, Justice investigators determined the police department badly mishandled rape and other sexual assault cases.
Eight former police officers were recently convicted in federal court in a racketeering scandal in which they robbed residents and sold drugs. Just last week, a retired sergeant pleaded guilty in a chase in which a toy gun was planted on a man whom another officer had struck with his vehicle.