Major Hohman gave a presentation on one of the major sections in the Baltimore Police Department, the Special Investigation Section (SIS), which is comprised of nine specialized investigative units, each commanded by a lieutenant:
- Sex Offense Unit
- Child Abuse Unit
- Arson Unit
- State’s Attorney’s Office Detective Unit
- Economic Crimes Unit
- Animal Abuse Unit
- Missing Persons Unit
- Sex Offender Registry Unit
- Family Crimes Unit
When most people think of the BPD, or any PD for that matter, with regards to sexual assault, most likely the first thing they think of is the backlog of rape kits. But that is just the tip of the iceberg (and a national problem). This class gave us the opportunity to see what else is going on with these cases and what the PD is actually doing for victims.
So far this year, SIS investigated over 4700 cases, including 279 sex offenses against victims 16 years and over, and 365 child abuse cases below the age of 16. SIS has seen a 7% increase in rapes compared to last year.
MCASA (Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assautl) lobbied the state of Maryland for a change in the definition of rape from only vaginal penetration to any type of penetration. The change just went into effect on October 1, 2017.
According to Maryland law, first degree rape is defined as engaging in sexual intercourse with another without his or consent by force, using weapons, strangling or inflicting serious physical injury, threatening with death, serious injury, or kidnapping committed with another’s help or during a burglary. The penalty for 1st degree rape is life with a 25 year mandatory minimum.
Second degree rape is defined as engaging in vaginal intercourse with another 1) without his or her consent by force or threat, 2) with a mentally or physically incapacitated person (includes drunk, high, or unconscious) when the defendant knows of his or her condition, or 3) the victim is under 14 years old and the defendant is at least 4 years older than the victim. The penalty for 2nd degree rape is up to 20 years in prison. If the defendant is 18 years or older and rapes a child under 13, the minimum is 15 years and the maximum sentence is life.
According to the DOJ, only 30% of sexual assaults are reported to authorities. Twenty-five percent are stranger cases. Approximately 18% of women in the U.S. will have been raped in their lifetime.
The national clearance rate for investigations is about 37%. The BPD’s clearance rate is about 54-56%.
Mercy Hospital was one of the first programs to offer the SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination) program which documents injuries, recovers DNA evidence and completes a victim interview. GBMC also offers this service. Some rape kits do not get tested because they are often not useful evidence in domestic cases.
The DOJ has reported that in a 5 year period (2010-2015), the BPD did not conduct thorough sex crime cases, reporting that the BPD tested only 19% of rape cases, though Major Hohman claims they tested about 89%. He stated that they “just weren’t really good at documenting.” He mentioned the PD’s use of Lotus notes, which I had never heard of, but to which several students in the class laughed, with one asking straight out if he was kidding. Apparently, this is one of many examples of the outdated technology that the BPD is using for lack of funding (though this should be improving in the coming years under the Consent Decree-I will post more about this at a later date). To give you an idea, you can read more about Lotus Notes here. Interestingly, Michael Bloomberg just donated $5 million to the BPD in part to improve their technology (More about this to come in subsequent posts as well).
While the national average unfounded rate for police departments is about 10%, the 2016 DOJ report found the BPD to have an unfounded rate (what the police deemed as, for all intents and purposes, false reports) of 32%. If a patrol officer found a case was unfounded, there would be no report and no investigation. However, the BPD has reportedly made improvements since last year; they now claim to be 2-3% below the national unfounded rate.
The top 3 reasons rape cases that could be exceptionally cleared are: declination of prosecution (victim declines to prosecute), death, or extradition. If a witness does not cooperate, they are likely to suspend the case.
Using a trauma-informed response, officers are trained to get minimal facts in order to avoid further traumatizing victims. Detectives who are especially trained take over the investigation. Interview rooms have recently been made more comforting, welcoming, and warmer with the help of Mission 14 (the founder of which works for Under Armour). These rooms are designed to put the victim at ease in a more relaxed environment. Mission 14 now plans on rolling out these interview rooms nationwide.
From the BPD’s website:
The Special Investigations Section represents the BPD on the Baltimore Domestic Violence Coordinating Committee, Baltimore City Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team, Baltimore Child Abuse Multi-Disciplinary Team, Baltimore Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), and Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force.
SART consists of the BPD, the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA), the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice (coordinator), Mercy Medical Center, TurnAround, Inc. and the University of Maryland Pediatric Emergency Department.
This class led me to research the Clery Act a bit more, which mandates that police departments and schools have to communicate with each other. It also requires schools to report crime statistics on campus. Police departments now have Memorandums of Understanding with surrounding schools. Any follow up investigation is handled by the police department.The Department of Education investigates and fines those schools they find to be in violation of the act.
The Clery Act passed in 1990 as a result of a student at Lehigh University who was raped and murdered by a student. The student’s parents argued for making campus crime statistics public. It has since been used to investigate the sex scandal at Penn State due to the lack of communication between the PD and the school. Virginia Tech was fined after the 2007 shooting, citing a “failure to issue a timely warning.”
Sex Offender Registry Unit (SORU)
There currently about 1300 active registered sex offenders in Baltimore City, with 235 incarcerated registered sex offenders. There is a 3-tier system governing how often an offender must register:
- 1st tier- every 6 months for 15 years
- 2nd tier-every 6 months for 25 years
- 3rd tier-every 3 months for life
- Homeless sex offenders must register weekly
Nationally, a child abuse case is reported every 10 seconds. About 5 children die every day from child abuse. Over 90% of victims know the perpetrator. More depressing stats can be found here.
Child abuse cases are investigated similarly to adult cases. Victims are interviewed by a forensic interviewer at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. Cases involving victims 16 and older will be investigated if care and custody issues are involved.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that 1 in 5 runaway children are sexually trafficked (approximately 100-200 in Baltimore). Victims are mostly female, though the majority of male victims of sexual offense are involved in human trafficking.
In order to fight human trafficking in Baltimore, the BPD employs the SIS Missing Persons Unit, Child Abuse Unit & Sex Offense Unit, the Vice Unit, Cyber Crimes, FBI Human Trafficking Taskforce, and the MD Human Trafficking Taskforce.
When a child goes missing, only the homicide department could request an Amber Alert through the Maryland State Police.