Carroll's child, sex abuse unit will gain Westminster officer

Assignment made to help handle increased caseload

November 16, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The Westminster Police Department has assigned an officer to Carroll County's Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit, a move that authorities said will help investigators manage a caseload that has nearly doubled since 2001.

Detective Sgt. Eric Helm, a nine-year veteran of the city's police force, will initially work at the state police unit twice a week, said acting Westminster chief Maj. Dean A. Brewer. Helm will continue his work as a general assignment member of the city police's criminal investigations division.

"Eric knows the area and knows people within Westminster city," said CASA supervisor Sgt. James T. DeWees. "He has attained a supervisory rank, so that shows he makes good decisions. He was also chosen because he had investigative experience and he wants to do this work."

Helm, 28, is a Westminster native who first joined the city's department as a cadet. He said his transition to CASA has included 40 hours of training and an increased appreciation of the unit's impact on victims.

"It's a big change, interacting with people - victims and suspects - in a much more personal way," Helm said. "There's a difference in interrogating someone who's stolen a car than someone who's committed sexual violence."

Tracy A. Gilmore, deputy state's attorney for Carroll County, said that the additional manpower is long overdue.

"He will be a big help," she said. "It will be wonderful for the children of this community."

Under the new agreement, CASA will be the central unit for handling sexual assault in the county. Westminster's Police Department will hand over new sexual assault and child abuse cases occurring within city limits to CASA. Previously, the city was the only municipality in Carroll County that did not refer these types of cases to the unit.

"Instead of putting a drain on our department, the CASA team will be brought out," Brewer said.

DeWees said that Helm's addition increases his staff to nine investigators, including three troopers, four civilians and a sheriff's deputy.

Carroll's CASA unit was founded in 1991 with three investigators, DeWees said.

He added that the caseload has steadily - and sometimes drastically - increased yearly.

In 2001, the unit handled 275 cases. A year later it handled 350, and he expects the number for this year to fall just below 500.

Helm will likely become a full-time member of the CASA unit pending a re-evaluation of the position in about six months, Brewer said.

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