A transition team advising Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. wants the county to again review the way it handles sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.
The team says officials should examine issues including law enforcement training, the testing of rape kits and ensuring the accountability of investigators.
The recommendations were included in a wide-ranging report released Tuesday by Olszewski’s transition group.
Under the administration of the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the county had previously reviewed its practices related to sexual assault investigations and pledged reform after criticism regarding destroyed and untested rape kits, questionable investigative practices and other issues. But its handling of such cases was again called into question last year in a class-action lawsuit alleging that prosecutors and detectives covered up complaints of sexual assault.
A new task force to study sexual assault issues is already in the works, Olszewski said at a news conference Tuesday at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex campus. He said more details would be announced soon.
Concerns from the public and media reports about the county’s handling of sexual assault cases prompted members of the transition team to suggest the task force, said Sheryl Goldstein, vice president of the Abell Foundation and co-chair of the team’s public safety work group.
The county has repeatedly come under scrutiny for these cases. On Tuesday, The Sun reported that the Baltimore County police department prompted sexual assault victims to waive their rights to an investigation — a practice that runs counter to guidance from experts and from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
County police ended the practice amid inquiries from The Sun. State Del. Shelly Hettleman was outraged after learning about it from a Sun reporter and called county officials.
“The day she brought that information to the county, we stopped the practice,” Olszewski said. “Because it was wrong and it needed to change.”
Lisae Jordan, executive director of Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the recommendations of the transition team are “spot on.”
“It all depends on whether they follow through and make the changes they need to make,” she said.
Other topics covered in the transition report include the opioid crisis, public education, diversity, job creation and land use. The transition team had more 100 members, including local activists, business leaders and residents. It issued more than 200 recommendations.
Among the suggestions are appointing an opioid strategy coordinator and creating an Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The report also recommends establishing a climate change “adaptation strategy” and creating a pilot circulator bus system, starting with the Towson area.
Calvin G. Butler Jr., CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and Rachel Garbow Monroe, president and CEO of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, co-chaired the team.
Butler said that in speaking to team leaders, Olszewski described his vision for county government as focusing on transparency, accountability and inclusiveness.
“When you look throughout the report, you will see those themes running throughout,” Butler said.