Reported rapes in Baltimore up 20 percent since policy shift

Congressional committee to hold hearings on nationwide problems Tuesday

September 13, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Rapes investigated by Baltimore police are up nearly 20 percent this year, a sharp increase since new procedures were sparked by a Baltimore Sun investigation showing the city leading the nation in rape reports dismissed by police.

As of Aug. 28, city police report 112 rape cases this year, compared with 94 at this time last year.

In June, two weeks before The Sun report, rape cases were down 15 percent for the year. After the story was published, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ordered an audit and police immediately implemented new protocols prohibiting patrol officers from declining to take a rape report on the streets.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, said the recent uptick is not due to a rash of new sexual assaults, but rather is the result of "counting them better."

"There's been a really clear change in some of the protocols for these things, and the Police Department is really trying to be responsive to the issue," said Gail Reid, the emergency room program manager for TurnAround Inc., a Towson-based resource for victims of sexual assault that is reviewing cases with Baltimore police.

The issue will get national attention on Tuesday when a U.S. Senate subcommittee holds a hearing to examine systemic failures in the reporting and investigation of rape cases nationwide. Among those testifying will be Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, the director of the Office of Violence Against Women, and two rape victims.

No one from Baltimore was asked to testify, officials said. But the hearing was requested by Carol E. Tracy, director of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia, who said she was spurred, in part, by the articles in The Sun.

Tracy called the hearing "a long overdue step toward justice for rape survivors who were re-victimized by the systems that should have protected them."

A review of national FBI data shows significant disparities among large American cities in the number of reported rapes. Though most cities have a percentage of cases deemed "unfounded" that is in the single digits, some report zero. Baltimore for years has recorded in excess of 30 percent — five times the national average — and no other city except Dallas was over 20 percent in the most recent year for which data is available. The FBI does little to monitor the accuracy of reporting.

According to state and federal statistics, reported rapes have tumbled 80 percent in Baltimore since 1995, a time period during which they declined 8 percent nationally.

Baltimore's problem was twofold: Patrol officers failed to write reports in four out of 10 calls to 911, labeling them "unfounded" on the streets. And once cases made it to the sex offense unit, detectives there consistently marked 30 percent or more of the cases "unfounded," meaning they determined the allegation was false or baseless.

Statistics requested by The Baltimore Sun show fewer cases have been discarded by patrol officers since the start of July, with reports being written in 77 percent of the 138 instances in which alleged victims called 911 to report a rape. In the instances where a report was not written, police noted that they could not find a victim, no police service was necessary, or that the address given in the report did not exist. Four calls were recorded as "unfounded" by patrol officers.

In contrast, for the first six months of the year, officers wrote reports in 60 percent of the 345 calls to 911 to report a rape.

There remains a disparity between reported rapes and the number of reports written for a call to 911 to report a rape, but Guglielmi said that officers are documenting their justification for how they classify a crime.

"Not all are rapes, by definition. When the reports are written, they're investigating them further, and if for whatever reason, if it's not a sex offense, they have to articulate" that justification, Guglielmi said.

He provided a sampling of some reports that came in to 911 as a suspected rape and were later classified otherwise, showing the complexity of cases presented to police.

•- On July 13, a woman called police and said she was trapped in a vacant house and had been sexually assaulted. When officers arrived, she said she and a male friend had been smoking crack, and that the man asked her for sex but left when she said no. She began hearing voices and speaking to them, according to the report. Detectives were consulted and they determined the case needed no further investigation.

•- A 19-year-old woman said she had a sexual encounter July 17 with a man she had met on an Internet dating site. She said they engaged in consensual oral sex but that she refused when he tried to pursue intercourse. She said she made several demands that he stop trying, then left and called police. The report was listed as a "common assault" and forwarded to detectives for review.

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