When a police agency reports that a rape case has been “cleared,” it often doesn’t mean the case has been solved and a suspect arrested. Many times, cases have been cleared by “exceptional means” and the suspect walked away, uncharged.
A national analysis of rape clearances by ProPublica, Newsy and Reveal show that such exceptionally cleared cases make up more than half of the cleared rape cases investigated by police in Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties, according to data obtained by the news organizations.
Exceptional clearance means police have investigated and have enough evidence to make an arrest and know who and where the suspect is, but cannot make an arrest for reasons outside of their control, according to the FBI. This could be because the suspect died, was arrested elsewhere or moved out of the country. It also could be because the victim declines to cooperate or a prosecutor declined to charge the suspect.
Experts say police are supposed to use such a rationale sparingly when reporting to the FBI. However, exceptional clearance proved to be the case more often than not in some of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions.
At first glance, the clearance rates of rape cases in Baltimore and Montgomery counties look impressive at 68 and 83 percent, respectively — significantly higher than the national average of 37 percent. However, a deeper look shows most of the cleared cases resulted in no arrest.
Of the 316 rapes cases reported by Baltimore County police in 2016, 214 were classified as cleared. More than half of the cleared cases, or 124, were exceptionally cleared. Ninety cases were cleared by arrest.
That same year, Montgomery County police reported 331 rapes cases. Of those, 274 were cleared; however, 74 percent, or 202 cases, were cleared by exceptional means. Just 26 percent, or 72 cases, were cleared by arrest.
Both Howard County and Baltimore City reported significantly lower overall clearance rates — 41 percent and 38 percent, respectively. However, Howard cleared 63 percent of those cases exceptionally, while Baltimore only cleared 34 percent of its cases that way.
In Howard, that meant just 10 of 27 cleared cases resulted in arrests. But in Baltimore, 71 of its 108 cleared rape cases — 66 percent — resulted in arrests.
The investigation of rape clearances across the country by ProPublica, Newsy and Reveal featured a separate Baltimore County case as an example of how some cases are erroneously or prematurely closed with exceptional clearance. In that story, a national expert in sex crimes said Baltimore County police could have done more before closing the case — such as interviewing the suspect or getting a search warrant for his phone and computer.
The case involves a 29-year-old man allegedly having sex with a 13-year-old girl in Baltimore County. The case was exceptionally cleared without having interviewed the suspect. He was never charged. A Baltimore County police spokesperson told the reporters the girl would not cooperate in the investigation.
However, the girl had cooperated in an investigation with Howard County police, where their relationship was initially reported. Howard County Police turned the case over because the alleged crime occurred in a Baltimore County motel.
A month after the case was closed, the man was accused of having sex with another underage girl in Wisconsin.
Cpl. Shawn Vinson, a spokesman with the Baltimore County Police Department, said in an email to The Sun that “because the use of exceptional clearance as a classification is subject to pending litigation, we cannot discuss exceptional clearances at this time.”
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